TORONTO– Drew MacIntyre shouldn’t have trouble getting motivated when the Toronto Marlies meet the Rochester Americans in Round 1 of the AHL playoffs.
The 29-year-old goaltender, who’s played at an all-star level since joining the Marlies in February, had his career take a turn for the worst while with Rochester last season and has been looking for redemption ever since.
Brought in by Rochester as a potential Number-1, a two-time AHL All-Star who averaged 45 starts a season since 2006, MacIntyre never worked out with the Americans and played in just 23 games. He went 8-12-2, his first sub-.500 season in eight years, and his .899 save percentage was well below his career .917. He also had a career worst 3.19 goals-against average and eventually lost the starting job to David Leggio.
“I learned a lot from last year and if I didn’t have those downs I wouldn’t be the goalie I am today,” said MacIntyre. “Everything I was told didn’t happen. But at the same time I didn’t play the way I could so I can’t blame anyone. I just didn’t play my best and it was a tough situation. Leggio was a really good goalie.”
The 2001 fourth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings last appearance with Rochester was a 7-3 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs on Feb. 12th, 2012. He rode the bench the rest of the year, backing up Leggio as the Americans eventually went on to be swept in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs by Toronto.
MacIntyre put his terrible year behind and left the Buffalo Sabres organization to start this season in the KHL, but two losses and a broken ankle eventually cost him a spot on Prague Lev. Seeing the lack of security in the KHL, and still wanting a chance at the NHL, MacIntyre returned to North America.
“I could have stayed in Europe and made money, but it kind of made me realize I wanted another shot over here,” said MacIntyre.
The only problem upon his return, however, was that every league was in full stride and an open position wasn’t available.
“I couldn’t get a job anywhere in North America,” he said. “I contemplated a lot of things when I was home for a month, I couldn’t get anything. My wife basically said, ‘keep trying.’ She’s been amazing. I couldn’t be doing this without the support of her and my two girls.”
At home in Charlottetown, P.E.I., MacIntyre had his agent fax, email and call teams all across the continent to see if they needed a goaltender. Finally, the Reading Royals of the ECHL called him back on Jan. 3rd. Desperate, determined and humbled, MacIntyre re-joined a league he hadn’t played in since 2004 when he was 21-years-old.
“I wouldn’t have gone back to the East Coast league if the NHL wasn’t in my sights. I still think I can do it,” he said.
Setting up in Pennsylvania wasn’t the easiest transition for MacIntyre, but it was his first shot at getting back to where he wanted to be.
MacIntyre’s wife and two pre-school aged children joined him on his venture and for the first time in over a year he finally started to have similar success prior to his year in Rochester.
“Three months in Reading, we all lived in one hotel room. There were moments where I was like, ‘what am I doing to them?’ But they were amazing,” said MacIntyre.
“I’m glad I went to Reading to play. That team gave me a chance to play and work on some habits. Mentally I had some bad habits and was second guessing a lot of what I was doing. The team was really good to us.”
On Feb. 13th, MacIntyre was contacted by the Marlies, who needed a goaltender after Jussi Rynnas was summoned to the Maple Leafs.
Head coach Dallas Eakins was familiar with MacIntyre, but didn’t know a lot about him. However, Leafs goaltender coach Rick St. Croix did from the time he shared with MacIntyre with the Manitoba Moose from 2006 to 2008. An old relationship eventually led to the netminder getting back to the AHL, but only on a try-out basis.
“Ricky was familiar with him and I knew him from our team playing against him,” said Eakins. “My biggest question was, ‘Is he a character guy? Even if he’s a good goalie, if he was a doorknob coming in I wouldn’t want him. But Ricky recommended him and obviously it was a great one.”
MacIntyre quickly found success in Toronto and was named the AHL goalie of the week in just his third week back. In 21 starts he went 13-5-1 with a 1.38 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. He solidified the Number-1 spot and even earned himself a new two-way NHL contract with the Leafs on Apr. 2nd.
And, now, with the goal of returning to the Calder Cup final, Eakins and the Marlies will be relying on a goaltender who three months ago was unemployed and out of the league.
“I feel thankful,” MacIntyre said, almost at a loss for words in describing his current situation.
“We talk to our players all the time about seizing the opportunity,” said Eakins. “We had struggles in net, we threw Drew into the fire, he played well and he kept it going. That young man’s journey this year has been an amazing one; From the KHL, to an injury, to the East Coast league and now an NHL contract. I think that just goes to show what we tell are guys all the time. Seize the day.”
The Marlies host Game 1 against the Americans Saturday and the expected matchup in net will be MacIntyre versus Leggio.