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Frei: Kurtis MacDermid continues to win over, most importantly, his teammates

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David Zalubowski/AP

In the wake of the Avalanche’s 6-3 win over the Flyers at Ball Arena Friday night, let’s first take care of some housecleaning.

Yes, the remarkable Cale Makar scored twice to tie and then set the Avalanche/Nordiques record for most goals by a defenseman in a season. His 24 this season now is one better than the Wandering Latvian, Sandis Ozolinsh, who had 23 for Colorado in 1996-97. (And for numbers devotees, Ozolinsh also wore No. 8.)

Yes, Nazem Kadri had a goal (his 25th) and two assists and a scrap to claim a Gordie Howe hat trick, and Mikko Rantanen and J.T. Compher contributed a goal and an assist. For Rantanen, it was his 32nd of the season, and while he hasn’t been anything close to “overlooked,” it has been underplayed because of the talent around him.

OK, those are the details.

But what many were talking about — on the bench, in the press box, in the stands and in front of the screens where the broadcasts were available — was Avalanche defenseman/swingman Kurtis MacDermid scoring his second goal of the season on his 28th birthday. It came on a shot from the point at 12:19 of the second period, giving the Avalanche a 5-1 lead.

A crucial goal? Absolutely not. A significant goal, given the giddy reaction of especially his teammates? Absolutely, as MacDermid is continuing to demonstrate that he can be more than an intimidating physical presence and enforcer, whether on defense or in his first chances at wing in his NHL career.

With defensemen Ryan Murray, Samuel Girard and Bo Byram out, MacDermid has been paired with Erik Johnson and has looked like, well, a guy who can do more than send messages and throw punches.

“It doesn’t happen too often,” MacDermid said of scoring on his birthday. “It was pretty cool. I just try and get better every day and making sure when I’m in there, I’m doing my job and helping the team any way I can.”

Makar essentially was speaking for his teammates when talking about MacDermid. He didn’t even mention perceived deterrence, fighting or retribution.

“He plays a key role for us,” Makar said. “Obviously it’s awesome when he can contribute on the offensive side, but he’s so tough to play against in our own zone. I think you saw that any rush they had tonight, most of them ended up in the corner with him hitting the guy. No, it’s just that extra presence that we have on the back end. He’s been playing really well for us.”

I’m not going to get carried away here.

I covered the Rockies’ Barry Beck, one of the most fearsome defenseman-scorers-fighters in NHL history and whose trade to the Rangers was regrettable. Beck would have been not just a Hall of Famer, but an all-time elite D, if he hadn’t suffered debilitating shoulder injuries.

Nor is MacDermid is another Adam Foote, the facewash-delivering D who contributed at both ends and would drop the gloves, if necessary, with anyone. (Hello, Brendan Shanahan.)

But MacDermid came from the Kings (via the Kraken) with the reputation as the guy whose designation as a defenseman was almost irrelevant.

His image was as a guy who couldn’t play dead in a western — or the Western Conference. A fighter. Nothing else. He was an enforcer who had to be hidden and couldn’t be on the ice for more than cameos.

Superstreak Bonus!

Now he has become a fan favorite.

“It’s awesome,” MacDermid said when I asked him about that. “The fans here are second to none. I just do my job out there and they really appreciate that. It feels good to me.”

Of course, whether MacDermid even suits up in the playoffs is uncertain. It will come down to situations and opponents as the Avalanche seek to avoid lacking playoff grit a year after their second-round collapse against the sandpaper-wielding Golden Knights.

If the Avalanche injured all return, MacDermid in the playoffs is more likely to suit up as a fourth-line winger (or utilityman) than as a top 6 D, but that’s one of Jared Bednar’s strategic challenges. Plus, the point is that he’s showing he’s not an overall detriment when in the lineup.

Few seem to be aware of Bednar’s background as a swingman D-man/winger in the ECHL and AHL who was revered for having his teammates’ backs.

That undoubtedly enters into his assessment of MacDermid.

“He plays hard,” Bednar said. “He’s hard to play against. He’s physical. He’s eliminating his mistakes. He’s improving his puck play. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he’s generally going up and out of the zone and clearing the zone for us.

“He feels pretty comfortable with pressure, especially when he gets the puck on his forehand and can get it up and out.”

Bednar had taken note of the reaction among the Avs when MacDermid scored.

“Our guys love it,” he said. “I mean, he’s earned it, right? He’s had a couple of looks here and hasn’t been able to put it in the net. Tonight he get in a real good spot and unloads it and he scores and our guys were happy for him.”

Bottom line: MacDermid has proved himself worthy of having around in the playoffs.

Even if it’s in a suit one game and a uniform the next.

Terry Frei (terry@terryfrei.com, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter 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 her

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Matt Briggle

I thought MacDermid had a really solid game tonight. Yes, there was the one puck bobble at the blue line that ended up in a break away against, but those things happen to the very best players sometimes too and I liked his instinct there trying to keep the offensive possession going. I bet his utilization in the playoffs (assuming full health) will be determined, as Terry said, by opponent and situation. Playing against a team like the Oilers he probably wouldn’t get much playing time. Against the Wild (who recently traded for not one, but two guys who have… Read more »

Svein Lister

Nice write-up, Terry.

I like how MacDermid is really showing that he has good hockey sense and can read the play really well. It’s almost like he has discovered this only recently. Maybe he has never been challenged by a coach to use those aspects of his game before. So credit to the coaching team as well.

MacDermid’s biggest problem is his skating. There isn’t a single forward in the NHL who would not beat him in a fastest skater competition.

dk

Totally agree, Terry. Dermie deserves a spot on the PO roster. The guy plays with heart, maximum effort, and love for his teammates every game. He is objectively playing the best hockey of his career at this moment. He’s not quite as a good a player as Ryan Reaves, but at least when the shit gets thick Dermie can beat him up. And nobody knows that better than Reaves himself. Anybody who calls this guy a “bad” hockey player needs to understand that he is PLAYING IN THE NHL…which means he’s good enough to be included in the top fraction… Read more »

Glendon Gulliver

It is always great to get some scoring from the bottom D-men and bottom six, but they need to work on their team defense. 31 shots for Philly. The Avs seem to dominate most when they can hold the opposing team to the mid 20s or less in shots. Lots of games lately with the opposition getting over 30 and sometimes 40 shots. With injuries, the D is mostly set who will play, but the bottom six need to become a cohesive group, that plays great defense and PK, with any extra scoring as a plus. I think that with… Read more »

Last edited 8 months ago by Glendon Gulliver
Trenton Dunn

I realize it’s a business, as well as a much faster game than even 5 years ago, but this guy makes a difference every night he’s in the lineup. If Byram, Girard or Murray are healthy come playoffs the defense may be tough to crack, however, he sells out for the team and gives the Avs an edge a lot of our bottom 6 do not. If I’m Bednar that kind of selfless sacrifice is dressing every night (barring a meltdown.)

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