Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Senior Writer Mar 13, 2007, 12:00 PM EDT
Thinking back on it, Andy McDonald fit in pretty nicely at the NHL All-Star Game. The Anaheim Ducks center not only won the fastest skater competition and scored a highlight-worthy shootout goal in the SuperSkills Competition, but he also held his own in the actual game, playing on a line with Anaheim teammate Teemu Selanne and then-Edmonton power forward Ryan Smyth.
Perhaps McDonald, a last-minute injury replacement for the Western Conference squad, was so successful on the big stage in Dallas because he has a wee bit of experience throughout his career at making an impression after being all but counted out.
Despite becoming a Hobey Baker finalist at Colgate University back in 2000, McDonald was never drafted by a NHL club and eventually hooked up with Anaheim as a free agent in the spring of 2000.
Two good seasons in the American Hockey League were followed by a strong, yet unnoticed, start with the Ducks starting in 2001. But that all changed in 2002-03 when McDonald was leveled by a brutal open-ice hit from defenseman Adam Foote, then with Colorado. The hit left McDonald with a severe concussion and put his hockey career in jeopardy.
McDonald missed the rest of the regular season, as well as the Ducks' amazing run to Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. More troubling, McDonald was forced to ponder the premature end of a dream he was just starting to realize before the injury.
"I feel pretty fortunate," McDonald says of being back. "Times were pretty tough with my concussion. I didn't play for seven months and there were times when I thought that was it, that I wouldn't play again, wouldn't be able to come back.
"Just to play again ... that was great feeling to return to the ice. The way the last couple of years have gone, it's a good feeling. I think going through that injury allows me to appreciate the things that are happening today."
And so much is happening for McDonald this season. Not only was he named to his first All-Star Game, but he is also on pace for his second-straight season of more than 75 points as the Ducks contend for top honors in the Western Conference.
While fans outside of the Anaheim area have been slow to notice McDonald's rapid maturation into an elite-level center, his coach has taken it all in. That coach, Randy Carlyle, just happened to also be the Western Conference coach at the All-Star Game. He was thrilled that he had McDonald at his disposal in both the SuperSkills competition and the actual game.
"I think (the All-Star selection) just puts an exclamation point on his effectiveness and the respect that he is shown within the League," Carlyle said. "The coaches and the hockey departments, they're part of the process of selecting players, and he has been noticed. It doesn't hurt that he had almost a 90-point season last year."
Selanne, meanwhile, says that McDonald was just lacking the confidence in the past to become a star in this League. He certainly has always had the skill package to do so, says "The Finnish Flash."
"He's always had the tools -- the speed and all the talent and everything," Selanne said. "A lot of times, you just need that one confidence boost to take over. What a great story he has been. Last year, when he realized how good he can be and he got all the confidence that he needed, he was just unbelievable. This year, it's just carried over from last year. He's been a huge part of our success."
Now, people outside of Anaheim know a little bit more about McDonald. His unexpected victory in the faster skater competition – “I wasn't really worried about the result, I was just trying to get around the ice as fast as I could, without catching a rut and going head-first into the boards" – made the initial impression.
But, it was the slick move that befuddled all-world goalie Martin Brodeur that likely left the lasting impression in the minds of many fans. McDonald made a sweet deke to force Brodeur to commit and then McDonald calmly pulled the puck onto his backhand and deposited it into a virtual open net.
According to McDonald, that move was born of desperation. It seems he was hitting up his Western Conference teammates for hints about Brodeur's tendencies and was getting little help.
"I was asking a few guys, I asked Teemu what do you do on Marty and he said, 'Maybe you should just dump it in the corner,'" McDonald chuckled.
So, McDonald decided to pull out the aggressive move he had debuted earlier this season in practice, one that has routinely given Anaheim goalie J.S. Giguere fits.
"It's kind of funny, in the regular season I've never really tried that move," McDonald explained. "I've tried it in practice and 'Jiggy' always gives me a hard time – ‘ Why don't you try that in a game? Why don't you try it in a shootout?' I decided to try it and, fortunately, it worked."
These days, virtually everything McDonald tries seems to work. Heading into the home stretch of the regular season, McDonald is second on the Ducks in scoring with 67 points, 22 goals and 45 assists. His partnership with Selanne, the team's leading scorer, is one of the most dynamic in the League presently.
Again, Carlyle finds no surprise in those facts. Even before he assumed the reins of this team last season, he knew he was inheriting a special player in McDonald.
"I think it's a familiar tale with Andy McDonald in that he suffered some injuries, including that concussion in his first year," the coach said. "He was a player that was highly thought of at the AHL level and his first try at the NHL level, he suffered the concussions. With the lockout and the new-rules hockey being played, it pretty much played into his hands in the sense that he is a quick player that's got skill. He's a speed player and he was finally healthy and the rules allowed him to skate. That's probably been the largest contributing factor, that he is allowed to skate, move and do things at a high rate."
And as McDonald showed at the All-Star Game, he can be deadly when he builds up a head of steam. Maybe now, more people will understand that same simple fact about McDonald.
Q&A with Andy McDonald
By Adam Brady
It’s safe to say the last year has been the best of Andy McDonald’s life.
A breakout 2005-06 season – in which he shattered career highs in goals (34) and points (51) – commenced with his first experience in the Stanley Cup playoffs. McDonald, who has been the with Ducks since his rookie year of 2000-01, regrettably missed the Ducks’ run to the ’03 Stanley Cup finals, as a concussion forced him to sit it out. But he was a major part of last seasons run to the Western Conference finals, scoring a pair of goals and adding seven assists in 16 games.
A little more than a month after that playoff run ended, McDonald was rewarded by the Ducks with a new three-year contract. But his summer got even better when he and wife Gina were married in Newport Beach in front of family and friends, including several Ducks teammates.
With a new contract and a lifestyle change, pressure was high for McDonald to maintain his level of play with this season’s Ducks. He has done that and more, flourishing as the team’s No. 1 center and playmaker, and earning a selection to the Western Conference squad at the All-Star game.
McDonald spoke after a recent Ducks practice about the past year and his development as a pass-first forward.
How important was it for you to have a good season for you after what you did last year?
Certainly the expectations were high on my part and the organization’s part. Last year I kind of fell into the No. 1 center spot after we traded Sergei [Fedorov]. There were always rumors that they were looking for another center. Until the trading deadline passed last year [on March 9] I was kind of waiting and waiting. When the deadline passed and we hadn’t acquired another center, I really thought this was my opportunity. I was rewarded with a new contract in the summer, and that kind of changes everything and you have to perform every night. You put high expectations on yourself and you have to prepare every night to play at the highest level possible.
Have you ever had a better offseason than the past one, with the new contract and getting married?
Well, my wife would put the wedding ahead of the contract [laughs]. But it was a really good summer. There were a lot of things going on and it was pretty exciting in both respects.
How has married life treated you?
It’s been good, but it’s definitely not the first time I’ve lived with my wife. During the lockout (in 2004-05) we lived over in Germany together when I was playing over there. We had a million things going on last summer with the wedding and the honeymoon and the contract. Now things have settled down a bit, and we moved into a new house in Huntington Beach last October. We’re enjoying it down there. But it wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that we finally hung up some pictures.
Do you pride yourself on your ability to find the open man?
That’s the way I was always taught to play, moving the puck and passing the puck. When you’re one of the top players on your team, you want to make other players around you better. I was always taught to make the pass first, and that’s kind of been my trademark, even in college. I would describe myself as a playmaker, rather than a goal-scorer. I think now that’s the perfect fit for our line. Maybe sometimes I might overpass, but obviously Teemu is a natural scorer, so you want to give him the puck as much as possible.
What was your first All-Star game like?
The experience was great and so unique for me. I really enjoyed myself. Just being around players like Nicklas Lindstrom and Joe Sakic, hanging out with those guys, gives you a pretty good outlook on things. It really motivates me to try and get back there.
The day before the game, you won the NHL’s fastest skater competition. Did that surprise you at all?
It did. I wasn’t really looking forward to it because I didn’t know I was going to do it and I was a little nervous beforehand. But obviously it went well and it was a good experience.
Was it even more special to go through the playoffs last year after missing the opportunity in ’03?
It definitely was. When I was out with the concussion, it wasn’t easy watching that team go through the playoffs and make the finals. That was a big motivator for me last year, and to have the great run that we did, that was exciting. Certainly no one expected us to go as far as we did. Going through the playoffs for the first time gives you a little bit of a taste and you hope you can get back there and go even further.