“Hockey Player Suffers Significant Injury, Skates 3 More Games”
No, that is not a headline from The Onion. That was Ryan McDonagh‘s 2015 postseason, which came to a painful conclusion not when he broke his right foot midway through the Eastern Conference Final but when the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated McDonagh’s Rangers in Game 7. [Insert “agony of defeat” pun here.]
It’s the kind of rub-some-dirt-on-it perseverance so commonplace in the NHL playoffs that such exhibitions of determination barely become sidebars if the player isn’t on the winning team.
Sitting down with the 26-year-old McDonagh as he prepares to enter his second campaign as captain of the Rangers, we discuss the worst injury he’s ever played through, night fishing, Team USA’s World Cup chances, and why the Rangers could be the NHL’s version of the Green Bay Packers in 2016.
SPORTSNET.CA: How does one even play hockey on a broken foot?
RYAN MCDONAGH: The trainers get it prepared as they can to put it in a skate to play. It’s just that culture hockey players have. You battle all season with your teammates to get in the postseason and give yourself this opportunity. You definitely want to be by them on the ice and on the bench to do whatever you can to help accomplish what you want to get done.
What specifically do the trainers do?
They numb-up the foot so the pain wasn’t as noticeable and tape it a bit for support.
You must still feel some pain when playing.
The adrenaline helps, when that kicks in. But as the game goes on, that starts to wear off. So you’ve got to be conscious of it. Maybe do [more freezing] between periods.
How did the foot affect your game?
It’s tough to take powerful strides. You have to be careful in how you approach skating backwards or approaching a rush or joining the play offensively.
How does it feel now?
Great. There’s no issues with it. It’s basically 100 per cent. I don’t have to do any treatments with it. It doesn’t get sore after skates, so it’s exciting how it’s rebounded here.
What did you do this summer to get your mind off the Eastern Final loss and the injury?
Go back to Minnesota, hang out on the lakes there. I do a lot of fishing and boating. It was a good summer weather-wise, so I was on the lakes more than other summers. I took some trips up to the Northwoods to get away from the city life. Just tried to hang out with friends and family as much as possible.
Who do you go fishing with?
My brother, my brother-in-law… basically anybody who’s free that day or night. We catch northern pike, bass, sometimes we do crappie night fishing. I’m average. I can hang with the guys and make it work.
Biggest thing you reeled in?
The biggest was probably a good-size northern pike. I haven’t caught a muskie yet. Those are the big ones we try to get, but they’re tough to find.
And you’re into tennis as well.
I played a little bit this summer. Not as much [as usual] because of the foot. I’ve grown to love watching the sport more — just the competitiveness of the guys and the nature of the sport. One guy going against each other. Being able to take it in at the U.S. Open in New York has grown my interest. The top guys are just incredible to watch — seeing them battle back when they’re behind in points and win almost every day.
What are the Edmonton Oilers getting in your former teammate, Cam Talbot?
A guy you can count on at that position. It’s so important to have confidence in your goaltender. He’s one that’s willing to put in the effort to be as successful as he can for the group. He works very hard in practice. He’s willing to take extra shots from guys. A great teammate overall who just wants to win and be a great piece of a team.
Describe how you felt leaving Sochi with a fourth-place finish at the 2014 Games.
Very sour. Very disappointing. With the group of guys we had, we thought we could do something special, and we had great confidence as the tournament was going on — winning games in good fashion, playing in sync. And in those tournaments, it all comes down to a few moments, ones where you need guys to make a play or do a little bit more. It was unfortunate in the semis against Canada we couldn’t find a way to get a goal and get back in that game. And in the third-place game, we didn’t bounce back after the loss and have the right effort left we needed to match Finland.
Is the 2016 World Cup the opportunity for USA to redeem itself, or does that not arrive until 2018?
It’s a great opportunity, especially bringing back the World Cup for the first time in a long time and the stage being set where it’s at — a hockey city like Toronto, where the excitement and fans will be watching every second of every game. For us, it’s a chance to put USA back in contention with the big countries. Our group knows we need to take that next step. We can’t falter again here and be left behind.
Justin Faulk told me you were the one player who most impressed him in Sochi. Who stood out to you?
It was my first time playing with Ryan Suter. Obviously I know him, but being on the same team with him and seeing the way he carries himself, the big minutes he plays… his approach to the game every day is impactful. He really cares about the group succeeding. Definitely a great role model for USA.
As a D-man, do you prefer small or big ice?
The small ice, because we play on it more and things happen quicker. There are more scoring opportunities because you’re closer to the net. I feel more comfortable there.
You have the NFL in your bloodline, with your uncle being former quarterback Steve Walsh. Which team do you cheer for?
The Vikings, I guess, but I root for the New York teams too. The Giants and Jets I cheer for. It was tough growing up. My uncle used to play in the NFL, so I’d just cheer for whatever team he was on. When he was done [after playing for six different teams from 1989 to 1999], I got back to watching the local team.
Ever go watch your uncle play live?
Definitely. I went to a handful of games. Got to go on the field with him, and in the locker room. It was a great experience.
How did that influence your own desire to be a pro athlete?
It helped me understand the effort it takes, seeing the preparation he would go through. A quarterback has so much on his plate: team meetings, studying the playbook. All those things he had to do to get himself prepared, it gave me good lessons for sure.
Are you a fantasy guy?
We just did our draft. First round, I went wideouts, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. I always like to pick the exciting wideouts. They’re fun to watch — making catches, scoring touchdowns.
Gimme your Super Bowl pick.
Because of how we’ve come close the last couple years, I’ll go with the Packers. I have faith they can rebound, and maybe we can do the same here in the NHL.