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Manitoba’s David MacDonald: When One Door Closes, Another Opens

WINNIPEG, MB. – David MacDonald was a great all-around athlete who decided one day to concentrate on baseball and, essentially, give up his hockey dream. Then, almost 13 months and two shoulder injuries later, MacDonald was put into a strange position: Baseball was now out, but hockey was still a possibility. Thanks to the help of Fort Garry/Fort Rouge Twins coaches Cam Craig and Carson Shields, MacDonald became a hockey player again. And as things turned out, it might have been the best decision he was ever forced to make.

Last May, at the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League’s annual awards banquet, the Dave Anderson Memorial Trophy was awarded to David MacDonald of the Fort Garry/For Rouge Twins.

It was a popular choice and MacDonald’s brief but heartfelt acceptance speech said a lot about his character. Thrilled to accept the honor, he was also grateful for the opportunity to play. After all, it had been a long, strange road to the MMJHL and now, at the top of his game, MacDonald was still having trouble coming to grips with his success.

And was it ever successful. In his first season in the MMJHL, he finished 14th in league scoring – first on his team — with 26 goals and 55 points in just 38 games. He was No. 1 in rookie scoring and the only rookie in the Top 20. In fact, the next rookie on the list was MacDonald’s teammate Cole Zadro at No. 24. These two young players helped bring the Twins from last place, with just 18 points in 2015-16, to fifth with 52 points (just two points out of third), in one season.

For MacDonald, it’s still a bit of a blur.

“When I played my first MMJHL game, it was the first MMJHL game I had ever seen,” MacDonald said. “I was immediately surprised at the level of talent in this league. There are some guys in this league who can really play. And for me, it was tough to get going because I had just turned 19 and there are 20 and 21-year-old guys in this league. The first thing I realized is that this is an adult hockey league.

“To this day, I’m happy the Twins gave me the opportunity to play.”

It should be remembered that when David MacDonald played his first game with the Twins, he was still a baseball player. At least, in his head, he was still a baseball player.

MacDonald started playing hockey at Westdale Community Centre when he was six or seven and then his family moved and he grew up as a Ranger and Monarch. At 14, he decided to play junior varsity hockey at St. Paul’s High School and after a year in JV, he made the Varsity team in Grade 11. He played two seasons – very successful seasons – with the Crusaders, but at his core, he was a baseball player. At 18, he decided to give up hockey and pursue baseball when he was offered a scholarship to play at the University of Winnipeg.

But then he got hurt. Late in the summer of 2015, he blew out his shoulder. He needed surgery and a long period of rehab. He was thrilled to go back and play the spring season at the U of W, but in September of 2016, he blew out his shoulder again.

“The day I tore my shoulder muscles again, in September of 2016, the doctors almost instantly ruled out baseball,” he said. “They said, however, that it didn’t require another operation and that it would eventually heal itself. So I asked, ‘I can’t play baseball, but could I play hockey?’ and they didn’t say no.”

Fortunately, if he really wanted to play hockey, he had a place to play.

“My assistant coach, Cam Craig, had been the coach at Vincent Massey and he remembered David,” said Carson Shields, the Twins head coach and this year’s MMJHL Coach of the Year. “My nephew was a player who had played at St. Paul’s, a real good player named Kayden Jarvis (now with the MJHL’s Winkler Flyers), and he recommended David to me. So we’d talked to David in the spring and at that time, he said he wasn’t interested in playing hockey and was going to pursue baseball, but then we heard he’d been injured again, so we contacted him.”

MacDonald wasn’t really in shape to play high-level junior hockey, but he’d always loved the game and now that baseball was out of the question, the second-year business student at the University of Winnipeg decided to give it a shot.

Things could not have worked out better.

“I say enough about him,” said Shields. “He’s calm, collected and worldly. It’s hard to believe he’s 19-years-old. He has an old soul. His hockey IQ is so high, he’s a natural born leader. He’s the type of guy, when you coach him, you have to be accountable to him.

“But sure, he was a longshot in the beginning, but in the end, he made our year. Don’t forget, he scored on his first shot in the MMJHL in the season and in the third game, he had a four-point night and propelled this team back to respectability. With David around for two more years and with some of the other young players on this team, there is a very bright future.”

MacDonald had to wear a shoulder brace that attached under his jersey and ran all the way around the upper half of his torso. He also admitted that the third period of his first few games was a grind. But once he got going, he was the best player on a very good team.

“We only lose three 21-year-olds from this year’s roster so there is a lot of enthusiasm and hunger for success within this group,” he said. “We lost some big leaders, but we have the guys who can fill those holes.”

In the span of 13 months, MacDonald went from college baseball to an injury, to an operation, to rehab, to more college baseball, to another injury and now hockey again. However, that hockey experience led to MacDonald becoming his team’s top scorer and the Rookie of the Year in the MMJHL.

“I couldn’t be happier with my situation,” he said. “It’s been a ton of fun. That’s the best way to put it: It’s just been a ton of fun.”

THE MMJHL’S 2016-17 TROPHY WINNERS

  • Jack McKenzie Trophy (Playoff Champions) – The Raiders Jr. Hockey Club.
  • The Art Moug Trophy (Regular Season Champions) – The Charleswood Hawks.
  • The Chris Flintoff Memorial Trophy (Playoff MVP) – Ryan Brown, Raiders Jr. Hockey Club.
  • The Dave Anderson Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year) – David MacDonald, Fort Garry/Fort Rouge Twins.
  • The Kip Kelly Memorial Trophy (Hardest Working Player) – Kyle Jur, Raiders Jr. Hockey Club.
  • The George Cadzow Trophy (Outstanding Defenseman) – Nicolas Gravel, Transcona Railer Express.
  • The Steve Claus Memorial Trophy (Regular Season Scoring Champion) – Riley Beauchemin, St. Vital Victorias.
  • The Ken Prodonick Memorial Trophy (Ability and Sportsmanship) – Jens Giesbrecht, St. Boniface Riels.
  • The Ron Smith Memorial Trophy (Outstanding Goaltender) – Hunter Ploszay, Stonewall Jets.
  • The Myron Prymak Memorial Trophy (League MVP) – Riley Beauchemin, St. Vital Victorias.
  • The Nick Hill Memorial Trophy (Coach of the Year) – Carson Shields, Fort Garry/Fort Rouge Twins.

Scott Taylor, MyToba Sports

Photos by James Carey Lauder and Dave Mahussier

This story was originally published in Manitoba’s only Hockey Magazine, Game On. Look for it at sports facilities throughout the province.

Editor of the popular Game On Hockey Magazine and The Point After Football Magazine, editor of Canadian Meat Business Magazine, sports editor of Grassroots News, TV play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Goldeyes and author of the bestselling book: The Winnipeg Jets: A Celebration of Professional Hockey in Winnipeg. He likes virgin pina coladas, long walks on the beach, puppies and thoroughbred race horses that run according to form.
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