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As Red Wings goalie Joey MacDonald gets waived, how 11 days validated his hockey life

Joey MacDonald's thoughts: "We did it. We did it! We did it, HOORAY!"

Joey MacDonald’s thoughts: “We did it. We did it! We did it, HOORAY!”

As Joey MacDonald drove to Grand Rapids, he sped towards the island of hockey insignificance much quicker than the 70-80 miles an hour he was likely going on I-96.

McDonald was waived Sunday. If he’s not claimed, he’s set to do a two-week conditioning stint with the Griffins. After that, who knows? He hasn’t played a game in 11 months due to a bulging disc in his back. It was enough for the Red Wings to sign Jonas Gustavsson to be their backup goalie this summer, causing MacDonald to ask for a trade.  

But as I mentioned before, nobody wanted a goalie rehabbing a bulged disc. Now, no one wants a 33-year-old goalie coming back from a bulged disc.

He won’t be claimed on waivers. And if he is, he won’t see any type of consistent NHL playing time.  At 33, Joey MacDonald is probably destined for a few more AHL games and unceremonious retirement ceremony. Add another name to the list of players who, for whatever reason, just couldn’t make it.

(UPDATE: MacDonald was claimed by Calgary, who has had some injury problems. He’s expected to be Mikka Kiprusoff’s backup, when Kiprusoff comes off the IR. This is another shining example of how much I know. The basic tenants of this article, how 11 days defined Joey MacDonald’s career, still stands.)

Call him what you want. Whether he was ‘a never was,’ ‘a failure,’ or a ‘victim of bad luck,’ the validity of any term can be questioned.

For the four people who will still pay attention after he’s out of our psche, history will eventually land on a final label for Joey MacDonald. But whatever stamp he’s given, he’ll always have February 8-19, 2012.

Jimmy Howard had broken a finger. Ty Conklin had a midlife crisis. Joey MacDonald, an 11-year veteran who had spent his career piecing together eight- and seven- and two- and 15-game stints with NHL teams was tasked with continuing a record-nearing home winning streak and carrying a team that was fighting for a division crown.

He had only one full NHL season in his career: 49 games for the 2008-09 New York Islanders, a team that finished 26-47-9. Their 61 points made them the worst team of the past five years.

Yet, MacDonald came in and the Red Wings won. Detroit beat Edmonton 4-2. MacDonald stole a game from Anaheim, making 29 saves in regulation and overtime and one final one in the shootout to extend the Red Wings’ home-winning streak to 19.

The Associated Press’ lede from that game:

DETROIT — The Detroit Red Wings‘ shootout prowess saved their home winning streak after they were outplayed for 65 minutes.

MacDonald kept going, doing just enough for the Red Wings to beat Philadelphia. Then, he gave up one goal against Dallas as Detroit clinched the record for the longest home winning streak in NHL history. He beat Nashville. He beat San Jose.

In total, MacDonald was in net as the Red Wings won six games in a row.

Howard came back and promptly lost three games, before MacDonald got another chance. He beat Columbus, 5-2. From a loss to Phoenix on Feb. 6 in his first start of the season, MacDonald didn’t lose again until March 4.

He eventually settled down, finishing the season with a modest 8-5-1 record and .912 save percentage. Things eventually regress back to the mean.

But in those 11 days, something happened.  It wasn’t magic. MacDonald had a .933 save percentage. It wasn’t luck. He was named one of the game’s three stars in four out of the six contests.

Like Dontrelle Willis as a rookie for the Marlins, or Jeremy Lin during the height of Linsanity, Joey MacDonald reached another level, one maybe only he knew was there.

He’ll never find that level again.

But for 11 days, those 323 minor league games became worth it. Every single team that passed on him as he went undrafted was proven wrong.

Even if it was for a brief moment, Joey MacDonald maximized his potential. There aren’t many on the island of hockey insignificance that can say that.

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