There have been plenty of stories that have filtered out since Wednesday’s horrific crash that devastated the hockey world. From bone-chilling tales detailing the ill-fated flight’s last few minutes, to imagining families being notified, to the stories of players and coaches that left us too soon, it’s been surreal to be a hockey fan over the last few days. After hearing so many tragic stories, it’s welcomed reprieve to hear something positive surrounding such a devastating story.
For Joey MacDonald and his family, they know just how close they came to being part of the “darkest day in the history of our sport.”
The back-up goaltender in Detroit revealed to reporters after practice that he had been contemplating a move to the KHL. More specifically, he was seriously considering a move to play with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv. Sitting as an unrestricted free agent, MacDonald knew he had to keep his options open this summer. He had to weigh two-way contracts, a season or two with Grand Rapids in the AHL, and even the possibility of playing overseas.
If Detroit hadn’t agreed to make the second year of his contract a one-way deal, he likely would have been on that plane with ex-Red Wings Brad McCrimmon and Ruslan Salei:
“It’s tough, especially with me talking to them. If I would’ve known the guys (former teammate Ruslan Salei, Detroit assistant coach Brad McCrimmon) that were going over there, I probably would’ve signed with them.
“Knowing Rusty (Ruslan Salei) was going there… fortunately Detroit stepped up. This is where I always wanted to play and stay as long as I can.”
“I was going over there. I talked to a few teams and there were a couple two-year deals pretty much figured out.
“I talked to them (Yaroslavl) early, before the end of the season. I know they are a great organization.
“No one wants to think about that (how close he came to being on the plane).”
(h/t to Kukla’s Korner)
While all of us grieve the tragedy, MacDonald and his family appreciate just how lucky they are—something that has nothing to do with hockey whatsoever. He even went as far to say that he’d have second thoughts if he was confronted the same decision in two years when his current contract expires. MacDonald explained that other players in the same situation may be hesitant as well:
“I don’t know (if I’d go in the future). Probably not, because my wife is kind of freaked out about it, especially when it was one of the teams I had talked to.
“It would be a tough decision. As of now, I’m here for two years and I don’t have to worry about anything.”
“I’m sure it will (affect players’ decisions to play in Russia). I’m sure a lot of players that were thinking about playing in Russia, their decisions will be made a little easier now.”
For now, MacDonald will battle for his place on the Red Wings. In 15 games with the Wings last season, MacDonald put up some of the best numbers of his career. Despite a pedestrian 5-5-3 record, he had a .917 save percentage and 2.58 goals against average. He gave up three or less goals in 14 out of 15 appearances; just imagine what his numbers would have looked like if he could have avoided the 7 goals against St. Louis in his last appearance of the season.
With Chris Osgood stepping away from the game (as a player), it leaves MacDonald and Ty Conklin to fight for the back-up spot behind Jimmy Howard this season. Looking ahead, Conklin is only signed for one more season before his contract runs out. If MacDonald can hold off former first rounder Thomas McCollum, the back-up job is his to lose in 2012-13.
But today, all of the hockey stuff is secondary. MacDonald is just grateful that he didn’t end up signing that contract to play in the KHL this season. In this case, real life trumps hockey.