Sports Hockey

Sutherland Cup MVP looking to play a big role for Barrie Colt

By Stephen Sweet, Special to Postmedia Network

Barrie Colts winger Josh MacDonald could be playing somewhere in the top six this season.

Barrie Colts winger Josh MacDonald could be playing somewhere in the top six this season.

The Barrie Colts have been waiting a few seasons for Josh MacDonald to reach his full potential.

This season might be the one where the winger hits his stride.

MacDonald has taken his off-season regimen to a new level in anticipation of more ice time this year.

“I was training harder this summer than (in) the last two summers,” MacDonald said. “I was going pretty hard, training six times a week, and was on the ice three weeks before training camp.”

Each season, MacDonald has come in with plenty of promise, but hasn’t completely panned out as the top-six winger the Colts hoped they’d had.

MacDonald arrived two seasons ago after being named the playoff MVP for the Sutherland Cup-winning Elmira Sugar Kings in Jr. ‘B’.

He spent his first year in Barrie between the press box and the fourth line, with the expectation that he would move up a couple of units last season.

Despite averaging a point per game in his first 10 contests, MacDonald finished with just 15 goals and 15 assists after he struggled in the second half.

“He had a strong start last year and then faded away towards the end,” said Colts assistant coach Todd Miller.

It always seemed like, for one reason or another, MacDonald wound up in the doghouse, which was frustrating for him at times.

“Yeah, a little bit,” MacDonald said. “It’s up and down, like a seesaw.”

It’s certainly not unheard of for a player of his ability having to make the adjustment to the OHL.

“I think, when you have high-end skill and things come easy to you, (that can happen),” Miller said. “When he got to this level, things got a lot harder.”

MacDonald worked with Miller at the Colts hockey camps in the summer and the assistant coach was impressed with the winger’s maturation.

“I think he’s realized in his 19 (year-old) season, it’s really important for him,” Miller said. “He’s got the speed and skill, so I think he’s going to get every (opportunity) to play big minutes here.”

There have been moments in key games where MacDonald has gotten his chances due to injuries, and he’s made his mark.

In Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinal, No. 11 scored the go-ahead goal in the third period – with 11:11 to play – before the Ottawa 67’s evened things up and eventually won in overtime.

MacDonald had Barrie within the grasp of an OHL championship last year in London, when his backhander with two minutes to go in a tied Game 7 went off of the crossbar and required a video goal judge review before being waved off.

“It’s still in the back of my head,” MacDonald said. “Carrying it into this season, I’m going to try to bear down on every chance I have.

“It’s that close to winning the championship and you’ve got to put the puck in the back of the net if you want to win.”

That has helped fuel MacDonald coming into this season, where he holds the likely possibility of playing somewhere in Barrie’s top six.

“With guys like (Mark) Scheifele and (Anthony) Camara gone, a lot of minutes become available, especially those on the power play, where (MacDonald) is a guy that should be a go-to on that,” Miller said.

“But he’s got to take the role and run with it.”

With players like Mitchell Theoret, Zach Hall and Andreas Athanasiou off at NHL camps, MacDonald played on the top line last Friday in Barrie’s 4-2 exhibition victory over the Erie Otters, picking up an assist and appearing to have no trouble keeping up with the play.

“I think being in better shape is going to help me play against the best players in the league,” MacDonald said. “If I’m out there for 30 seconds and I come off and I’m huffing and puffing, that’s probably not good.”

MacDonald feels he’s put the pieces in place to play a big role with the Colts this year, but wherever he winds up, he’ll be competing.

“I’m just going to come in and work my hardest every single night,” MacDonald said. “If I get the minutes (or not), I’m going to try my best to put up points.”

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