Everyone wants a piece of Colin McDonald these days. Can you blame them? He's having the best season of his professional career amongst the latest incarnation of Oilers affiliation. The icing on the cake for McDonald at this point in the season will be a trip to the All-Star Game in Hershey, PA on January 30th and 31st. He and Alexandre Giroux will represent the Oklahoma City Barons in their inaugural season.
In early June of 2010, Oklahoma City welcomed the first two names on the Barons roster - Jake Taylor and Colin McDonald. Both hailed from a Springfield team, that over the last two years, couldn't get past the 25 win mark, and lacked the offensive sting that young teams should have. And although McDonald had always been a third-line-kinda-guy, he has blossomed into one of the AHL's most consistent scorers.
So it's no wonder that he's an attention grabber. With 23 goals and 7 assists in 49 games, Colin McDonald has not only become a well-tailored goal scorer, but a fan favorite as well. He plays the game with great prowess, and intensity, and night after night adds some punch when the team lulls for inexplainable reasons.
As his All-Star appearance quickly approaches, I had the opportunity to discuss all matters pertaining to Barons hockey with McDonald this week. He shared about his days in Springfield, the bounce-back to teamwork, and why the Bricktown Starbucks is so perfect.
Copper & Blue: Having now spent half a season in Oklahoma City, what are your impressions of the town, the people, and the hockey culture?
Colin McDonald: I think it's great. I came down here with no expectations, and not really knowing what to expect. Honestly, I did a little research, but it never got any further than a wikipedia search. So I really had no idea what I was in for. Compared to Boston, where I spend my off season, Oklahoma City is a lot quieter, and I find that people are a lot more friendly. And it is nice to get a break from the snow, especially with the winter we're having back home.
As far as hockey down here, during the preseason I heard a lot about the Blazers, their history, their success, and their importance to the community. I don't think we are getting the attendance that those Blazers received, but I think it will come with time. It's a new team, a new product, new players - and I have to think that if the team is playing well, which we are right now, than the fans will come. We'll just do our part as a team, and hope that fans continue to show their support.
Copper & Blue: As a Connecticut guy, now living in Boston, did you ever dream you'd be playing hockey in Oklahoma?
McDonald: No, never. To tell you the truth, this summer through negotiations, I really didn't have any plans. It wasn't that I didn't want to resign with Edmonton, but I really just wanted to take a look elsewhere. In the end, I remained with the same organization. Actually in my second year as a pro in Springfield, we heard rumors of the team possibly being in Oklahoma City, and that's the first time I ever thought about it. I always thought that was kind of cool because I'd never been down here in Oklahoma before. I thought it might be kind of interesting to play hockey in an environment that's not typically conducive to hockey. It's been really good for me down here, and I'd definitely play here again for sure.
Copper & Blue: What is the biggest difference between the Springfield years, and the new team in Oklahoma City?
McDonald: That's kind of a tough question. Not taking anything away from the coaches I had in Springfield, but Coach Nelson comes from a winning background; he won as a player, he won as an assistant coach, he won as a head coach so he knows what he needs to do to get the most out of his players. I think he's done a really good job of that so far. And in Springfield we were a pretty young team almost every year, and those of us who played in Springfield and are now here just got sick of losing. And not just losing, but finishing in last place; it's just not fun to play hockey that way. Guys were miserable showing up to the rink every day, and at times we found ourselves just trying to not lose by a lot. In Oklahoma City it's a totally different feel. Everyone gets along. Everyone likes the coaches. We enjoy showing up to the rink everyday. We're winning. With the travel we have in this conference, we are able to bring the team together quite a bit more than what I've been used to. In Springfield, you pretty much just slept in your own bed every night, drove an hour and a half there, and then you're back in your bed that nightt. So we never had the culture that every team needs to have in order to be successful, but with the travel you are forced to hang out with people for a long period of time.
Copper & Blue: What's the key to your sudden success?
McDonald: Since day one I've been given the opportunity to be put in situations that I've never experienced before. I pretty much play in every situation here; I play power play, I play penalty kill, I play on the top line with two very good players. Whereas the last year and a half I was a third line, checking forward where I wasn't expected to contribute offensively, and if I did it was only an added bonus. I was expected to play every night against their top line, and now I finally find myself on one of those top lines. It's really been a complete 180. I'm just glad I've been given the opportunity to produce, because I know if I didn't I wouldn't be there.
Copper & Blue: I think a lot of Barons fans, myself included, were surprised that you didn't make the All-Star roster the first time around. Now that you've been called upon to fill Linus Omark's spot in the lineup, what's going through your mind?
McDonald: I found out on Monday, and it certainly caught me off guard. It was a very gratifying phone call with Bill Scott, and it's nice to be recognized. I've only played in one other All-Star game, and that was way back in juniors, when I was in high school. What's really special about this All-Star weekend is that Hershey is only about four and a half hours from my hometown. My parents will be able to go, along with my girlfriend, and my closest friends. I'll probably have close to fifteen or twenty people there to cheer me on. Regardless if I ever make another All-Star team, this is something that no one will ever be able to take away from me. On the business side of things, it's nice to have something like this on my resume as summer negotiations come around. I've been told that these things feel like they go fast so I'm going to enjoy the All-Star weekend, and being around my family and friends.
Copper & Blue: How far do you see this group of Barons going through the remainder of the season?
McDonald: The expectations are that we are a playoff team. The division is so tight, that I don't think it really matters where we end up in the rankings, as long as we make it in. We seem to play really well on the road so I don't think having home ice advantage will necessary help or hurt us, but I think we'll play well regardless of where we go. You just can't look too far ahead though. For instance, we began our last road trip in seventh place. When we were finished I think we were tied for third. The standings just seem to change with one good or bad weekend, so we are just taking it one practice at a time, one game at a time, and if we do that I think we should be okay. There are a lot of guys in the locker room that are itching for playoff experience, so I'm anxious to make the playoffs so that we can all see what it's like.
Copper & Blue: What surprises you the most about this Barons team?
McDonald: I don't know if it's surprising really, but I'm most proud of our team during the call-ups and injuries, and our ability to not let it effect the team much at all. You'd think that with all the call-ups (four at the time) of guys that we rely on so much that the team would be hurt by the loss. But it doesn't really matter who's in the lineup because guys show up to play. It gives so many other guys the opportunity to step up.
Copper & Blue: When you're done with a long road trip or a tough game, what do you like to do in Oklahoma City in your down time?
McDonald: To be honest, with as much as we travel there is very little time to do stuff. However, since I live in downtown I'll usually walk to Bricktown with a couple of the guys, grab a coffee at the Starbucks, and talk about everything else besides hockey. Then we usually catch a movie. It's really just about forgetting hockey for a couple of hours, relaxing, laughing, and just cutting loose before we have to get back at it the next day.