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MacDonald Bounces Back

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 5, 2003

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute fans didn't see the real Kirk MacDonald last season. An early-season bout with mononucleosis saw to that.

This year, the sophomore right winger has shown what he can do and has given the RPI offense a much-needed shot in the arm.

The Victoria, B.C. native with the quick shot is among the ECAC leaders in power-play goals (four), is tied for the Rensselaer lead in goals (five) and is tied for third on the team in scoring with eight points (5-3-8) after 13 games.

MacDonald had his bags packed and his excitement peaked for last year's season-opening tournament at one of college hockey's big shrines, the Kohl Center in Madison and the University of Wisconsin.

He never got to go.

"Two days before," he said, "the doctor told me I had mono."

That's a most inconvenient disease for anyone, a royal pain for an athlete.

When MacDonald made his RPI debut in Game 15, he was, while firmly cleared by doctors to play, nowhere near 100 percent physically.

"I actually had a real bad case of it," MacDonald said. "Being a freshman, it was a tough way to start, trying to get in the lineup. I got into every game once I was healthy and it was a good learning experience."

A lack of strength, brought on by the mono, hurt him.

"I feel a lot stronger this year, down low on the puck," he said. "That helps out a lot, especially on the power play, battling for space out there. And getting to a loose puck, I feel a whole lot better and a lot quicker on my first two strides. I think that's what hurt me a lot last year, because I lost all that, not being allowed to do anything (physically assertive) for over two months."

MacDonald and the 7-4-2 Engineers return to ECAC play tonight at 7 p.m., hosting Yale.

MacDonald expected to be among RPI's offensive leaders this year.

"The coaches told me in my end-of-year meeting last year that they were expecting a lot more from me coming into this year," he said. "They told me that my freshman year I came in in really good shape and (they realized) the mono really hurt me and that they expected a lot from me."

"And I expect a lot more from myself," he added. "I was really disappointed last year and wanted to come in here with a better start to the season and I worked real hard this summer and was hoping to play on both the penalty kill and power play, which I haven't ever done since I was about 15 years old."

"So, I can't complain about how much I'm playing," MacDonald said. "It's awesome. I want to play as much as possible."

And, of course, confidence is a big factor.

"When the coaches show their confidence in you, that helps a lot," MacDonald said. "For me, when I'm playing a lot and getting into a rhythm, it's so much easier out there. When you're playing every once in a while, it's harder to get into the flow of the game."

MacDonald's biggest asset is easy to spot.

"He's got a great release, real quick shot," Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen said of MacDonald. "And he's scored some timely goals for us with that release. The thing that makes it very difficult (for opposing goaltenders), is, you can't identify a release point."

Right, just ask St. Cloud State goalie Jason Montgomery or UMass-Lowell goalie Paul Mammola. Each was beaten by MacDonald's quick-released, tough-to-gauge wrist shot.

Each goal was a game-winner in RPI's one-goal victory.

Mammola clearly had a tough time reading MacDonald's 20-foot shot.

"Yeah, they've been telling me, 'shoot the puck, shoot the puck,'" he said. "I think I've been doing that more the last five or six games."

"When he starts off on a healthy note," Fridgen says, "he progresses every week, not just in practice, but game-by-game. He does a great job on special teams, not just as a power-play guy but as a penalty killer. He adds some grit and grind to the power play unit. He's the guy in front of the net, taking the whacks (from defensemen) and trying to create space for other, or creating his own space."

Rensselaer fans can expect MacDonald to score 15-18 goals, more if the team plays more than 2-3 games in the postseason.

"Well, 15 is certainly an attainable number. But as long as somebody scores, it doesn't matter."