For most goalies, adjusting to a new team on the fly is a difficult transition.
For Joey MacDonald, it’s par for the course.
The 33-year-old journeyman netminder made his Abbotsford Heat debut on Wednesday evening, and sparkled in backstopping his new club to a 3-2 shootout win over the San Antonio Rampage at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
The Heat are the fifth AHL franchise MacDonald has suited up for in a 13-year pro career, which has also included stints with five NHL teams – the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.
The Flames placed him on waivers last Saturday and sent him down to Abbotsford the next day after he cleared. It was a disappointing turn of events for the veteran, but rather than sulk, he dug in and fashioned a terrific first game, stopping 29 of 31 shots in regulation/OT and all four Rampage shooters he was required to face in the shootout.
“Some people come down (to the AHL) . . . and they mope,” the genial Pictou, N.S. native acknowledged after the game. “But you know what, you’ve got to work hard and get back up there. That’s my job now – to win every single game I get in and put some pressure on myself, and it’ll happen.
“It’s always disappointing when you spend the last year and a half up there. But you know what, it’s hockey. A lot of things happen, and throughout my career, it’s happened more than once.
“The only thing I can tell you – every time it happened, I went down with a smile on my face and worked hard, and eventually things worked out in the end.”
MacDonald didn’t have a tremendous amount to do during a defensive-minded first period on Wednesday, and he was staked to a 2-0 lead on goals by Ben Street and Ben Hanowski.
Street opened the scoring at 11:38 of the first period, taking advantage of an atrocious turnover by Rampage defenceman Colby Robak. Blair Jones and Street both took whacks at the puck in front of San Antonio keeper Dov Grumet-Morris, and it was Street who managed to knock it out of the air and into the net.
Hanowski made it 2-0 at 2:35 of the second, taking a sweet feed from Markus Granlund and wiring a blocker-side shot.
The Rampage battled back, though – Garrett Wilson cut the lead in half with a deft deflection of Alex Petrovic’s hard pass just past the midway point of the second period.
And with less than six minutes remaining in the third, moments after MacDonald made a sensational glove save on Robak during a period of sustained pressure, the Rampage blueliner fed Bobby Butler in the slot and he ripped a shot home.
The Heat owned the shootout, though. Street and Jones beat Grumet-Morris with dekes to the glove side, and the closest the Rampage came to scoring was when Butler clanged a sharp-angle shot off the post after juking MacDonald to the ice.
It was the Heat’s second win in two nights vs. the Rampage, and their fifth win in a row. They occupy first place in the AHL’s Western Conference at 9-4-1 for 19 points, but it’s worth noting that they’ve played more games than anyone else in the conference, save for the Rockford IceHogs, who have also played 14.
Hanowski was impressed by MacDonald’s “calm and relaxed” demeanor.
“He’s been doing this for a long time – an older guy, been in the NHL a long time,” he noted. “Having him back there helps our confidence. He’s a reliable guy, and he really played well back there tonight.”
The Heat were out-shot 31-24 for the game, and head coach Troy Ward felt his charges ran out of gas as the night wore on.
“We had a good push for just under 30 minutes, then basically we had four flat tires,” he said with a wry grin. “The last 30 minutes was a real struggle.
“But when things are going a certain way for you and you’re getting good goaltending, then you can manage through a hockey game. Goaltending will give you a lot of confidence to make plays and stay with things. Both (Joni) Ortio and MacDonald gave us a chance to win two games and we did.”
• MacDonald’s Wikipedia page briefly contained the following paragraph on Wednesday: “Hot dogs are his favorite meal. He likes to wear purple polka dot socks for luck during every game. After a long, hard game he likes to sit back with an ice cold milk and watch Reading Rainbow.”
By the end of the third period, the paragraph had been taken down.
• MacDonald’s last AHL game prior to Wednesday night: Jan. 28, 2012 with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
• Heat first-period forward lines:
• The Heat are back in action this weekend vs. the Toronto Marlies, hosting the Maple Leafs affiliate on Saturday (7 p.m. start) and Sunday (4 p.m.).