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Zibanejad: 'It's a Huge Honor' to Win Steven McDonald Award

by Michael Obernauer

You name it, it's likely Mika Zibanejad leads the Rangers in it. His 30 goals pace the club, the first 30-goal season of the 25-year-old centerman's NHL career. Likewise his 42 assists and 72 points. His 20:30 per game is tops among Blueshirts forwards, the lion's share of those minutes coming against other teams' top players. Eleven power-play goals, 12 power-play assists, a pair of shorthanded tallies. His 811 faceoff wins not only are tops on the team but 11th in the league. The Rangers have played 80 games this season; Zibanejad is the only man to play in every one.

Through all that, Zibanejad remains the kind of person who lets his play do the talking. On Wednesday night, Ranger fans had something to say back.

The Blueshirts Faithful voted to bestow the 2019 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award on Zibanejad. The award, given to the Ranger who "goes above and beyond the call of duty," is part of the lasting legacy of New York Police Department Det. Steven McDonald, who gave the full measure of devotion to the City of New York. Detective McDonald was left paralyzed from a gunshot wound suffered in the line of duty on July 12, 1986. He was for decades a revered presence around Madison Square Garden, where others now carry on his spirit.

Detective McDonald passed away on Jan. 10, 2017. On Wednesday night, his son Conor, an NYPD sergeant; and his widow, Patti Ann, returned for the annual ceremony presenting the award that bears Detective McDonald's name, prior to the Rangers' game against Zibanejad's former team, the Ottawa Senators. The recipient is decided by fan vote and the award is among the highest honors the team bestows.

Video: OTT@NYR: Zibanejad receives Steven McDonald Award

Seventeen different Rangers had received the award, beginning with Jan Erixon in 1987-88, continuing to Henrik Lundqvist (for the second time) in 2017-18. And now Zibanejad.

"The history behind that award, the history behind that family, is truly incredible. You really feel inspired by them," Zibanejad said. "You know how much this award means to the players, the fans, the city, and then that family, what it stands for. You look at the guys that won it before, it's been a good list of names on that award. Not only great players but the way they worked, the way they battled, they are role models. That is just a huge honor."

Conor McDonald - who each year becomes more and more the spitting image of his father - accepted a check from presenting sponsor Northwell Health for $25,000 to the Steven McDonald Foundation, then addressed the Garden crowd and the 2018-19 Rangers, predicting "brighter days ahead." He spoke of those darkest days of all, when his father was wounded and life for his family forever changed.

"But he was the best of us," Conor said of his dad. "He gave us hope, he gave us love, and I was proud to call him my father."

Conor then introduced the player whose name would soon be etched onto the trophy that sat on a table beside him, in the corner of the rink from where he used to watch Ranger games with his dad: "A guy who came out every day, had a smile on his face and made sure he put it all out on the ice. Number 93, Mika Zibanejad."

"That's probably the most nervous I've been in a long while," said Zibanejad, who skated out to a roaring ovation. "It's a huge honor, and I couldn't believe it. I was kind of shaky there.

"It was emotional. I haven't been here for that long, even though it's my third season," said Zibanejad, who was named one of the Rangers' alternate captains prior to this season. "But the history behind it is something special - it didn't take very long for me to understand what it means. The fans get to vote; it's not just your performance as far as stats go.

"Just the fight and what that family went through, and what they stand for, and how much they inspire me, even these three years, is incredible. That was emotional and it's a huge honor. I couldn't really put it into words right afterwards, in the intermission, and it's hard now, too."

"He goes out there with a smile and gives 110 percent," Conor McDonald said of the Steven McDonald Award winner. "You can always rely on Mika. Every shift we watch Mika in a Ranger uniform you know something great could happen."

David Quinn has seen Zibanejad accomplish more than a few great things over their first season together in New York, and the Rangers' head coach is well aware of all the numbers Zibanejad has put up in his seventh full NHL season. But Quinn also knows there are so many other ways, too, in which Zibanejad leads his team.

"We've all talked about what a great year he's had, and how consistent he's been," Quinn said. "Obviously a lot of people point to his point total - as they should - but there's so much more to his game. He's done everything for us - he's been our No. 1 center, he's killed penalties, he's been on the power play. He's done everything for us.

"Well deserved," the head coach said. "Well deserved."

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