|Edmonton Oilers defenseman Steve MacIntyre (33), left, fights with Calgary Flames' Brandon Prust during second period NHL hockey action in Edmonton on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jimmy Jeong) |
"I went 3 months without playing hockey. I was so sick and tired of the same old rigmarole, just going out and beating on guys and trying to make a name for myself. It just got to the point where I don't want to do this anymore."
-- Steve MacIntyre
Growing up in the tiny prairie town of Brock, Saskatchewan, Steve MacIntyre would watch Edmonton Oilers games and think the NHL seemed about as far away as Jupiter.
It seemed even more distant when he was playing for the Quad City Mallards of the United Hockey League. Quad City, which played its home games in Moline, Ill., also is pretty far from Charlotte, N.C. The more MacIntyre thought about it, the more he believed he needed to be in Charlotte.
That's where his wife was, and their newborn son, and his stepson. That's where home was. So MacIntyre made the painful decision to quit. He packed his gear and went home, ready to start a new life.
"I went 3 months without playing hockey," MacIntyre told NHL.com of his 2006-07 season. "I was so sick and tired of the same old rigmarole, just going out and beating on guys and trying to make a name for myself. It just got to the point where I don't want to do this anymore. I lost my love for the game. … I was away from family, I had just had my first kid, and I was away from my wife and my stepson, it was the first time I was away from them.
"That period of time, you're away from your family, a lot of things change. My little boy was starting to move around, starting to crawl and walk a little bit. I didn't want to miss that. I put a lot of things down on a piece of paper, wrote the pros and cons, and thought I shouldn't be playing the game any more because of my family. I wanted to make the best decision based on my family and I didn't feel like I had it in me. I didn't feel it was fair to my family to be on their own. I walked away and hung up my skates."
At Christmas in 2006, MacIntyre and his family went back to Brock. It was the first time he had been home for the holidays in 7 years.
MacIntyre thought he had made the right decision to move on from hockey and all the travel, all the teams, all the stress. After four seasons with three teams in the Western Hockey League, MacIntyre had journeyed through the alphabet soup of North American minor-league hockey. Between 2001-02 and 2006-07, he played for 8 teams in 6 leagues. The highest rung on the ladder for him had been two stints with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers' American Hockey League affiliate, playing 3 games in 2003-04 and 27 games in 2004-05.
The 6-foot-6, 238-pound defenseman made a name with his hands, but it wasn't for his scoring touch. In 30 AHL games, he had 1 goal, 1 assist and 207 penalty minutes.
In all, he racked up 26 goals and 1,727 penalty minutes in 353 games in that 6-season span.
MacIntyre thought he was done. But on his trip home, he had a long talk with his father, Ross, and things changed after that.
"Dad and I were talking about it, and he was saying just try to make sure you didn't quit for the wrong reasons," MacIntyre said. "What was your reasoning behind it? I laid it all out there and he said to me, 'I know you feel what you did was right, and I'll never tell you what was right or wrong. But did you give it your all? Did you do absolutely everything you could to give yourself a chance? Are you going to be able to look at yourself 10 years down the road and be satisfied?'
"That kind of got me jump-started again. I said to myself I was going to do it and do it the best I can."
MacIntyre pulled his gear out of storage and jumped back onto the minor-league treadmill. He spent last season with Providence of the AHL, totaling 2 goals and 213 penalty minutes in 62 games. Those numbers impressed the Florida Panthers, who signed him this past June and assigned him to Rochester, their AHL team. He never played for the Americans, but was practicing with them when he was pulled off the ice last week.
"At first I didn't know exactly what was going on," MacIntyre said. "I kind of thought something was wrong when I got called off."
No, nothing was wrong. But you better sit down for this one.
MacIntyre had been claimed on waivers by the Edmonton Oilers. He was going to "The Show." He was told to pack his bags and jump on a plane to Edmonton.
"It took me a little while before everything clicked," MacIntyre said. "I tried calling my wife, but she was busy, so I called my mom and let her in on the news, and then I talked to my wife and she was very happy."
Like the end to a Disney movie, MacIntyre's life-long dream was about to come true, with the team he grew up rooting for.
MacIntyre knew he was in a special place the first time he walked into the Oilers' dressing room at Rexall Place. The boy who grew up idolizing Dave Semenko and Marty McSorley, Kevin McClelland and Dave Brown, now was walking in their place, wearing their jerseys.
"It was breathtaking," he said. "To see the Stanley Cups there in the front of the room, going out the big doors for the first time, it was unbelievable, it was unreal. Such an experience, I'll cherish it forever.
"It's right up there with my kid being born and getting married."
"It was breathtaking. To see the Stanley Cups there in the front of the room, going out the big doors for the first time, it was unbelievable, it was unreal. Such an experience, I'll cherish it forever. It's right up there with my kid being born and getting married." -- Steve MacIntyre
MacIntyre played his first game Oct. 15 in Anaheim, and then came his first on-ice taste of the Battle of Alberta. His third game was his first in Edmonton, and with his friends and family in attendance, he made the most of his 6 shifts and 2:31 of ice time. He laid a devastating hit on Flames forward Dustin Boyd, and then pounded Brandon Prust when Prust came to his teammate's aid.
"That was a wicked hit on Boyd," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish said after the Oct. 18 game. "It was an inspirational shift. The momentum changed somewhat at that point. He built an instant relationship with the fans."
It's a relationship MacIntyre feels indebted to continue.
"You kind of feel like every fan that has ever cheered for the Oilers, I feel like I was representing them by putting a jersey on," he said. "That pride thing, putting the jersey on. Everybody wishes they were an Oiler and they hope you do well. But the first time you put that jersey on, everybody in the whole building is rooting for you and cheering you on."
MacIntyre has gone scoreless with 12 penalty minutes in 5 games with the Oilers, and he knows all the cheering and good times could end tomorrow. If so, MacIntyre said he feels he's already accomplished everything he's always wanted.
"I took it all in, but I never really appreciated it until a few days later," he said of his first NHL game. "I finally did it -- I played in a game for the Edmonton Oilers. Like I told my dad, it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. … It was a dream come true breaking into the NHL, and as an Oiler. It doesn't get any better than that."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org