Although he was released from his NHL tryout agreement with the Bruins and assigned to the Providence (AHL) training camp over the weekend, Kirk MacDonald still has plenty to celebrate.
This week marks five years since the fourth and final surgery the now-26-year-old endured to rid himself of testicular cancer and then correct complications that occurred during earlier procedures.
With that type of life experience, it’d be difficult to find a player better suited to pass on life lessons, in addition to hockey knowledge, to what should be a rich crop of Boston prospects down on the farm this winter.
“It’s definitely pretty awesome. I’m proud to have accomplished that,” MacDonald told TheBruinsBlog.net days before he left to join the P-Bruins, who open their training camp Tuesday. “It’s great. I’m really pumped about it and from where I was then, not a lot of people thought I’d play hockey again. Being here and battling for a spot, it’s awesome. It’s great and I’m having fun with it.”
In NHL camp with just an AHL deal in hand, MacDonald was a long shot to earn a spot with Boston. But the challenge of his second NHL camp with the Black and Gold was nothing compared to where he was five years ago, after he battled excruciating pain to finish the 2004-05 season at RPI and then was diagnosed with cancer.
Finally released from the hospital in the first week of October 2005, MacDonald started on the lengthy road to recovery. After a full season out, he made it back to the Engineers to play 33 games in 2006-07 and then started his pro career with Albany (AHL) that spring. He joined up with Providence in ’08-09 and since then has appreciated the opportunities the organization has given him. That’s why he decided to return to the fold this year after he became free agent over the summer.
Providence Bruins coach Rob Murray is excited to have MacDonald, who contributed 22 points (14 goals) last season, back.
“He’s one of those guys you tend to be looking for all the time in terms of an American League signing, not necessarily a depth guy for Boston. He’s a guy that because we’ve got him in-house, we’ve got that guy,” said Murray, who also noted that MacDonald is a versatile player capable of playing all three forward positions and on any line. “He’s been excellent for us. I think he’s improved. I think more than anything he’s gotten more confident at the American League level. He’s gotten better and better.”
Physically, the only sign of MacDonald’s ordeal is a large scar on his stomach. Some guys might catch a glimpse of it and ask MacDonald what he has been through, while some might ignore it. By the same token, he’s not going around the room making his teammates feel guilty about his plight, but he’s more than willing to talk about it with a curious colleague and offer from perspective.
MacDonald counts defenseman Adam McQuaid among his closer friends in the organization. The 23-year-old McQuaid knows that when it comes to MacDonald, he and other young players have a perfect mentor.
“We are very close. The thing about him is he’ll never bring up the past. He’s a guy that comes to the rink and works hard every day and he demands the respect of his teammates by the way he plays,” said McQuaid. “And for sure, he’s always making the most of every day. You only live once and you’ve got to make the most of every day, and that’s what he’s taught me. Needless to say, he’s a bit of an inspiration. He’s been through a lot.”
MacDonald says he’ll continue to embrace a leadership role, which is great news for Boston. Whether it’s Joe Colborne, Max Sauve, Yury Alexandrov or any of the other handful of highly regarded draft picks that figure to pull on a spoked ‘P’ sweater this year, they’ll all need guidance on what it takes to make it as a pro and how valuable every moment of life is. Murray figures he’ll be looking for MacDonald to show the youngsters the way.
“His work ethic is as good as anyone’s. It is a good testament,” said the coach. “I think too, when you have a guy like that on the team who has worked his way through the East Coast League, worked his way to an American League deal, is really knocking on the door to get an NHL deal, it’s for those guys that feel their entitled to what they get because of where they were drafted or whatever. It’s good to have a guy to kind of balance that out on a team.
“A guy like Mac doesn’t have to necessarily throw it out there like ‘hey, look what I did.’ But on the other hand, you can say here’s a guy scraping to make a living at this game and he’s giving it everything he’s got. That’s the type of role model you like to have on your team.”
As he continues to improve on the ice and build a solid reputation in the dressing room, MacDonald will inch closer to landing an NHL deal — which might remove him from the mix with Providence/Boston in the seasons ahead. Wherever MacDonald goes and spends his future survival anniversaries, however, his impact on the Bruins’ organization will continue to be felt.