It’s tough watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the New York Islanders aren’t in it. Sure, seeing them play at the beginning of May was a first for me, and it was a lot of fun, but I think we can all agree that it’d be much better if we were still watching hockey on Long island.
It’s just tough to not obsess over this team, you know? In a not creepy way, which is sure to come off 100% creepy, I just miss following this team throughout the season. Aside from the actual game itself, the team-sponsored events, the closer look into the lives of our players, and the smaller statistics, among other things, is what makes being a fan that much more special.
With that being said, I took it upon myself to track down Andrew MacDonald, one of the NHL’s top shot blockers in 2013, to discuss how he came into hockey and the role that he has assumed.
Not impressed with me showing up at his house unannounced, I was turned away.
Luckily, I ran into a close friend of his a week or so later. We spoke for a couple of hours regarding how the Islanders’ lovable defenseman became the player he is today, and the path he has taken to become one of the most underrated defenseman in the National Hockey League.
Eyes on Isles has the exclusive story. (Let the parody commence!)
The summers were quiet in Judique, Nova Scotia. When the ponds weren’t frozen, there was never much to do in that quaint town.
“There’s no bank, there’s no restaurant, no school or rink,” says Andrew MacDonald, referring to his hometown in an interview with Islanders’ official website back in 2011.
What the town had plenty of, though, was dodgeball, a game in which players on two teams try to throw large balls at each other, all while avoiding being hit themselves.
Every summer weekend 50-100 kids would meet up for an all-day tournament.
Team captains would alternate on a weekly basis. Rock-paper-scissors determined the order of the draft. One thing always stayed constant during Judique’s weekly dodgeball tournament, though: Andrew MacDonald was always the last kid selected.
“He was a ball magnet,” AMac’s friend said. “Every weekend, Andrew never stood a chance. He could never get out of the way.
Week-after-week, the collective sigh of Andrew MacDonald’s teammates could be heard around Nova Scotia. MacDonald would be pelted as soon as he stood on the frontline, or the ball would find him if he was hiding out in the back. Dodgeball hated Andrew MacDonald, and Andrew MacDonald began hating Dodgeball.
It got so bad that, one summer weekend in, Andrew MacDonald took his ball and went home with it….except it only took 5 minutes for him to angrily throw the ball at the local supermarket’s outer wall, and for that ball to return right back into his face.
That night, AMac made the tough decision. “He left,” said AMac’s friend, “We never saw AMac in Judique again.”
Andrew MacDonald ran to Moncton, where he lived by himself for a number of years. He left his small hometown, in hopes of avoiding the game of dodgeball all together.
One afternoon, AMac was walking home from his job at the local delicatessen. As part of his daily commute, AMac (or A-Wac or A-Wall as he was snidely coined) walked past a frozen pond, where ice hockey was usually being played. He often kept his distance, and this day was no different. As he walked behind the net on this particular afternoon, a misguided slap-shot sailed over the crossbar of the ongoing hockey game, and slammed into the side of AMac’s neck.
Down, but not out, AMac quickly got to his feet. “I can never get away,” murmured AMac. The man who fired the shot sped over to MacDonald. “Hey, are you OK?” It was Ted Nolan, coach of the Moncton Wildcats.
“Hey, kid. Are you OK?” Nolan asked again. AMac stated that he was fine.
“You took that shot like a champ,” said Nolan. “Do you play hockey?”
AMac responded that he has played some hockey throughout Nova Scotia, but it had been a few months since he has laced up the skate.
Ted Nolan offered MacDonald the chance to play in the QMJHL. In MacDonald’s eyes, it was a further chance to escape dodgeball, so he agreed. MacDonald would join the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL.
MacDonald proved to translate his ball magnet failures in dodgeball into puck magnet success in hockey. Not only did Andrew MacDonald get in the way of shots, but he got in the way of a ton of them. Sure, AMac had some other assets – he added 46 points during his first season with the Wildcats – but his shot blocking abilities were at the top of his class. What made him such a terrible dodgeball player was what made him such a successful hockey player.
Before you knew it, MacDonald was on top of the world. He was paired with Keith Yandle, the current star defenseman for the Phoenix Coyotes. Together, they helped lead Moncton to a Memorial Cup Victory.
“He was unbelievable back there,” Yandle said after their Memorial Cup Victory. “I’ve never seen a guy who could just get in the way of every type of shot, no matter the speed, no matter the cause. The puck just seemed to find him.”
Ted Nolan left after that season. The New York Islanders offered him an NHL coaching job, and he took it. MacDonald thanked him for the opportunity, but as it turned out, that wouldn’t be the last he would hear from the man that gave him a chance.
Despite the fact that MacDonald was not rated by the NHL’s central scouting service, he received a phone call on the second day of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. It was Ted Nolan, who gave AMac the news that he had been selected in the sixth round by the New York Islanders.
The rest is history.
Now, AMac is consistently one of the NHL’s leading shot-blockers. With over 400 blocked shots in the past two seasons, he has certainly found a name for himself outside of Judique, Nova Scotia.
No matter the situation, whether it be by ball or puck, the projectiles find him. AMac found where his talents would be embraced, not only by the sport itself, but by the people who play it.
This is the story of Andrew MacDonald, a true dodgeball failure.
Thanks for reading!