Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ageless McDonald keeps getting it done for Blues

Forward among the team's fittest players, leads by example with his play

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- At 34 years of age, one might expect a hockey player to be past their prime, maybe hitting the downward cycle of one's career. Father Time finds you sooner or later.

But this 34-year-old is not just your ordinary player. This is Andy McDonald, who turned 34 in August. You wouldn't know it watching the Strathroy, Ontario flying around the ice.

So how does one stay so physically fit in a game that is both grueling and demanding all at once?
(Getty Images)
Andy McDonald begins his 11th NHL season ... and doesn't seem to be slowing down at age 34.

"He pays as much attention and takes as much pride in his off-ice preparation, being ready, being ready for the long haul," Blues coach Davis Payne said of McDonald. "Not just getting to camp and getting into the fitness competition and doing well there. He knows that he's doing the work.

"He's working ahead. He's working in October for November, he works November for December and on to the entire season. A very very committed pro."

Yes, McDonald can be classified as a workout freak. But you won't find the 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward on any muscle fitness magazines with his biceps bulging out of his arms.

But as McDonald enters his 11th season in the NHL and fifth with the Blues, it's easy to understand why he's at the top of the charts when the Blues conduct their VO2 fitness testing at the start of training camp. The game in the NHL has changed, and it's all about guys showing up nowadays being as fit as possible. It's all about speed and keeping up.

"For me, I think that's the easy part," McDonald said. "You give yourself every opportunity on the ice to have success by taking care of the stuff off the ice. Doing the workouts, doing the conditioning, making sure you're in great shape ... that's easy, unfortunately, when you have five months to do it and not making the playoffs. That's the way I approach it."

The game has certainly changed from the time McDonald entered into the league with Anaheim in 2001 as a free agent signee out of Colgate.

"When I started, there was an approach where there was a break in time when you came to camp and it was like, 'OK, let's get into shape, let's get into playing shape,' and everyone just shows up," McDonald recalled. "When you're showing up Day 1 in camp (today), you're pretty much in the best shape you are and you see more guys doing it that way now instead of the small percentage than back 10 years ago."

So McDonald, who's coming off a 20-goal, 50-point season in 58 games that was cut short because of a concussion suffered in December, enters 2011 with added importance to a Blues team that is poised to take the next step and make the playoffs and compete for a Stanley Cup.

McDonald, who has 165 goals and 441 points in 623 career games, will be a part of the Blues' top scoring line, playing with David Backes and Jamie Langenbrunner. The trio will be anchoring a scoring unit that is as balanced as its been since the 2004-05 lockout.

"You talk about a guy who's a true pro, a guy who prepares extremely hard," Payne said of McDonald. "He leaves no stone unturned, leaves no detail unaddressed.

"For a guy to prepare that way and to practice the way he does leaves him with a confident feeling like he's going to get on the ice and just kind of repeat the exact same things he's done. His ability to spend some time in the middle, spend some time on the wall skills and awareness. ... When you've got pieces like that, you're in a good spot."

McDonald's teammates are equally as impressed, both on and off the ice. He sets the standard of how each and every member of the Blues needs to prepare on a daily basis.

"On the ice, he's amazing," winger Alex Steen said of McDonald. "He's got speed, but he's able to do all his moves at a high pace. He's going 100 percent and he's still able to make all those moves. Sometimes guys need to slow it down a little bit in order to create the stuff they want to create, but Mac's able to do it at a high speed and he's got great vision. He always finds the open guy.

"I've been so impressed by Mac's preparation. He brings a lot of guys behind him, following him, just the way he eats, works out, stretches, just the professionalism of Mac is something that's very valuable to the team."
(Getty Images)
Andy McDonald, a Cup winner in 2007 with Anaheim,
seeks a second title with the Blues.

When McDonald began his career with the Ducks -- and won a Stanley Cup in 2007 -- he did so playing down the middle. But there was a transition that even began with Andy Murray as head coach for McDonald to move to the wing. He's been able to make the switch, even if there was a hint of scepticism early on.

"I don't even know if I've played 40 games at center here," McDonald said with a laugh. "... I'm comfortable there. I'm fine there. I think there was a learning kind of transition going on, but I'm comfortable there now and I feel like I don't even remember playing center. I feel like I've played wing my whole life. All three spots are similar. A lot of times it's not necessarily the position that you line up as but where you end up on the ice during the play.

"Personally, I think on the wing, you're a little bit more restricted in terms of your movement on the ice. That's one of the things I really enjoyed about playing center. You seem to be around the puck a lot more. It keeps you in the game. On the wing, you might go a couple shifts without touching a puck. You have to be patient in that regard and kind of pick your spots where you'll jump into holes in terms of getting into spots where you'll receive pucks. It requires a little more patience than at center."

McDonald will wear one of four A's for the Blues this season along with Langenbrunner, Steen and Barret Jackman ... all leaders in their own right with Backes as captain. But unlike some that like the rah-rah approach of get in your face, be a vocal type of leader, McDonald is quiet by nature ... letting the play dictate what needs to be said.

"I'm comfortable stepping up and saying something, but I don't put a lot of weight into people standing up and screaming or being vocal in the room," McDonald said. "I think actions speak louder than words. I'm the guy that likes to see what you do on the ice and off the ice. Hopefully, that's something that's an influence on them. I think thats got more weight to it than yelling and screaming in the room."

The Blues got off to a franchise-best 9-1-2 start last season but were decimated by injuries and there was also the grind of the season in the middle that weighed heavily on the non-success. It allowed the Blues to fall behind the pack, which McDonald believes is where the off-season commitment comes into play.

"Your preparation, looking after yourself off the ice, your workouts, all that stuff," McDonald said. "... It's easy to work out now and take care of everything now, but once the season gets going and you get into the grind of the games, then it becomes more of a challenge. That's an area I think we need to improve on is keeping consistent with our off-ice workouts and kind of maintaining your strength and your power and all that stuff so when the playoffs or the second half of the season comes, you've got something left in the tank and we're ready to make a push."

McDonald has 232 career games under his belt as a Blue and believes with the additions of depth and veteran players with Cup experience, this is their best and most opportune chance to make a move in the standings.

"Every season, everyone's always been upbeat about the potential of the hockey club. I think this year, there's a little more confidence there," McDonald said. "Guys realize the kind of team we have. What we accomplished last year and the kind of season we had, we learned from that. We've got some new additions that are going to strengthen this team. ... But it's not just going to happen. Everyone realizes that it's going to take some hard work and dedication. I think everyone's upbeat for the season."

Upbeat enough for McDonald to crave for a second title.

"When you're going through it, you think back to how fast it went and you wish you can slow it down and enjoy the moment," McDonald said of the Cup-winning Ducks of 2007. "Unfortunately for us, we've only been to the playoffs once in the last six years. We need to get back to that winning tradition and getting back into the postseason and having the chance to play every year for the Stanley Cup. The biggest thing is getting into that first round, then it becomes a second season.

"... I really like our team in terms of what kind of playoff team we'll be. We've got a lot of depth, a lot of guys with experience. We play a tough, physical, fast, defensive-minded game which I think is good for the playoffs."

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