By: Justin Dickie
07/18/2014 8:10 AM -
Toledo, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Boston, Bridgeport, New York, Toronto, Calgary, Abbotsford.
As far as professional hockey in North America goes, Joey MacDonald’s been (almost) everywhere, man.
Heading into his 14th year in the pro ranks this fall, the 34-year-old goaltender will add Hamilton, or Montreal, or both, to his list of cities he’s called home. A lot of journeymen players that have been around as long as MacDonald try their hand overseas at some point, but it was some advice from ex-teammate and former Hamilton Bulldog Marc Lamothe that’s kept the Pictou, Nova Scotia native plying his trade between the American Hockey League and National Hockey League all these years.
“I talked to Marc Lamothe – he played in Hamilton a little bit – he was one of my first goalies in Grand Rapids … he ended up going to Russia after,” MacDonald says. “He was the one who kind of said, ‘Joey, stay over here as long as you can. You always have Europe to fall back on.’ Probably the past five years, I’ve been saying I’m going to head over there, but opportunities came and every year things worked out.
“Whenever you can stick in the NHL and get a taste of it, you might as well do it.”
That philosophy has worked out well for MacDonald as he’s been able to get that ‘taste’ of NHL action for at least two games in each of the past eight seasons. After splitting time last season between the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, he signed a one-year, two-way NHL / AHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens on July 1st – the first day of the free agency season.
“A couple of days before July 1st, (the Canadiens) called my agent and they expressed a lot of interest,” MacDonald says. “They needed that kind of No. 3 guy with experience and as soon as I talked to my agent, we figured that’d be a great spot.”
MacDonald will head into Montreal’s training camp looking to fight for a job with the Habs, but with Carey Price, Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski also in the mix, the veteran of 300 AHL games is prepared for a leadership role with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
“Come training camp, you never know what’s going to happen,” MacDonald says. “For a couple years in Detroit, I was the No. 3 guy and the next thing you know, I was the No. 1. Jimmy Howard got hurt and (Ty) Conklin was out, so things can change in a hurry. I just have to have the right mindset, go in there and have a good camp in Montreal and push them. Whatever happens, if they send me down, I’ll go (to Hamilton) and play hard.”
The depth role is one with which MacDonald’s become very familiar throughout his career and one he’s defied time and time again to earn 133 NHL regular season appearances through 13 pro seasons.
Drafted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League by the Halifax Mooseheads, MacDonald split his first year of junior in 1997-1998 between Halifax and their then-Maritime Junior ‘A’ Hockey League affiliate, the Amherst Mooseheads. He was one of four goaltenders to appear for Halifax that season, playing in just 17 games, despite leading the team in goals-against average and save percentage.
After that season, the Mooseheads acquired a new tandem to tend goal, selecting Pascal Leclaire in the first round of the QMJHL draft and bringing in Los Angeles Kings prospect Alexei Volkov. Halifax placed MacDonald on waivers and he was picked up by the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes.
“It just kind of didn’t work out in Halifax, which I wish it would have, but I ended up going on waivers and ended up in Peterborough, which was, I think, the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” MacDonald says.
After three strong seasons as the No. 1 goaltender in Peterborough, MacDonald caught the attention of the Detroit Red Wings’ brass, earning an invite to their training camp in 2001. With their AHL affiliate shared with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks at the time, the Wings organization signed him to an ECHL contract and sent him to the Toledo Storm. MacDonald’s strong performance in Toledo earned him an NHL entry-level contract by Christmas and he even got into his first AHL playoff game with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks late in 2001-2002.
After that season, MacDonald established himself as a reliable AHL goaltender and legitimate NHL prospect. But the path didn’t get any easier.
At the turn of the century, the Red Wings were a perennial Stanley Cup contender and veteran NHL goaltending was a strength, keeping MacDonald in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins for most of five seasons.
“I came into Detroit one year and they had (Curtis Joseph), Dominik Hasek and Manny Legace. I went in and probably had the best camp of my life,” MacDonald says. “It didn’t matter because I kind of knew what my role was. You get sent down and you just claw your way back.”
In mid-2006-2007, the soft-spoken, easy-going Nova Scotian was claimed off waivers by the Boston Bruins, but had to battle for ice with future Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup winner Tim Thomas as well as then-top prospect Hannu Toivonen.
He spent the next two seasons in the New York Islanders organization, spending most of 2007-2008 with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. With Rick DiPietro and Wade Dubielewicz established in the NHL, MacDonald split time with Mike Morrison in Bridgeport in year one. In 2008-2009, MacDonald took the reigns as the Islanders’ No. 1 goaltender with DiPietro out with injury and Dubielewicz having signed in Russia.
But even after getting the majority of starts with the Isles in 2008-2009, the next five years leading up until now saw MacDonald go back to spot duty in the NHL. He joined the Toronto Maple Leafs organization in 2009-2010, then went back to the Wings for two years, before moving onto Calgary and Abbotsford. Over the years, the journeyman netminder has learned to embrace his depth role, fighting for every minute of ice time and taking nothing for granted.
“That’s the way my whole career has been,” MacDonald says. You’ve got to work even harder when you go down, so when that opportunity comes knocking, you can take that next step.”
In 2014-2015, MacDonald joins a new organization with Montreal and Hamilton, but his role is the same as always. He’s going to work for his ice and try to be a model teammate. He says he’s not really an outspoken guy, but with his years of experience and positive attitude, he’ll lead by example.
“That’s kind of the way I’ve lived my career – just trying to be a good teammate, great guy to the coaches, the community, everybody,” MacDonald says. “I think it’s kind of paid off and let me stay in the game that I’ve played for so long.
“Nothing with hockey ever came easy. I always kind of had to earn what I got. It wasn’t the smoothest road…getting sent down. When you did that, keep your head up and work hard while you’re down there because hockey is a strange game and things can happen in a hurry.”
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