By Adam Brady
It's safe to say the last year has been the best of Andy McDonald's life.
A breakout 2005-06 season - in which he shattered career highs in goals (34) and points (51) - commenced with his first experience in the Stanley Cup playoffs. McDonald, who has been the with Ducks since his rookie year of 2000-01, regrettably missed the Ducks' run to the '03 Stanley Cup finals, as a concussion forced him to sit it out. But he was a major part of last seasons run to the Western Conference finals, scoring a pair of goals and adding seven assists in 16 games.
A little more than a month after that playoff run ended, McDonald was rewarded by the Ducks with a new three-year contract. But his summer got even better when he and wife Gina were married in Newport Beach in front of family and friends, including several Ducks teammates.
With a new contract and a lifestyle change, pressure was high for McDonald to maintain his level of play with this season's Ducks. He has done that and more, flourishing as the team's No. 1 center and playmaker, and earning a selection to the Western Conference squad at the All-Star game.
McDonald spoke after a recent Ducks practice about the past year and his development as a pass-first forward.
How important was it for you to have a good season for you after what you did last year?
Certainly the expectations were high on my part and the organization's part. Last year I kind of fell into the No. 1 center spot after we traded Sergei [Fedorov]. There were always rumors that they were looking for another center. Until the trading deadline passed last year [on March 9] I was kind of waiting and waiting. When the deadline passed and we hadn't acquired another center, I really thought this was my opportunity. I was rewarded with a new contract in the summer, and that kind of changes everything and you have to perform every night. You put high expectations on yourself and you have to prepare every night to play at the highest level possible.
Have you ever had a better offseason than the past one, with the new contract and getting married?
Well, my wife would put the wedding ahead of the contract [laughs]. But it was a really good summer. There were a lot of things going on and it was pretty exciting in both respects.
How has married life treated you?
It's been good, but it's definitely not the first time I've lived with my wife. During the lockout (in 2004-05) we lived over in Germany together when I was playing over there. We had a million things going on last summer with the wedding and the honeymoon and the contract. Now things have settled down a bit, and we moved into a new house in Huntington Beach last October. We're enjoying it down there. But it wasn't until the last couple of weeks that we finally hung up some pictures.
Do you pride yourself on your ability to find the open man?
That's the way I was always taught to play, moving the puck and passing the puck. When you're one of the top players on your team, you want to make other players around you better. I was always taught to make the pass first, and that's kind of been my trademark, even in college. I would describe myself as a playmaker, rather than a goal-scorer. I think now that's the perfect fit for our line. Maybe sometimes I might overpass, but obviously Teemu is a natural scorer, so you want to give him the puck as much as possible.
What was your first All-Star game like?
The experience was great and so unique for me. I really enjoyed myself. Just being around players like Nicklas Lindstrom and Joe Sakic, hanging out with those guys, gives you a pretty good outlook on things. It really motivates me to try and get back there.
The day before the game, you won the NHL's fastest skater competition. Did that surprise you at all?
It did. I wasn't really looking forward to it because I didn't know I was going to do it and I was a little nervous beforehand. But obviously it went well and it was a good experience.
Was it even more special to go through the playoffs last year after missing the opportunity in '03?
It definitely was. When I was out with the concussion, it wasn't easy watching that team go through the playoffs and make the finals. That was a big motivator for me last year, and to have the great run that we did, that was exciting. Certainly no one expected us to go as far as we did. Going through the playoffs for the first time gives you a little bit of a taste and you hope you can get back there and go even further.
This story appears in the latest version of Ducks Digest, available free at every Ducks home game.