Where Are They Now? Joey MacDonald
Former New York Islanders goaltender Joey MacDonald had to make a difficult career decision. At 31 years old, should he continue in the National Hockey League (NHL) with the Detroit Red Wings as, essentially a career backup to Jimmy Howard, or take an offer to play in Russia? (Photo Credit: FrenchKheldar/Flickr)
On July 11, 2011, MacDonald chose to re-sign with the Red Wings and was assigned to their AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
On September 7, 2011 a plane carrying the Russian hockey team; Lokomtiv Yaroslavi crashed just after take-off. The crash killed nearly the entire roster (only four players survived, all not on the plane) and the entire coaching staff.
The team that MacDonald decided not to sign with?
MacDonald’s decision to sign with Detroit, not only possibly saved his life, but resurrected his career.
MacDonald began his career with the same Detroit Red Wings in 2001. He was signed as a free agent as assigned to their ECHL team in Toldeo. After registering a 12-15-7 record in 2001-02, he would get a chance in the AHL with the Grand Rapid Griffins. He would play four seasons with the Griffins from 2002-06. He averaged nearly 22 wins and four shutouts during his tenure in Grand Rapids. He currently holds the team record in career wins and shutouts.
In 2006-07, MacDonald finally got his shot with the Red Wings. It didn’t go exactly as planned. A 1-5-1 record with a 3.46 GAA didn’t help his case to continue with the organization. He was waived in 2007 and claimed by the Boston Bruins.
After the 06-07 season, MacDonald signed as a free agent with the New York Islanders. The 2007-08 season was spent with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders AHL affiliate. He played two games for the Islanders that season, but was not on the roster during the Islanders pulse racing fight for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. MacDonald did not make an appearance in any of the five playoff games for the Islanders.
Islanders folk hero, goaltender Wade Dubielewicz, left as a free agent and signed with a team in Russia, handing the backup duties to MacDonald for the 2008-09 season. After just two games, starting goaltender Rick DiPietro was injured. From that point forward MacDonald was their starting goalie. In 49 games, he went 14-26-6 with a 3.37 GAA.
Although his stats were below average, March 27, 2009 was a night he would never forget.
The Islanders traveled to Detroit to play the Western Conference powerhouse in a seemingly David vs. Goliath tilt. The Red Wings dominated the game from start to finish, taking 42 shots in total and rarely having the puck in their defensive zone. Final score, Islanders 2-Red Wings 0, for MacDonald’s first career shutout. The game was particularly satisfying, especially against the team that released you just two years prior.
The 2009-10 season found MacDonald as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played for their AHL team in 36 games and started five games with the Leafs, going 1-4-0. After the season, he was signed on a two-way contract by the Red Wings.
MacDonald started the 2010-11 campaign in Grand Rapids. He broke Jimmy Howard’s all-time wins record and received a call up to back-up, ironically enough, the same player he just took the wins records from. In 15 games, he went 5-5-3 and served as Howard’s backup during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The 2011-12 season started exactly like the season prior. It was yet another year in the minor leagues for the now 32-year old MacDonald; another year without a real opportunity to be a contributor to a big league club.
The adage 'good things come to people who wait' couldn’t be more true for MacDonald in the past two months. Incumbent starting goalie Jimmy Howard was having a career year in goal and backup Ty Conklin was being used sparingly. Howard was in goal, as per normal, against the Vancouver Canucks on February 2, 2012. Amidst an All-Star season, he was playing the best hockey of his young career. Then a break came, both for MacDonald and Howard’s right index finger.
In the third period of that game, a seemingly innocuous snap shot by Max Lapierre caught the blocker of Howard. After the play, Howard went to the bench to be attended to and have his finger taped up. No worse for wear, he finished the game, including overtime and a shootout to notch his, at that point, league leading 32nd victory of the season.
After the game, it was determined a broken finger would keep Howard out for a few weeks and MacDonald was recalled, mainly to serve as a backup. Ty Conklin started all of one game before being pulled in mid-game for MacDonald.
Since February 6th, a 3-1 loss to Phoenix, MacDonald won seven straight starts and has allowed Howard additional rest for his broken finger. He is 7-1-1 with a 1.70 GAA and .934 save percentage, not bad for a guy that wasn’t even a possibility to play any minutes when the season began. In just three short weeks, MacDonald went from depth goaltender, to possibly sharing time in goal for Detroit.
The Detroit Red Wings recently won their NHL record-breaking 21st consecutive game at home versus the Dallas Stars. The Wings were 34 seconds away from a shutout. The goaltender that night?
What a difference a year makes.
My Take On Joey MacDonald
I always felt Joey MacDonald never got a fair crack during his brief stint on the Island. The team was influx and winning games wasn’t exactly a priority for the ownership. He was left to fend for himself in a lot of games. He is well known for his 42 save performance vs the Red Wings that is still one of the best games I’ve seen a goalie play.
I never understood why the Islanders didn’t at least sign him to be the back-up for the next season. I know it is all about Ricky, but he started nearly 50 games the year prior.
His success this season is partially playing on the Wings, but also partially his ability to be a constant professional. You never heard anything negative from him; he just tried to help the team win and do his part. His job this season was to help the youngsters in the AHL as well as provide depth in case of injury. For him to be able to come up and perform the way he has is a true testament to the character he has. He took advantage of an opportunity and made a lasting mark on Red Wings history forever.
He has won seven straight games, something his former Islanders teammates need to have happen this season, and quick.
I will be back next week with a different spin, a coach this time, not a player.
See you next week,