Frei: Pressed into duty at forward, Jacob MacDonald didn’t look out of place
During his journeyman minor-league playing career, Jared Bednar predominantly was a rough-and-tumble ECHL defenseman revered for having his teammates’ backs with the South Carolina Stingrays.
Both with the Charleston-based Stingrays and in short stints in the AHL and IHL, Bednar frequently was asked to step up and play forward — whether because of injuries or a coach’s desire to let Bednar solidify his niche by proving his versatility.
So on Friday after practice at Family Sports Center, I asked the Avalanche coach about that.
What kind of mindset does that swingman role require?
“You like to know early what position you’re playing,” Bednar responded. “Then you can kind of focus on that job through your meetings. So you’re getting real clear on what the assignments are, and then the more you do it, it becomes easier. If you’re going to play D for a couple of months and jump up to a forward position, sometimes it can take you a little bit to get comfortable because things start happening quicker in different areas of the ice playing forward.
“For a guy like Jake who’s been a D his whole career, going back to the back end is probably a little bit easier than just jumping up to forward, which is partly why it’s so impressive that he did that last night.”
“Jake,” of course is Jacob MacDonald, a defenseman-by-trade called up from the AHL Eagles this week and dropped onto the fourth line for the 4-3 win over the Blues in St. Louis. That came after winger Mikko Rantanen was unable to go, even after going through the morning skate. And the emergency adjustment against the Blues was MacDonald becoming a winger.
The Oregon native and former Cornell Big Red defenseman got Bednar’s attention, playing 10:47 energy minutes on the line with Jayson Megna and Darren Helm. And Bednar indicated MacDonald will be back at wing against the Wild Saturday night at Ball Arena.
“He came up as a defenseman,” Bednar said. “But he’s been a swing guy and he played really well for the Eagles last year at forward. (He was) one of their best forwards for a long stretch and talking with (Eagles coach Greg Cronin), you can see why. He can skate, he’s got good skill, sees the ice. I really liked that line last night. They put the work first and they made it tough on St. Louis and had a lot of O-zone time. . . I think Jake had four scoring chances last night and drew a penalty with speed going outside on the one. Big-time positive impact for our team.”
MacDonald, 28, played 33 games with the Avalanche last season, and a total of 60 with the Eagles since coming to the organization from Florida in a June 2019 trade. He said he played “10-ish” games at forward for the Eagles 2019-20.
It’s only one game, of course, but could demonstrating his versatility on the NHL level help him stick around?
“I played forward the first eight or 10 years of my life,” he said of his childhood in the Portland area. “It’s there in the roots a little bit, but it’s been a while. I played it a little bit a couple of years ago with the Eagles, so I’ve got a little bit of experience in that department. Being able to go out and play two different positions is obviously good and it’s a lot of fun for me to be able to try and learn something new, too, at the same time.”
I asked him whether Bednar’s swingman experience had come up in discussions with his coach about the role.
“We had talked about it a little bit in the past and not so much, just a little bit leading up to the game,” MacDonald said. “I didn’t know that he had done that, so it’s good to know.”
He said moving up to forward involves making “sure you’re locked in to your position within the structure and not going rogue and doing your own thing.”
He joked, “I want to play games. I’d rather play any position. I told ’em, just don’t play me at goalie and we’re good.”
When he was 12, MacDonald moved from Oregon to Michigan. “I’d been playing hockey for about seven years,” he said. “I started when I was 5. I played a little bit in Vancouver, B.C. as well. We’d drive back and forth from Vancouver to Portland, go up there for spring seasons and on the weekends.”
Once in Michigan, he played for the Compuware midget program, then moved on to Waterloo in the USHL and then to Cornell. Since finishing a full four-year career at Cornell in 2015, he has been mostly an AHL and ECHL D-man, but the game against the Wild will be his 37th in the NHL.
“Any way that I can come in and help benefit the team is what I’m trying to do,” MacDonald said.
NOTES: Rantanen didn’t practice Friday (lower-body injury) and Bednar said he likely was day to day, not week to week. He definitely won’t play against Minnesota . . . Samuel Girard, who has missed two games after taking the hit from Steven Stamkos against Tampa Bay last week, practiced Friday. Bednar said that unless he developed issues after coming off the ice Friday, he would play against the Wild. . . Defenseman Devon Toews, who hasn’t yet played this season because of offseason shoulder surgery, again practiced in full-contact black on Friday. Bednar said the target for his return is one of the two games against Columbus next week — Wednesday at home and Saturday at Columbus.
Terry Frei (email@example.com) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sports writer of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html
His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here.