McDonald savoring each moment of playoffs

ST. LOUIS — Andy McDonald enjoys his role. He savors each memory of
the St. Louis Blues’ playoffs run, because he knows how fragile a career in
hockey can be. More than anything, he enjoys the perspective that comes with
age, because he knows time on the ice is a gift.  

McDonald has made the most of the Blues’ first postseason appearance since
2009. The center leads his squad with eight points and four goals and is tied
with center Patrik Berglund with a team-high four assists. He’s a key reason
why St. Louis beat the San Jose Sharks and advanced past the Western Conference
quarterfinals for the first time in 10 years.

But his contribution almost never happened. In October, he considered retiring
after he sustained his second concussion in 10-1/2 months just three games into
this season. Yet he chose to return, and at age 34 he has a deeper respect for
the game because he has fought to stay in it.

Sure, McDonald knows nothing about his lifestyle is guaranteed. All of it —
raising his stick at center ice after the victory over San Jose on Saturday and
bantering with teammates like winger Alexander Steen in the locker room after
practice Monday — could disappear with another severe blow to the head.
Everything he has known since he entered the league at age 23 with Anaheim
could end in an instant.

But he enjoys his current position with St. Louis, and that’s his focus. The
future is unknown. That’s part of his risk. But he’s an important part of the
Blues’ chase to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history, and the
journey will continue when they begin their Western Conference semifinals
series against the Los Angeles Kings.

“When you’re younger, you think you’re going to play forever,”
McDonald told “You think you’re invincible. Now with the
injuries that I’ve had, I’m enjoying this team right now. It’s a fun bunch of
guys. The potential for this team to do well is exciting.”

McDonald showed what his potential could produce against the Sharks. He scored
in each of the final four games of the series. And in Game 3, he earned three
of his four assists in the series.

Those totals were possible because McDonald is known as one of the top grinders
in the Blues’ locker room. Sometimes, captain David Backes arrives at the St.
Louis Mills practice facility two hours before a scheduled workout. Meanwhile,
McDonald has beaten everyone there, and to Backes, it looks as if his teammate
is already an hour-deep into preparation.

“If anyone works harder than he does in this league, I’d like to see it,
because he exhausts me just watching him,” Backes said. “He’ll leave
no stone unturned, and the work ethic . . . is something that has impressed me
about him.”

That trait was needed to overcome two of the biggest challenges of McDonald’s
career. On Oct. 13, Dallas Stars center Vernon Fiddler slammed him into the
glass late in the second period of the Blues’ eventual loss, and McDonald missed
51 games with a concussion. Later, he missed six games because of a right
shoulder injury sustained in a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on March 15.

Those events were mental setbacks as well as physical ones. McDonald had
entered training camp eager for the winter, a season after earning 50 points in
58 games played.

His time away this season, though, was a reminder of what earlier injuries had
taught him: Nothing is predictable after the puck drops. Nothing is routine, so
a player must make the most of his career while he can.   

“The way I came into camp, I was really upbeat about the prospects for
this year,” McDonald said. “I played three games, went out with a
concussion and missed a whole chunk. When I came back, it took me about a week
or two weeks to get my game back up to speed. But once I got up to speed, I
felt really good. Then to go back out with the shoulder (injury) — it’s the
same kind of scenario where I had to go out. . . . I’m not doing anything
different. I’m preparing the same way. It’s fun.”

The way McDonald prepares is an inspiration to some. Winger David Perron stood
near McDonald’s locker after practice Monday and listed the attributes that
make his veteran teammate successful: He’s professional, he takes care of his
body, and he has a passion for the game that’s contagious. To many, McDonald’s
diligence is his best trait, and it’s something to be studied.

Still, little has come easy for him this season. His focus has helped him

“He’s a competitor — competitive little guy,” Blues coach Ken
Hitchcock said. “Lots of the league is full of those guys — but not at his
competitive spirit. He’s got a great competitive spirit. L.A. hasn’t seen him
play. . . . Hopefully, we’ve got a surprise for them.”

Perhaps so, but it would be more of a surprise if McDonald didn’t make his
presence known.