A couple of months into his professional hockey career, Joey MacDonald came close to packing his bag and returning home to Pictou, N.S.
Undrafted out of junior, after spending three seasons with the Peterborough Petes, MacDonald was signed by the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent, but assigned to the hapless Toledo Storm of the East Coast Hockey League.
"That was a rough year, I was just coming out of junior and we were one of the worst teams in the ECHL," MacDonald said yesterday. "I remember before Christmas, I called my parents and said: 'If this is what pro hockey is all about, I don't know if it's for me.'
"That was the first year living on my own -- in junior I always lived with a billet -- and I was 20-21, and the next youngest guy was 25 and I wasn't playing much, and it wasn't fun. We were losing, guys were coming and going. But I battled it out and ended up playing a lot and then got an opportunity in Grand Rapids (AHL) and it was great."
Yesterday, the 29-year-old was feeling glad that he did stick it out, after being called up to the Maple Leafs -- the team he grew up cheering for -- from the Marlies.
With rookie goaltender Jonas Gustavsson out for about a week with a groin injury, MacDonald will back up Vesa Toskala, unless the Finn continues to struggle. If that happens, he'll start.
It has been a long journey to the highest level of hockey for MacDonald. After spending his first season in Toledo, he played the better part of four more with Grand Rapids before being called up to the Red Wings during the 2006-07 campaign. But even then, he appeared in only eight games, posting a 1-5-1 record.
He was then claimed by waivers by Boston in 2007, but played only seven games for the Bruins, before signing as a free agent with the New York Islanders in the off-season. It was on the Island that MacDonald really got the chance to prove his worth. With starter Rick DiPietro out with a hip injury last season, MacDonald started 49 games and while he record wasn't exactly stellar (14-26-6), he did post a respectable .901 save percentage and 3.37 goals against average for the hapless Islanders, prompting the Leafs to sign him in the off-season.