McDonald a hometown hero

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

It would be fitting if a man who was told he'd never play hockey professionally because he was too small brings home professional hockey's biggest prize.

A lot of people in Strathroy are looking forward to having hometown hero Andy McDonald show up this summer with the Stanley Cup.

McDonald's Anaheim Ducks are one win away from lifting the NHL title. They lead the Ottawa Senators in the best-of-seven final 3-1 with Game 5 tonight.

As improbable a scenario as the Ducks as Stanley Cup champs would have been years ago, the image of McDonald strolling into Strathroy's Derby Inn with the Cup in hand would be in the realm of fantasy.

For all of McDonald's outstanding accomplishments, few in hockey's establishment believed he would make it professionally. McDonald wasn't drafted by an Ontario Hockey League or NHL team.

"I was at a Strathroy Blades game doing video when I saw an OHL scout," said Dave Honsberger, involved with the junior B team many years. "I said to him, 'Can you tell me why Andy McDonald was never drafted?' He said, 'Sure, that's easy. He's too small, too slow, not strong enough and doesn't have enough natural hockey ability to play at the OHL level.' Wow!"

Wow is right. When the OHL passed on him, McDonald went to play at Colgate. He wasn't drafted even though he was the NCAA scoring champion, ECAC player of the year and a Hobie Baker finalist for the best U.S. collegiate player.

"Nobody, not Andy or his family ever said much about that," said friend Lee Whiteside, who owns a sports store in Strathroy. He has a sign in front supporting McDonald and an Andy McDonald shrine inside. "Now, we're all looking forward to seeing Andy bring the Stanley Cup here.

"People come in here and talk about seeing the Cup and cars drive by and honk. It's all so positive."

Whiteside travelled with McDonald's father Steve to see Andy play. McDonald's parents are in California in hopes they'll be able to celebrate with their son. It would be quite a celebration considering how close McDonald came to never playing.

Not only was there the belief he was too small but also when he did make it, he suffered a concussion that forced him to miss the last 29 games of the 2002-03 season, including Anaheim's playoff run that took them to the Stanley Cup final.

"Quiet" and "down-to-earth" are words that you hear repeatedly when anyone describes McDonald.

"Even he should be blowing his horn, but he won't. His parents won't either," Whiteside said. "He's just a quiet, respectful kid."

Mark Tyler's family owns the Derby Inn. Ron and Marci Tyler have owned it for more than 30 years. Mark Tyler player minor hockey with McDonald and McDonald plays in the Derby Inn golf tournament in the summer. Ron was a big supporter of Strathroy minor hockey before died. The Derby Inn is a place to be on game night.

"He may have become a superstar but he hasn't changed," said Tyler whose family owns the Derby Inn. Tyler played minor hockey with McDonald. "People in this town are excited. They can hardly wait for Game 5. We're hoping that when Andy wins it, the Cup will be making a stop at the Derby Inn. I know my Dad would have loved to see Andy do well. After 30 years of being here, I'm hoping my mother gets a chance to drink out of the Cup."

It's been a memorable year in Strathroy. The junior B Rockets made it to the Ontario Hockey Association Sutherland Cup final. There was great hope the Stanley Cup final would be between Anaheim and Buffalo Sabres making it a head-to-head between McDonald and another Strathroy native, Sabres defenceman Bryan Campbell.

Tyler has a Facebook site that's entitled Strathroy is Hockey Town which has almost 300 friends, many of them cheering McDonald on and offering him support.

Pat Stapleton said there's more to Andy McDonald than just a hockey player or hockey hero. The former NHL star coached McDonald on the Rockets for two years in the mid-90s.

"He's a role model for every boy that plays hockey," Stapleton said. "The fact he was never drafted, he didn't take any of that into consideration. He just played the game and let the results speak for themselves. He's always been a results oriented guy. Last summer, I went to the rink with another kid who hadn't been drafted and I saw Andy skating there, breaking in a new pair of skates. I said to Andy, 'explain to this boy who was not drafted and has tremendous athletic ability, explain what to do.' And he said 'use it as motivation.' Andy is a teaching tool for every kid. Kids lose hope because they're not drafted when they're 15. That didn't enter into Andy's equation at all. "

This isn't the first time McDonald has raised the passions of Strathroy's hockey fans. In the 1995-96 season, McDonald scored a goal in double overtime that allowed the fourth-place Blades to eliminate first-play Aylmer. "Chris Wells and Stan Moore from Colgate were here following another player from Aylmer," Stapleton said. "After three or four games they said to me, 'what do you think of McDonald? I said 'the guy you're following, he's beat him to the puck every time.' They said 'you're right,' and took him right there."

For a guy whose standing a town on its ear, McDonald is a quiet hero.

"There was never any question about his ability," Stapleton said. "He was very quiet, very humble, unassuming. He let his actions do his talking."


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