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MacDonald returns to scene of his greatest success

by Lindsay Kramer /
Joey MacDonald knows exactly where the goaltending standards are set in his return to the net in Grand Rapids.

He's the one who put most of them there in the first place.

MacDonald, 30, signed with the Detroit organization last week after three seasons away from his comfort zone with the Griffins. From 2002 to 2007 he set numerous franchise marks, including career shutouts (16), games played by a goaltender in a season (66 in 2004-05), wins in a season (tied, 34 in 2004-05), shutouts in a season (tied, 6 in 2003-04), and single-season save percentage (.936 in 2003-04). He is second in career wins (88) and saves (4,251).

"I'm setting the bar pretty high for myself. I have great expectations," MacDonald said. "I'm going to go in there and keep fighting. It doesn't matter how old you are. It may work out, it may not. But going in, I love to be there. I'm excited to be going back, and that's a great start for me."

But MacDonald returns to Grand Rapids at a much different point in his career than when he left on Feb. 24, 2007, claimed on waivers by Boston. He played seven games with the Bruins to finish the 2006-07 season, then spent two years in the New York Islanders' organization, including the entire 2008-09 season in the NHL. MacDonald played last season in the Toronto organization, primarily with the Marlies, where he went 14-19-3 with a 3.18 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage. He was dealt to Anaheim at the trade deadline, but didn't appear in a game for the Ducks or their AHL affiliate.

Still, when the clock struck midnight on the start of free agency on July 1, Detroit was on the horn trying to recruit him.

Not that it took much selling.

"I played a lot of hockey there, know a lot of people there," MacDonald said. "I've played in a lot of organizations. They're at the top of the class. It's just a great feeling to know they have a great team, you know they are going to be in the playoff hunt."

MacDonald's greatest contribution toward that end may not add a single digit to his impressive career totals. Instead, he can play a larger role by helping to nudge prospect Thomas McCollum, Detroit's first-round pick in 2008, toward grabbing some of his own room in the franchise record books.

"I think now I'm more or less a role model for the young guys," MacDonald said. "When you have a young guy like McCollum behind you, you know he's going to be watching every second. That's what I'm looking forward to. Every day you want to go to the rink and strap your skates on."

Wilson makes change, seeks spotlight -- Kyle Wilson's decision to leave Hershey after four seasons was one of the thorniest of his career.

He is soothed by what he gets to take with him, namely two Calder Cup rings. And he is encouraged by what could be ahead -- a starring role of his own.

Wilson, a 25-year-old forward, signed with the Columbus organization July 2. With the Bears, he put up the type of numbers that would have labeled him a headliner in many other systems. He produced 227 points in 298 AHL games and added 41 points in 67 postseason contests.

That production earned Wilson regular minutes on a great Hershey team, but only got him fourth or fifth billing, tops, behind players like Chris Bourque, Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux.

"You need guys like that to win championships. I prided myself as always a role contributor," he said. "I hope (a starring spot) is what's in store for me in the future. Most of my career, that's been my M.O. I like the pressure. I like being that guy who shows up every day, if you don't do your best, you might be hurting your team."

Whether he plays in Columbus or with AHL Springfield, Wilson will be trying to improve the social status of a team far below the Washington/Hershey combo he's leaving behind. However, it's an obvious strategy that improvement anywhere starts with putting successful players on the ice.

"I hope that winning attitude (carries over). You go in every game, you expect to win," he said. "You get down a couple of goals, when you get on a winning team, you never give up. You always believe a couple of goals are just around the corner."

Wilson wasn't the only one to leave Hershey for adventures elsewhere. Giroux, the bedrock of the Bears dynasty and one of the AHL's all-time great scorers, inked a free agent pack with Edmonton.

Jaffray's birthday gift, a new start -- Forward Jason Jaffray celebrated his 29th birthday last week.

For a present, wife Michelle framed the jersey he wore in his first NHL game, for Vancouver in 2007-08. Jaffray scored in that game against Anaheim.  The gift was an impressive bit of foreshadowing. On the actual date of his birthday, June 30, Jaffray was traded from the Calgary organization to Anaheim.

"I'm setting the bar pretty high for myself. I have great expectations. I'm going to go in there and keep fighting. It doesn't matter how old you are. It may work out, it may not. But going in, I love to be there. I'm excited to be going back, and that's a great start for me."
-- Joey MacDonald

"It's kind of neat how that whole circle comes back," Jaffray said.

At the same time, Jaffray hopes the swap breaks another kind of circle -- the one that's kept him confined to the AHL.

The deal from the Flames represents yet another start-over after what might have been Jaffray's most teasing twist yet. He made Calgary out of training camp but wound up playing just three games there. So he went back to his more familiar top-line role in the AHL, finishing 25-29-54 in 72 games with AHL Abbotsford. 

It was a season that added to Jaffray's deserved reputation as one of the top AHL finishers of his era. In 372 career AHL games with Norfolk, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Manitoba and Abbotsford, he's collected 130 goals and 174 assists. He's also been money in the playoffs, with 47 points (24-23) in 61 career Calder Cup contests. But before the three games with Calgary this season, Jaffray had dressed for only 33 NHL games since turning pro in 2002-03.

Jaffray has learned to shrug off that sort of thing as he goes along, noting his fate was marked all the way back to when he went undrafted. He wonders, though, whether Anaheim will be the team that gives him a full-time NHL sweater he can finally add to his collection.

"Nothing's going to come easy. It's something I've done my entire life," he said of scrapping his way along. "I've worked for everything I've got. I don't expect that to change this year."

Texas state of mind -- San Antonio's road map to improvement this summer has taken the team on about a 90-minute trip across familiar terrain.

The Rampage, via signings from parent club Phoenix, have pillaged in-state rival Texas by yanking away goalie Matt Climie, defenseman Garrett Stafford and forward Mathieu Beaudoin. All three were integral factors in the Stars' run to the Calder Cup final last season. Phoenix assistant GM Brad Treliving said his organization didn't specifically target Texas, but the Rampage's familiarity with the rival's roster certainly helped.

"We played them a lot," Treliving said. "The teams you play more often, you are more familiar with those guys. We were lucky enough to get something done with those guys."

The key acquisition is Climie, who could be slotted as the Rampage's starting goalie. Treliving said the organization has a couple of younger netminders in the pipeline and needed a bridge to when they are ready. Climie, 27, is just such a span. He posted a record of 21-17-3 with a 2.46 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and 3 shutouts for Texas in 2009-10. He notched both of the Stars' wins in the final against Hershey.

"I thought he really settled in. This year was a real step for him," Treliving said. "We strengthened the organizational depth in the position."

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