MacIntyre’s tale of two cities

by Ryan Schuiling

Drew MacIntyre was sitting next to his partner-in-goal, Jimmy Howard, in the early afternoon of April 27 when the rookie starting netminder’s phone rang.

“What time do I leave?” Howard asked.

And with that call, the wheels were set in motion to give MacIntyre his first AHL playoff start.

Chris Osgood had been injured during the Detroit Red Wings’ morning skate, rendering the parent club without a backup to Manny Legace. Howard would fill that role for the duration of the Wings’ first-round playoff series with the Edmonton Oilers, leaving the well-traveled MacIntyre to hold down the fort against the formidable Toronto Marlies.

“I found out about 2:30 or 3 that day,” MacIntyre explains. “I was very excited, to say the least. I didn’t have that much notice, but this time of year you don’t need that much notice.”

All the Prince Edward Island native did that night was turn aside 33 of 35 shots, including some spectacular saves on several scrambles in front of the net, and earn first-star honors in a pivotal 3-2 win in Game 4 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

MacIntyre’s impressive performance allowed the Griffins to grab a commanding 3-1 series lead and captured the attention of head coach Greg Ireland.

MacIntyre followed up with an even more spectacular showing in a 2-1 double-overtime thriller the next night, helping Grand Rapids sweep the three-game set in Toronto and take the series, four games to one. MacIntyre earned second star honors in that contest, and stopped 74 of 77 shots over 140 minutes of action during the two games.

“That’s the great thing – confidence goes a long way, and it really paid off,” says . “We talked about sending him down to Toledo (of the ECHL), he wanted to go down to Toledo. (Griffins general manager) Bob McNamara sent him down, and Drew’s confidence just grew and it allowed him to go back to the playoffs again.

“He’s been able to carry them through a couple of series wins. Now, we’ve got two goaltenders who’ve been playing. It gives us some depth and does a ton for Drew’s confidence, it gets him going again. It shows a lot about his character, with the travels back-and-forth and helping both teams. It’s the type of group we have here.”

In just two playoff games with the Griffins, MacIntyre has already made his mark in the team’s all-time record books, topping the charts with a 1.28 GAA and a sparkling .961 save percentage.

Between Grand Rapids and Toledo, his seven combined postseason starts have been as good as it gets: a perfect 7-0 record, with a 1.64 GAA and a .940 save percentage through this past weekend’s action.

And while MacIntyre could not have picked a better time to hit full stride, he’s had to be equally adept at hitting the road by constantly relocating to different playoff venues for each team.

The turnaround was toughest the night of April 28, with two extra sessions and an 11:02 p.m. finish for the Griffins in Toronto, followed by a noon start for the Storm in Wheeling, W. Va. – a six-hour, 360-mile drive away.

“That was an experience I’ll never forget,” MacIntyre reflects. “We went to double OT in Toronto, and then I made it to the car rental place just in time – it closed at 1 (in the morning).

“(Red Wings assistant general manager) Jim Nill was at the game with McNamara. I talked to them and it was basically, if I wanted to go I could go. Obviously I wanted to go, I’ve been with Toledo a majority of the year and I felt I owed it to them, too.

“I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night because it was a noon game, which was weird, but that’s part of pro hockey. You’re not always going to be the best-prepared or get the proper amount of sleep. I felt awesome. This time of year, it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ve just got to be ready. After the game I crashed pretty good, but it was definitely fun to go back and the guys played really well.

“We won that game, and then forced a (deciding) Game 5 in Toledo. That arena was something. It got close in the end but we pulled it out, and I’m definitely thankful I got to go back. It’s fun helping out both my teams.”

No one in the organization knows more about goaltending – or the Griffins’ goaltending situation in particular – than McNamara. The 45-year-old former netminder spent five professional seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals and Rochester Americans, and has been the chief decision-maker for the Grand Rapids hockey franchise since its inception 10 years ago.

McNamara has seen several goalies come and go during his tenure, and is predictably calculated and thorough in his analysis of the position. Having seen MacIntyre develop from the 121st overall choice by Detroit in the 2001 NHL Draft, he has been able to carefully chart and assess the young goaltender’s development.

“I think when you look at what Drew has accomplished from the start of the season to where we’re at now, he’s had some ups and downs,” says McNamara. “To start the season, Drew was kind of thrown into it (with Grand Rapids) just based on injuries in Detroit. He had struggled a little bit toward the end of last season. We weren’t sure where we were going to be with him to start the year, but he won a lot of big games for us early in the season.

“Then Jimmy (Howard) came down, Joey (MacDonald) got healthy, and Drew ended up going to Toledo eventually, once things sorted themselves out.”

MacIntyre’s time in Toledo was marked by a dramatic turnaround in the consistency of his performance, compiling a 24-7-2 overall record in 33 games with the Storm, along with a stellar 2.06 GAA and .926 save percentage. He was named as the team’s most valuable player, and was warmly embraced by the fans in Toledo.

“I think the biggest thing, playing a lot this year, is I’ve just learned to be calm,” says MacIntyre. “I haven’t played (a lot) the last three years, until this year. It’s taught me a lot. I thank the guys in Toledo, because I got to play a lot, night after night. It taught me how to play and how to prepare.

“Obviously, I wish I knew then what I know now. The whole year I felt really confident at this level, and when I went to Toledo I felt really confident. It doesn’t change because I’m up here, because I still feel I can play at this level.”

Getting MacIntyre primed and ready for a playoff run meant getting him between the pipes, whether that was in Grand Rapids or Toledo. Realizing this, McNamara concluded it was best for all parties involved – the Griffins, the Storm, and MacIntyre himself – to option his well-traveled goaltender to their ECHL affiliate for the balance of the 2005-06 season.

“He went to Toledo with a great attitude, he worked hard, and he helped them get into the playoffs,” says McNamara. “I have a lot of respect for how he’s battled back. It’s been a situation where he’s been told, ‘you’re going to end up in Toledo,’ and he finally gets there and he played great.

“He came back to us for the playoffs, and we ended up sending him back to play a few games in Toledo because we wanted him game-ready. He certainly wanted to go. He came to us on a couple of occasions and wanted to know if we could get him to Toledo to play a playoff game or two; not only to help them, but to make sure he was in game shape in case we needed him.

“As it turned out, we needed him in Toronto in Games 4 and 5 and he rose to the occasion. He was probably our best player in both games.”

With Howard back from Detroit, MacIntyre has once again been relegated to back-up duty as the Griffins opened their second-round tilt with the Manitoba Moose, a team featuring stalwart veteran Wade Flaherty between the pipes. The casual observer may automatically tab Howard as the logical choice, based on past performance and historical precedent. Greg Ireland isn’t so sure about that.

“To be honest with you, not to hedge, we haven’t really identified it that way,” confesses . “I guess, obviously, we have through their play, through the year. But at this point, we haven’t. We’ve just said ‘be ready to go’ and that’s it.

“We haven’t had to talk about it. Both guys get along great, both guys work hard, both have great ability, and they both know that tomorrow may bring a different set of circumstances. You deal with it and you move on, and that’s just being a pro.”

While Ireland was diplomatic in his assessment, McNamara harkened back to a hard-and-fast rule in the pro hockey locker room, which may indeed hold true for the Griffins.

“I think you go with your number one guy,” McNamara flatly states. “You go with the guy that got you there, and Jimmy’s the guy that got us there.

“One of the rules of thumb is, a guy never loses his role with an organization based on being called up. He’ll come back down, assume the starter role, and we’ll go from there – with the comfort in knowing if we need to throw Drew in, we’re not missing a beat.”

And when called upon, MacIntyre has accepted his role and will be ready, willing, and able to perform at an elite level. He just doesn’t know if that will be for Grand Rapids or for Toledo.

“To tell you the truth, I’m usually the last one to find out these things,” shares MacIntyre calmly. “I have no idea what the situation is, I haven’t really talked to anybody. I talk to my coach a lot in Toledo, and he just kind of fills me in.

“I’d definitely like to help out both teams. I’ve been with both this year, but my biggest thing is, I just want to play. I know I’m not going to play every game for both teams; that’s not possible.

“After that first round in Johnstown (in the ECHL playoffs), I decided not to worry about it. Whatever is meant to be, is meant to be.”

If Calder Cup and Kelly Cup championships are meant to be for his respective teams, MacIntyre will be able to reflect fondly on his contributions to both clubs – with two rings to show for it.