By Michael Fornabaio
Connecticut Post Online
SHELTON, Conn. – One of the more surprising days of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ season last year was the December day when Andrew MacDonald packed his bag for Utah and the ECHL. The rookie defenseman returned to Bridgeport for only a couple of games the rest of the season.
The move wasn’t intended for punishment, but for development. It worked out for the best, and it has made MacDonald an even better candidate for this season’s Sound Tigers team.
MacDonald, 22, said he learned plenty in Utah.
“Everything from just really working hard, not taking anything for granted, on- and off-ice habits,” MacDonald said Monday after taking part in the first practice of the Sound Tigers’ training camp.
“What I’ve got to do to prepare for a game. Not like I didn’t learn that up here, too, but I matured as a player and as a person down there. It helped.” MacDonald helped the Grizzlies, too.
He scored 12 points in 15 playoff games, and the Grizzlies reached the ECHL semifinals.
Kevin Colley, the former Sound Tigers captain who was the Grizzlies’ assistant coach last season, has said MacDonald was the team’s best player in the playoffs.
“One thing Andrew did, like Trevor Smith and Jason Pitton, was he went down with a good attitude,” Bridgeport coach Jack Capuano said, invoking the names of two forwards who went to Utah last fall and came back more confident. “He worked on the physical part of his game.” MacDonald understood, too, that the Islanders sent him to the ECHL expecting big things.
“As soon as the playoffs start, you’ve got to go into another gear,” MacDonald said.
“I was in the playoffs in junior, so I drew on that experience. The intensity cranks up a notch. I knew, going into the playoffs, you’ve got to bear down.”
He arrived in Shelton this year in better shape, about 10 pounds bigger, and with the strength of an excellent tour of duty in Salt Lake City.
“He worked very, very hard this summer on upper-body strength,” Capuano said. “The big thing to me is he’s playing more confidently.”
This year is all about consistency for MacDonald, continuing to develop, to use his strengths moving the puck and continue to develop physically, working toward his NHL goal.
“That’s where everybody wants to be,” he said. “I’ve got to get better and better and be a consistent hockey player.”
He may have to battle again for playing time. After claiming former ECHL defenseman Thomas Pock off waivers Monday from the New York Rangers, the Islanders have 15 defensemen on NHL contracts, and that doesn’t include Bridgeport captain Mark Wotton.
That will make for competition, even while Chris Campoli is injured. Much can still happen in the two weeks before the season starts.
“It depends what the Islanders do,” Capuano said. “There’s an open mind on all these guys. He’s definitely playing very well at the moment.”