Worcester coach Roy Sommer
looked at forward Jamie McGinn
on the night of April 28 and saw a fourth-liner.
The perception was no knock against McGinn, a rookie who normally assumes a spot on the team's first or second line. It's just that McGinn looked like an extra from a zombie movie and Sommer figured he'd take it easy on him and limit his minutes with Game 1 of the Atlantic Division Finals against Providence a couple hours away.
But McGinn, 20, had other ideas. He had just come off a sleepless, coast-to-coast trip from San Jose to Boston to get a Shark-sized bite of the playoffs. He was there for more than moral support.
"They (San Jose) told me, 'No excuses. We want you to play hard. Go get it done in Worcester,'" McGinn said. "I was chomping at the bit."
Quickly working his way up to Worcester's first line, McGinn started to feed his playoff hunger by scoring his team's only two goals in a 3-2 overtime loss. But it was an effort that clearly announced his planned impact on the series.
"We didn't win that game. But we saw what he was capable of doing," Sommer said. "His stock went up even more. He's a guy who probably will be in the National Hockey League next year. We better enjoy him while we can."
Save for San Jose's upset loss to Anaheim -- a series in which McGinn practiced but did not play -- the farm team might already have seen the last of their prize prospect. McGinn, a second-round pick by San Jose in 2006, stuck with the big club for 35 games this season, contributing 4 goals and 2 assists.
In Worcester, he was much more of a difference-maker. With great speed, versatility and enthusiasm for bumping opponents off the puck, the 6-foot, 200-pound McGinn turned out 19 goals and 11 assists in 47 games.
"I just don't want to be an average player," McGinn said. "I want to be an impact player."
Considering the lengths and distance that McGinn has gone to take the ice this postseason, it's hard to imagine any hurdle too daunting. But at about this time last year, he had trouble merely getting out of bed. Exerting himself in something as basic as a light skating session was out of the question.
Back problems run in McGinn's family, and until last season he was able to work his way through it. Playing with Ottawa of the OHL, however, the combined grind of the hockey and his hereditary condition slammed him into a wall.
The pain limited him to 51 games with Ottawa, and that was the least of his problems. He couldn't sleep at night. The family he lived with told him they could hear his groans of agony seeping through his bedroom walls.
"It was a scary time for me," he said. "There was always back injuries before, but not to that extent."
Once the season was over he got a cortisone shot in the area, and extensive rehab and stretching work paid off so he could finally begin skating late in the summer. He tore out from the season's starting line with 4 goals and 1 assist in four games with Worcester, then put up three points in five games after a recall to San Jose.
"I had a lot to prove to San Jose," he said. "I felt I owed them a lot. I'm the kind of guy who doesn't want to disappoint."
Even the distractions of a lack of sleep and nutrition are preferable to that outcome.
After San Jose was eliminated in Anaheim on April 27, the team told McGinn he was going back to Worcester. It was a dramatic turnaround on a couple of levels. He was going from a heavy NHL favorite that had a sour end to its year to an AHL underdog that had just knocked off Atlantic Division champ Hartford.
"The guys in San Jose are really disappointed. But you have to balance your emotions to put yourself on a high that you're in the playoffs with another team," he said. "All the guys in the (Worcester) room are excited."
So McGinn flew with the team back to San Jose, arriving at about 1:30 a.m. At 6 a.m. he caught a flight to Boston, sleeping not a wink along the way. He napped on his ride from Boston to Providence, getting to the rink about three hours before game time.
"I've been waiting a long time to play. I would've been happy with a couple of days off. In San Jose, we lost in the first round. I said, geez, I'm not ready for summer. I have a lot more to give. Now that we can't win the Stanley Cup, why not the Calder Cup?"
-- Jamie McGinn
"I was pretty tired. I was thinking on the plane, how am I going to do this?" he said. "But once the guys got there, it was a couple energy drinks, playing on adrenaline. I didn't want to be a distraction for the team. I wanted to show how much I care."
The problem was that apart from a snack on the plane, McGinn hadn't really eaten all day. So after warmups -- yes, right before the game -- he inhaled a submarine sandwich.
McGinn added a second-period power-play goal for desert, then had another helping with a marker that tied the game at the 14:39 mark of the third.
"People make names for themselves in the playoffs. I was just excited to finally play a game," McGinn said. "Every time I got back to the bench, I was sucking wind really hard. After the game I told my dad I don't want to do that again. My body was really sore."
McGinn was soothed by the eight days between Games 1 and 2 in the series, a quirk arising from scheduling conflicts in both buildings. McGinn appreciated the extra rest, no doubt about it.
It's just that once McGinn hits a wall and then breaks through it, he'd rather not stop pushing until there's nothing left to fight for on the other side.
"I've been waiting a long time to play. I would've been happy with a couple of days off," he said. "In San Jose, we lost in the first round. I said, geez, I'm not ready for summer. I have a lot more to give. Now that we can't win the Stanley Cup, why not the Calder Cup?"