MacInnis inspired fellow Cape Breton product Andrew MacDonald | Hockey | CBC Sports

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Hockey Night in CanadaMacInnis inspired fellow Cape Breton product Andrew MacDonald

Posted: Saturday, March 8, 2014 | 01:44 PM

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Hall of Fame defenceman Al MacInnis, left, was someone Andrew MacDonald, right, looked up to when he worked toward his dream of becoming an NHLer. (Getty Images/CBCSports.ca) Hall of Fame defenceman Al MacInnis, left, was someone Andrew MacDonald, right, looked up to when he worked toward his dream of becoming an NHLer. (Getty Images/CBCSports.ca)

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The road to the NHL wasn't an easy one for late bloomer Andrew MacDonald. But the Philadelphia Flyers are happy to have the 27-year-old defenceman, a trade-deadline acquisition.

Mark Streit was more popular than usual in the Philadelphia Flyers dressing room earlier this week.

The veteran defenceman fielded questions from his teammates about the Flyers recent acquisition of dependable blue-liner Andrew MacDonald. Streit and MacDonald played together for three seasons with the New York Islanders.

"I told them he was a great guy and that it was great playing with him on the Islanders," Streit said of MacDonald, who was acquired for 24-year-old prospect Matt Mangene, a 2015 second-round draft choice and a 2014 third-round pick on Tuesday.

"I'm really happy to have him here. He already has made our d-core better. He's a good old-fashioned defenceman. Whenever you can add someone like him, you'll have a better team.

"He's really easy to play with because he's a smart hockey player. He's a good skater and he can make a good first pass."

Early on, not many saw MacDonald's first pass. He was from the small fishing village of Judique, N.S., on the West side of Cape Breton Island (three hours north of Halifax), and unless you're Hall of Famer Al MacInnis, who hails from nearby Port Hood (20 minutes North on Highway 19), it's not easy to be discovered in that part of the hockey world.

"It's safe to say [MacInnis has] become an important figure to all hockey players from my area," said MacDonald, who enjoys visiting with MacInnis whenever their paths cross. "He became a superstar. He came from a small community and he gave everybody hope that there's always a chance.

"You always heard stories about his work ethic, that as soon as his season was over he would get right back into it. He provided a lot of motivation and inspiration for people back home."

Skating out of the comfort zone

In the summer of 2005, MacDonald was 18 and had just finished his second season with the Truro Bearcats junior A team. He already had committed to Bemidji State, but all of a sudden the Moncton Wildcats knocked on his door. Head coach Ted Nolan, his top-notch assistant Danny Flynn and the late super-scout Donnie Matheson liked what they saw in MacDonald. They wanted him.

But it was a difficult decision for the teenager back then. Did he want to take the safe route and use the scholarship or did he want skate outside his comfort zone and head for Moncton? The Wildcats gave MacDonald space to make his decision. His parents were supportive either way. Eventually, he went off to the Wildcats training camp.

By the time Moncton's season began, MacDonald was a 19-year-old rookie, but he made an impact. He played alongside Keith Yandle and helped the 2005-06 Wildcats to a QMJHL championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup final. When Nolan was promoted a few weeks later as the new head coach of the New York Islanders, he convinced them to draft MacDonald in the sixth round (160th overall).

He spent two-and-a-half seasons in the minors before he became a full-time NHLer. He's made close to the minimum salary in his seven pro seasons, but now that he's eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, the hard work and patience he demonstrated will pay off.

A common thread to MacDonald's play has been his ability to play with top-notch defence partners. In junior, it was Yandle. With the Islanders, he has lined up with Streit and Travis Hamonic.

"I never asked for it, but when you're paired with those sort of players you better be at your best," he said. "You better be prepared. It's always been something that has worked out.

"I always try to remember where I came from and all the hard work to get here. I wasn't one of those players who were a high draft pick. I had to claw my way from the minors. You have to remember to work hard every game, not just once in a while."

The 27-year-old MacDonald describes himself as a late bloomer. As a result, he's always out to make himself better. A couple years ago, he began working out with fitness guru Andy O'Brien, who also trains Sidney Crosby. As a result, MacDonald has skated occasionally with No. 87 in summer sessions in Halifax.

"Andy is quite different. He's been good for me," MacDonald said. "But I owe a lot to a lot of former coaches and trainers."

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