Few NHL goalies enjoyed the sort of run that Joey MacDonald put forth in the past 15 days.
When Detroit Red Wings' No. 1 goalie Jimmy Howard suffered a broken finger on his right catching hand on Feb. 2, Red Wings backup Ty Conklin failed to get the job done. So MacDonald arrived on the scene to save the day. All the third-string netminder did was produce an incredible 6-1-1 roll, in which he stopped 183 of 196 shots for a .934 save percentage and 1.66 goals against average.
But so much for helping the Red Wings out of a jam. So much for lending a hand to extend Detroit's NHL record home win streak to 23 games. Howard is healthy again. True, MacDonald has supplanted Conklin as the Red Wings backup for the time being (Conklin was put on waivers on Monday), but MacDonald will be sitting at the end of the bench when Detroit visits the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
"I'm an older guy," MacDonald said on his way to the airport on Monday. "I know how things roll around here. It's life of a backup goalie. You have to have the right kind of mindset because you never know when you'll get back in there."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was asked if he was tempted to continue to use MacDonald.
"I've already done that," Babcock said. "[Howard] was ready to go on Sunday. We went with Joey for one more game. This has allowed us to play Howie on the road in his first game back. There was no way we were going to make him play his first game at home. That was my thought process. I think it makes sense."
So why at age 32 did the unheralded MacDonald make such an impact in the past 15 days? Last year, when the Pictou, N.S. subbed in for an injured Chris Osgood, MacDonald went a mediocre 5-5-3 with a much higher goals against average and a much lower save percentage.
"We're better defensively [this season], no question about it," Babcock said. "But he played well last year, too. We just didn't give him the run support that we have this time.
"Joey has matured since I first got to know him [in 2005]. He came in here this time, played like he had nothing to lose, started off well and never looked back."
'I knew my time would come'
Looking back on his career, nothing has come easy for the likeable goalie. In junior, he made the Halifax Mooseheads as a 17-year-old. But the next year he was waived because the Mooseheads decided to go with Pascal Leclaire and Alexei Volkov, a highly-touted Los Angeles Kings third-round draft pick who has gone back to Russia to play for Moscow Dynamo and never played an NHL game.
MacDonald wound up in the OHL with the Peterborough Petes because then general manager Jeff Twohey saw something in the kid's demeanor and ability. After three solid seasons in Peterborough, Red Wings executive Jim Devellano approached MacDonald with an invite to Detroit's training camp in 2001.
Devellano made no promises. After all, the Red Wings already had Dominik Hasek, Manny Legace, Chris Osgood and Jason Elliott on the depth chart. Osgood was picked up off waivers by the New York Islanders at the end of training camp and because the Red Wings shared their AHL farm team in Cincinnati with the Anaheim Ducks, there was no place for MacDonald. But the Red Wings found a place for him with Toledo in the ECHL.
"I knew my time would come," MacDonald said. "It has taken longer than I anticipated. But it's been a good run here."
MacDonald has a good work ethic. But he credits Red Wings goaltending guru Jim Bedard for his progress. He played his first NHL game with Detroit on Oct. 26, 2006 and spent time in the organizations of the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs before he returned to the Red Wings a couple years ago.
He almost departed Detroit again last summer. He was being courted by the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the Russian team that was wiped out by a tragic plane crash last September. Red Wings assistant coach Brad McCrimmon was going to Russia to be Lokomotiv's head coach and Red Wings defenceman Ruslan Salei was going there to continue his career.
It was tempting. But MacDonald didn't want to ruffle any feathers in Detroit when first approached by Lokomotiv because the Red Wings were in the first round of the playoffs. When the Russian team called a couple weeks later, MacDonald turned them down because his agent felt confident that the Red Wings were going to offer a good deal.
They did. MacDonald signed a two-way contract for this year, but is on a one-way deal with Detroit next season.
"I was interested in going to Russia," MacDonald said. "It's a tragedy what happened. I lost a couple good friends there. Fortunately enough, I made the right decision. In a hockey sense, it was the right decision, too."
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