CALGARY, AB -- In his 12 seasons in the professional ranks, netminder Joey MacDonald has never really had a crack at a starting gig in the NHL.
He's traversed through a multitude of systems, bouncing around from the ECHL, AHL and NHL, and has acted as a dependable and steady back-up but that is about as far as he has gotten in regards to his career in the NHL.
However, as he heads into the 2013-14 campaign, he may very well be fighting to be the Calgary Flames starter. With Miikka Kiprusoff undecided on his future in hockey, that spot may very well be up for grabs coming training camp.
"It’s going to be some big feet to fill," he said, referencing the veteran goalie's possible retirement. "Kipper’s been here for a long time and has done a great job. If it happens, great. They’re going to bring probably a couple other goalies too. My focus now is just to be ready and be 100 per cent and give myself the best chance in training camp."
If Kiprusoff does indeed decide to call it a career, MacDonald will be jostling with Karri Ramo (Avangard Omsk) and Reto Berra (EHC Biel) for the position. While both are starters for their respective teams, neither have the NHL experience MacDonald has accumulated. Ramo has 48 NHL contests under his belt, all with the Tampa Bay Lightning, while Berra doesn't have a single game played in North America on his resume.
"Usually every year I’m battling to be the number two guy or not being the number three guy," MacDonald stated. "This year, you know what, there could be a chance for me to be the number one guy. That’s what I’m kind of going to work for all summer. If Kipper comes back then great and, you know what, it’s awesome to have him back, but if not I want to have a chance at that number one too."
MacDonald also has a bit of a leg up on his competition thanks to his time with the Flames this year. He understands what the coaching staff wants out of their charges and they have a solid understanding of what the 33 year-old brings to the table.
After Kiprusoff went down with a lower body injury in early February, the Flames utilized the services of Leland Irving before snatching up MacDonald on waivers from the Detroit Red Wings. At that time, MacDonald had just been cleared to play after rehabbing a back injury and Detroit wanted to get him in a few games with the AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins.
"MacDonald is someone that our scouts have identified for some time as an acquire-in-trade as we call it in our scouting system," Flames General Manager Jay Feaster said shortly after acquiring the netminder. "He was a player that we had talked about as recently as the start of training camp with our mid-winter pro scouting meetings."
MacDonald's first game as a Flame came on Feb. 15, when the St. Louis Blues made a stop at the Scotiabank Saddledome. It wasn't the start he was hoping for - a 5-2 loss in which he made 18 saves after relieving Irving early in the opening frame - he didn't allow that disappointment to seep into his psyche. He jumped right back into the mix on Feb. 17, making 27 saves in a 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars in his first official start with the organization.
From that point forward, Bob Hartley hasn't hesitated to call on the Pictou, NS product. MacDonald ended up playing 21 games with the Flames this season, posting a 8-9-1 record, a 2.87 GAA and a .902 save percentage. Confident in his abilities moving forward, Calgary inked MacDonald to a one-year, one-way deal on Apr. 20.
"The first couple games here I didn’t know how my back was going to hold out and it’s been great. For them to take a chance on a goalie who never played a game in 11 months, it’s great," he said of his time with the organization. "Getting to play 21 games and stuff like that it’s energizing especially going into the summer knowing that I’m coming back and my back’s healthy, it’s going to be fun."