Delivering on promise
This story was published Friday, February 24th, 2006

By Annie Fowler, Herald staff writer

In one of his last official acts as head coach and general manager of the Tri-City Americans in 2000, Don Hay drafted center Ian McDonald third overall in the Western Hockey League bantam draft.

Six years later, McDonald is the second-leading scorer in the WHL with 32 goals and 78 points, becoming the player Hay envisioned the Edmonton, Alberta, native could be.

"You always hope you know what you are doing," said Hay, now the coach of the Vancouver Giants. "Scott Bonner was the head scout and he was pretty high on Ian. You draft a player at 14 and you hope he can continue to develop and be successful. Ian has had some lean years in the Tri-Cities, but credit them for sticking with him. It has been a good marriage."

McDonald was a smooth skating forward with a scoring touch during his final year of AAA bantam hockey (2000-01) before joining the Americans. He had 34 goals, 73 assists for 107 points in 40 games for the Southgate Lions in the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League.

McDonald, 20, is one of only six players to have scored more than 100 points in the AMBHL over the past nine years.

The Americans' assistant captain, in the midst of his best season in the WHL, said it has taken a lot of hard work to get his game back on the track that made him a must-have player in 2000.

"I think my work ethic has really improved this year and I'm more responsible defensively," said McDonald, who has 36 points more than he did all of last season. "That doesn't sound like it creates offensive stuff, but it does."

He's also tried to become a more well-rounded player by embracing the physical aspect of the game.

"I don't think it's that I don't like it. It's part of hockey," said McDonald, who has 12 penalty minutes this season and 69 in his WHL career. "I'm not scared to take a hit or finish checks, but I stay away from the lazy penalties and fighting is really not a part of my game."

McDonald also is tied for first in the league with 46 assists, making him a complete player for the Americans, who have gone from worst to third in the U.S. Division since November.

"It's like planting a seed and watching it grow," said Americans coach Don Nachbaur. "Outside of our division, I don't think of a better overage in the league. I don't think it was any surprise. He has the skills and talent; it was just gaining the confidence."

The overage center always has been a playmaker in the WHL, with his best season before this year coming in 2003-04 when he had six goals and 38 assists in helping the team to the second round of the playoffs.

McDonald admits it has taken him time to elevate his game in the WHL, but he's also played behind two very good centers in Eric Johansson and Dylan Stanley during his five-year career with the Americans.

With the kind of season McDonald has been having, he's on pace to finish with close to 100 points. He'd need nearly two points per game to reach a milestone a Tri-City player last hit in the '01-02 season when Johansson had 103 points. Stanley came close in 2002-03 with 93 points.

"You look at the rafters and there are some special players who have come through here," McDonald said. "I don't really want to put my name in with them yet. It would be nice to get 100 points. That's special no matter what league."

McDonald, who is a free agent, is just six goals and nine points away from equaling his dad Terry's best season in the league with the Edmonton Oil Kings (now the Portland Winter Hawks) during the 1973-74 season.

"Dad doesn't talk about his hockey too much, but he's been a real big help to me," McDonald said. "My dad and my agent have told me I needed to start scoring goals to get noticed. NHL teams want goal scorers."

But Terry has noticed his son is creeping up on him.

"He's getting close, but I want to hang on to the family bragging rights," said Terry, who is the vice president of risk management for a power and water company in Edmonton. "It's been a long haul for him in the Tri-Cities. He's been there five years, and the team hasn't had a ton of success."

Terry was drafted in the fifth round of the 1976 NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. He never played at the professional level, but hockey still is a part of Terry's life. He plays every Sunday morning with a few of his buddies.

McDonald's success has parlayed into that of linemates Jason Beeman (23 goals, 47 points) and Juraj Gracik (19 goals, 38 points). The trio has

74 of the team's 155 goals.

"Me and Jason having been playing together since we were 16," McDonald said. "We know each other on the ice and feed off each other. I like playing with my linemates. We make things happen and we've been fortunate enough to bury a few pucks this season."

Enough to have the Americans on the brink of home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Tri-Cities is just two points back of second-place Seattle heading into a three-game weekend starting tonight in Spokane.

"I'd like us to make the playoffs and from there, make some waves and prove some people wrong," McDonald said. "There are a lot of the doubters who said we weren't going to make the playoffs this year. The playoffs is where you make your bacon."

The Americans have 12 games left in the regular season -- plus hopefully the upcoming playoffs -- bringing McDonald's WHL career to a close.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet. I don't think it does until it's over," McDonald said. "There are a lot of tears shed in the dressing room. This is the last year I'm going to play in this league and play with all of these guys, and hopefully we can make it something special. Something to remember."

It will be hard to forget what McDonald has accomplished this season