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Steven McDonald Award Takes on Special Meaning

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

Detective Steven McDonald was a fixture like no other around the Rangers organization for 30 years. He could be spotted behind the glass at the Zamboni gate with his family during games, and his annual speeches on the night when he'd present the Rangers' Extra Effort Award given yearly in his name were a highlight of each regular season.

With Steven's passing on Jan. 10, 2017, due to complications of respiratory problems caused by his injury on the job back on July 12, 1986 that left him paralyzed, his son said the award will have added meaning moving forward.

"It takes on a different meaning because my dad died because of being shot," said his son, Conor, who is a sergeant in the New York City Police Department. "My dad gave his life to the city. I know for a fact how important [the award] is to the guys on the team, the guy who were on the team before. I think it's going to take on a greater meaning because my dad gave his life. That award is in my dad's name."

The award, given annually to the player who goes above and beyond the normal call of duty, was first given during the 1987-88 season, and has been won by some of the organization's greatest players, including Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Wayne Gretzky, Henrik Lundqvist and Adam Graves, who has won the award five times.

"When I received the award it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life," Graves wrote in January. "To stand alongside Steven on the Madison Square Garden ice and receive an award in his name is something I hold dear and will continue to for the rest of my life.

"This award will now take on more meaning following his passing," added Graves. "We can reflect and understand how lucky we as a community were to have Steven in our lives."

Video: Rangers pay tribute to the life of Det. McDonald

Conor said the award meant everything to his father, who grew up imagining himself as Eddie Giacomin, and cheering on Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle as a youngster in Rockville Center. Conor said that when then Rangers General Manager Phil Esposito visited Steven at the hospital and told him the organization would be creating the award in his name, it had a profound effect on his dad.

"That inspired my dad and motivated my dad each year," Conor said. "He loved that award. All day, every day, my dad thought about the Rangers and the organization. Probably every other couple of days, people would come up to him in public and talk about the award with him. That gave him a lot of pride."

Conor said his father always preferred talking hockey and his Rangers over himself and his condition, always putting others before himself.

"My dad was so humble," he said. "He didn't really talk about himself and didn't really want to talk about himself He loved talking to people and he loved the Rangers. He loved the NYPD and he just wanted to help people. He never asked for anything." 

Video: Sgt. Conor McDonald shares memories of his father

Early on, Conor said he appreciated the award because it allowed him to meet some of his favorite players, but as he's grown, the award's meaning changed for him.

"As I grew older, especially when I was able to understand the totality of the circumstances with my father, I didn't appreciate the award from just meeting the players. I appreciated the award for my father's sacrifice," he said. "How special it was for my father, and then for the city of New York. Probably one of the most important things in my family's lives is the NYPD. For us to put the uniform on and go on the ice and share it with the city of New York and The Garden, that took on a whole new meaning for me when I grew up."

Conor said the days he spent with his father in the hospital in January were some of the toughest days of his life, but that the support sent from current and former Rangers for his dad helped get him through it.

Tweets poured in from current Rangers like Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, as well as former Rangers Cam Talbot, Brandon Dubinsky, Martin St. Louis and Brandon Prust.

"The support from current and former Rangers was a bright spot," Conor said. "It was really inspiring to me and it meant a lot that for those guys who left the organization, that they still remember my father and how important he is. I was in awe of that, just how important my father is."

Video: Rangers remember Steven McDonald with video tribute

Conor and his mother, Patti Ann, will carry on the meaningful award and Rangers tradition beginning this season. 

The Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award is presented by Northwell Health, the proud partner of the award since 2013-14. The award will be presented prior to the game on April 9 at Madison Square Garden.

Conor said his father was the epitome of going above and beyond the call of duty, which for a police officer has special meaning.

"My dad went above and beyond, and then some," he said of his father. "He gave his life for this city.

"As a cop, it's something that we take extremely seriously," he added. "Each and every day, the first responders of this city, they wake up and they don't know if they're coming home. As a copy, as a civil servant, you understand that [going above and beyond] aren't just words, they're actions."

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