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Islanders D-man Comfortable in Any Role

by Travis Betts / New York Islanders

Islanders defenseman Andrew MacDonald is in the midst of a totally different offseason than he was last summer.

After battling through a hip injury late in the 2010-11 campaign, team doctors decided with seven games remaining to shut MacDonald down for the rest of the season. The 6’1, 196-pound blueliner underwent an operation to repair a torn labrum in his hip, and was shelved for the first two months of the offseason.

“It was tough because I really couldn’t train until June,” MacDonald said. “At that point you should be well into your training, and I fell behind the eight ball. I tried to have a really strong summer, but it was tough.”

As challenging as it was, MacDonald was medically cleared to play at the start of training camp and the hip didn’t cause him to miss any time during the 2011-12 season. In his first 22 games, MacDonald scored only one point (a goal). After missing seven games in December due to an unrelated leg injury, he returned to score 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) in his next 42 games. Because of the operation and the long recovery process necessary to strengthen the muscles around his hip, it took the 25-year-old a couple of months of game action before his mobility was back to 100 percent.

“That was probably the major concern,” MacDonald said. “There was still some discomfort, especially to start training camp. We gave it as much rest as possible because it had a tendency to flare up if it was used a lot. It was frustrating because I wasn’t playing at the level I wanted to; that I knew I was capable of.”

The two weeks MacDonald missed in December was the only time he spent on Injured Reserve all season, an impressive feat considering his tendency to sacrifice the body. MacDonald led the Islanders and tied for fifth in the NHL with 185 blocked shots and among team defensemen, only Mark Streit played more games (82) than MacDonald’s 75.

Most of those 185 blocks came against the opposition’s top lines; the players he and defense partner Travis Hamonic are responsible for shutting down every night. Still, MacDonald has proven he is dangerous offensively as well. When Streit was sidelined for the entire 2010-11 season, MacDonald stepped in on the power play and led team defensemen with 23 assists and 27 points.

As a player you always want to take on new challenges and try to take advantage of every opportunity that’s given to you. - Andrew MacDonald

In fact, MacDonald says offensive responsibilities come naturally to him. He posted over 100 points during two seasons of junior hockey from 2005-07, and prior to making it to the NHL full-time, had a similar impact with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, leading the team’s blueliners in scoring during the 2008-09 season. But MacDonald, the consummate professional, has embraced his adapted role as a shut-down defenseman in the NHL.

“I think when you make it to this level, a lot of times you’re not going to be the player that you were before,” MacDonald said. “Sometimes the team will call upon you to play a different role, and you’ve got to adapt your game.”

And who knows – the Islanders may call upon MacDonald to take on more of an offensive role again in the future. And if that opportunity presents itself, MacDonald hopes to seize the opportunity just as he did before.

“As a player you always want to take on new challenges and try to take advantage of every opportunity that’s given to you,” MacDonald said. “Two years ago when Mark was out, I really tried to help fill the void that was left. Last year, I was asked to step into a bit of a different role. It’s all about doing what you’re asked, and if for whatever reason, they ask me to do it this year, I’d be happy to do my best.”

This summer, MacDonald is back to a normal workout schedule – not one filled with rehab and caution, though he does a lot of hip activation exercises before his workout to decrease the possibility of a future injury. Unlike a year ago, MacDonald is enjoying being able to work on the same things as his teammates.

“I think this summer there’s a lot of emphasis on functional movements and getting a good range of motion back,” MacDonald said. “It’s been very beneficial for me. There’s a lot of new things that I’ve learned this summer and it’s been great.”

With a clean bill of health, MacDonald is looking forward to the start of the 2012-13 season. And while he undoubtedly will be relied upon to keep the opposition’s top lines in check, he’ll also be ready to answer the bell and produce offensively if that’s what the team needs.

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