McDonald Prefers Playing, Proving Himself In ECHL

By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

There is such a degree of uncertainty in minor pro hockey careers that it’s prudent to be enrolled in an air miles program.

Former Victoria Salsa BCHL junior Kirk MacDonald started last week in the AHL with the Albany River Rats, ended it in the ECHL with two games with the Florida Everblades, and began this week back up with the River Rats. Welcome to life in the Carolina Hurricanes system, in which the River Rats are the AHL affiliate and the Everblades the ECHL affiliate.

“It’s part of the job,” sighed MacDonald, an Oak Bay High grad, after flying from JFK in New York to Fort Myers, Fla., on Friday and back again Sunday.

The River Rats sent a limo to meet MacDonald at JFK on Sunday and drive him to Bridgeport, Conn., where he got to the AHL game in time but then didn’t dress in the 4-3 Rats loss because of a coach’s decision. Frustrations can pile up quickly in the pros and how you deal with them can dictate how far you go in the business.

“I wasn’t playing a lot in Albany [nine of 20 games to date] and wanted playing time, so I talked with the coaches about maybe going to Florida and playing in the ‘E’ instead of sitting around the press box,” said the 23-year-old MacDonald, by phone from Albany, where he has one assist with the River Rats.

“It’s not good to be sitting in the stands. My two games with the Everblades were fantastic. I played well, the organization treated me extremely well, and the fans there pack the rink [in Fort Myers/Naples].”

The Victoria-raised MacDonald went from the Salsa to an NCAA scholarship to play at the academically-demanding Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where he became a notable power forward for the Engineers and earned a degree in business.

After winning a brave battle so young against testicular cancer while at RPI, MacDonald is back to health and turned heads in the Hurricanes NHL camp this fall. But the lessons at the pro level are harsh.

“It’s tough being a rookie [pro] and starting at the bottom again,” said MacDonald.

“You have to prove yourself, and what you’re about, over again every night,” added the six-foot-two MacDonald, who reiterated it’s better to be playing and improving in the ECHL than sitting in an AHL press box. “But I’m getting paid to play and can’t complain about that.”

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007