SAN JOSE, Calif. — As the hits keep on coming in the NHL playoffs, a star player whose career nearly ended last fall because of another concussion wonders if anything has really changed.
In October, Andy McDonald suffered his second concussion in 11 months and doubted whether he’d play again.
The St. Louis Blues winger is back all right, playing some of the best hockey of his career in the first-round series against the San Jose Sharks, but watching what’s happening around the league so far in these playoffs, he shakes his head.
“I just think you watch a game and is it really better than it was a year or two years ago?” McDonald told ESPN.com in an interview Tuesday evening at his team’s hotel. “Is there less head shots? Certainly the playoffs this year has been a revelation that not much has changed. Guys are still targeting the head and really putting other players in danger and at risk for serious injury. And that’s frustrating for a player that’s gone through a significant amount of time with that type of injury.”
But McDonald had seen enough this spring before that hit. He was upset that San Jose’sT.J. Galiardi wasn’t suspended for a hit on him in Game 2. But it’s what he’s seen around the league that has him concerned. And he believes the league head office needs to levy stronger suspensions.
“On the suspension part of it, there’s really not a deterrent,” said McDonald. “If guys were suspended for 20 games, then I think things would change. I think guys would all of sudden be cautious when it came to elbowing somebody in the head, or hit somebody when he’s unsuspecting or in a vulnerable position. It’s a difficult issue. I think the league is trying to get it right, but it’s a work in progress.”
It’s not just a league issue. McDonald says his peers need to take responsibility as well.
“It’s obvious that there’s not a lot of respect out there and you see it every night on replays. Guys are certainly not respecting each other on the ice,” he said.
When it was pointed out to him that he has a voice through the NHL Players’ Association and, if he wanted, the competition committee, McDonald pondered that thought.
“I think there’s such a varied group of opinions among the players about what to do,” he said. “I don’t think the guys delivering the hits, have they missed time, have they experienced six or seven months of headaches? That’s the issue that the players need to get educated about and what they’re doing to each other. We need to come together as a group and decide, are we going to continue down this road and have health problems still 5-10 years from now? Or are we going to make a concentrated effort to get together and stop this?”
McDonald’s last concussion almost ended his career. He missed 51 games with it this season.
“When you’re younger, you just think you’re kind of invincible and you’re going to play forever,” said McDonald. “But having gone through the concussion part of it, there’s times where you’re sitting at home thinking, I’m not getting back and I’m not going to play again. I was really concerned about my health long term and worried about the implications it would have for myself and my family (post-hockey). There’s no crystal ball. At the end of the day, I had to make a decision that I would come back and be confident that I was 100 percent and not be worried about what would happen down the road. It’s given me a different perspective and I cherish each game I get to pay in. I really enjoy being around the guys on this team. It’s a lot of fun.”
McDonald has been dynamite in this series, a power-play catalyst and a big reason linematePatrik Berglund has had the impact he’s had.
“He’s a really competitive professional player,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. “To me, Andy is a throwback. He’s the way you remember the older players in the league years ago. They were ultra-professional, they focused on their craft every day — who put a lot into every part of the game — off ice, on ice, nutrition. They’re throwbacks. They’re hard to find.”
And at this point, for McDonald, every game is a blessing after what he’s been through.
Great read. And I could not agree more. Especially, as I continue to say and will not stop saying: ZERO TOLERANCE. 3 game suspensions need to become 20 game suspensions.