The population of Pictou, Nova Scotia is 3,813 or 3,814.
“The actual number,“ laughs Mayor Joe Hawes, “depends on who is home.”
For a place that small, Pictou is flush with hockey players. The Devils Colin White is from the area and so is Islander Jon Sim. Twenty-nine-year-old Joey MacDonald is of the Pictou MacDonalds. His house is across the street from his parents and if you don’t know Joe or Le
onard, who works on the ferry between Halifax and Pictou, you probably know his brother Richie or maybe his uncle Rollie who made his name in the region as a race car driver.
So you can imagine the ruckus at the Knights of Columbus Hall Tuesday with a goodly portion of the town watching the Leafs and the Canadiens when, like an apparition, the MacDonald boy appeared in the Leafs net.
Losing two goalies at the same time happens as often as, ahem, putting a $4.5 million player on the fourth line. Both things happened in Montreal. Jason Blake was skating his heart out on the Leafs checking line and with Vesa Toskala already out with a sore groin, a racing heartbeat pushed Jonas Gustavsson
out of the game.
In came Joey MacDonald who resoundingly shut the door on the Habs and, the mayor says, instantly converted the room from a camp divided between the Habs and Leafs into a cheering section.
“There were still some Montreal fans but everyone in the room was pulling for Joey MacDonald,” he said.
Now after looking very solid in a 6-3 win in Columbus on Thursday, MacDonald will get the start Saturday as the Leafs play the Boston Bruins.
It has been a remarkable run for a journeyman largely saddled with horrible teams in his climb up the ladder. He won only three of 17 games with his first junior team in Halifax and his rookie year in the East Coast Hockey League wasn’t a whole lot better. He posted much better numbers over four seasons in the Detroit system.
The Wings eventually cut him, but that only led to his first real break with the Islanders thanks to the injury to Rick DiPietro and the departure of Wade Dubielewicz. Again, MacDonald’s numbers were far from striking, a .901 save percentage and a 3.37 goals against, but every time he got beat he just kept on getting up.
It’s hard not to like a kid like that, especially a kid whose roots tumble out of his mouth with every spoken word. Unfailingly polite and earnest, he is experiencing what many thought would never come.
It will end, of course. Gustavsson is due back in a little more than a week. They will hand Toskala his job back, probably as soon as Monday when the Leafs return home to play Atlanta.
It stands to reason that within a week or two, the Pride of Pictou will be back in the minors.
But when summer is welcomed back by the people of Pictou, Joey MacDonald will be stopped and asked to remember that night at the Bell Centre and if that isn’t fame, I don’t know what is.
Besides, in Pictou and the hazy world past its borders, they know the score.
“I would put Joey as an A-1 backup,” said the mayor. "Not just a backup, but a very good one.”