“Not in my mind,” Selanne is quick to say. “It was perfect timing and a backhand pass is never easy.”
But if more attention got paid to the goal than the assist, McDonald is used to it, having spent most of his hockey life as a pass-first type of player.
“Growing up, that’s the way we were always taught to play,” says McDonald, who was raised in southwestern Ontario. “We were always taught to move the puck and to share the puck. To set someone up for a goal is a lot more difficult than actually scoring the goal.”
And while his assist to Selanne for the 1,000th was “an incredible feeling,” it isn’t his favorite pass of the year. That would be the one at Toronto in December, when McDonald received the puck at the right point with his back to the goal, then spun around to slide another backhander across the crease to the waiting Selanne, who easily redirected it into the back of the net.
“Not everyone can be the goal-scorer on the ice,” McDonald says. “So to put a guy in position to score a goal is always a good feeling.”
It’s something McDonald has done plenty this season with Selanne, as the two have formed a fearsome combo on the Mighty Ducks’ top scoring line. McDonald says that Selanne’s “great hockey sense” has made his job as a playmaker easier. “You don’t have to look too far to find him,” says McDonald. “He’s able to put himself in a position where he’s open and you don’t have to make a difficult pass to find him. That’s alongside the fact that he’s a gifted goal-scorer.”
“I remember the first time when I came here and saw Andy, I knew he was going to be a great player,” Selanne says. “He has great tools, he can shoot, he can pass and he’s an unbelievable skater. This year he’s raised the bar higher and higher.”
Indeed, in addition to the passing skills he’s always displayed in his five years with the Ducks, the 28-year-old McDonald is having a career year as a goal scorer. His 19 goals going into the Olympic break dwarfs his previous career high of 10. His 26 points since Jan. 1 ranked third in the NHL, behind Jaromir Jagr and fellow Ontario native Joe Thornton. McDonald went into the break with an 11-game points streak, the longest active run in the league and the Ducks’ longest in six years.
“I don’t think it’s any one thing,” says McDonald of his offensive surge. “I think there are a variety of reasons. I’m healthier this year. I had a chance to play in Germany last year during the lockout, so I had a summer to train and get ready for the season. Also, having the chance to play with someone like Teemu makes it pretty easy out there.”
Selanne knows that it isn’t just his presence that has helped McDonald improve. “He has a great attitude, he’s working hard and he’s really dedicated to this team,” Selanne says. “He spends a lot more time with his off-ice workouts than a lot of other players.”
Says Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle, “I think the new rules have allowed him some more freedom and he’s gotten more of an opportunity to play with some of our better players. He’s enjoying the game because the game is now played to some of his strengths.”
Those strengths include using his speed to skate to open positions on the ice as well as moving the puck to teammates who find those spots. But McDonald knows he has room for improvement in the more physical side of the game. “Because of my size, I have to work on winning those one-on-one battles for the puck,” says McDonald, who at 5-10, 186 pounds is one of the smaller players on the team. “It’s difficult because a lot of the defensemen you run into are pretty big.”
McDonald also admits he could stand to shoot the puck more rather than find the open man, “but it’s hard when that’s the way you’ve always played. It’s also tough because with Teemu out there, if I’m shooting the puck too much, he’s not getting his shots.”
And Selanne appreciates the opportunities McDonald has been able to afford him. “I think he’s a really great passer,” Selanne says, “and I expect that he’s going to get even better.”
This article appears in the current edition of Mighty Ducks Digest - the official game day program of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Pick up a Mighty Ducks Digest at all Ducks home games at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.