Leaving the sport you love on your own terms is right of passage that every athlete should experience.
Sadly many athletes are denied that right. Anderson MacDonald fully expected to finish his Major Junior career playing in front of his family and friends in his hometown. That wasn’t in the cards. The 20-year-old scoring sensation is ready to take one final shot at Major Junior hockey 3,196 Km’s away from home in Winnipeg, Manitoba in hopes of reaching his dream to play professionally in the years to come.
“The Winnipeg ICE have given me a chance to use my talent, experience and leadership skills,” MacDonald said proudly.
“This is my last chance to prove to myself and others that I can play at the next level.”
It’s been a long and winding road for the Quispamsis, New Brunswick product who courageously shared his battle with ADHD, anxiety and depression in the spring of 2019. MacDonald’s revelation sent shock waves through the hockey world.
Unfortunately, things didn’t workout in Bathurst which led to MacDonald being subsequently claimed by the Saint John Sea Dogs.
MacDonald scored 15 goals and added 13 assists in 34 games with the Titan. In 23 games with the Sea Dogs last year MacDonald scored 7 goals and added 9 assists. Everything was finally trending in the right direction before the season abruptly ended in March due to the pandemic.
The highly touted winger has come to grips with the past and is driven to reach new heights in the game this season in the Western Hockey League.
“Sure, I will miss playing in front of my family, friends and hometown fans, but I’m really excited to get things started with the ICE.”
“Winnipeg has been great to me and have bent over backwards to help me get back in the game and play the game I love.”
“I am really looking forward to playing with new teammates and working with new coaches. We have a lot of talent here and a winning attitude.”
The pandemic and unexpected hiatus from the sport has given MacDonald a new perspective on the game, but more importantly life.
“As a player, I have learned that hockey, is team sport, not an individual one.”
“I have learned that for me and the team to be successful, there is a lot more to success than just scoring goals.”
“Every player has a role on the team and a team is only as strong as its weakest player.”
“I have learned that you can play hockey at elite levels and still have fun.”
The pressure to perform, live up to high expectations and be a go to player was something that always came naturally to MacDonald early on in his career, but things definitely changed when he started to struggle with depression and anxiety caused by ADHD.
“I realize now that raw talent only takes you so far in this game. If you don’t have a good work ethic and aren’t prepared to make sacrifices in your personal life, you won’t go far.”
MacDonald is willing to do whatever it takes to make the most of his final shot.
“I have come to understand my strengths and weaknesses and what my role is on the team.”
There was always a massive difference between the player and person when it came to Anderson MacDonald. That gap has significantly narrowed given his life experiences on and off the ice over the past four and a half years.
MacDonald had a solid summer of training before finding out he was left off the Sea Dogs 46 man training camp roster.
“I had regular zoom workouts with my trainer in San Diego, Chris Mumford, plus working out on my own. In the fall, I continued zoom workouts with my local trainer, Dr. Matt Forgie. Before I arrived in Regina, the ICE had team Zoom workouts for one hour, three to four times a week. Now these workouts are seven days a week.” Unfortunately, MacDonald had very little ice time except for pick up games with other junior players on an outdoor rink in Edmonton when it was permitted.
“On the personal side I have learned that being self-centred
is ok, but being selfish isn’t.”
“It is time to start paying back my family, friends and other supporters who have worked so hard and given so much so that I could live out my dream.”
The frigid Western Canadian winter has been an ideal backdrop for MacDonald’s resurgence both from a personal and playing perspective. The solitude and private quiet moments have realigned and deepened his passion for the game, but it has also provided time to reflect.
“My family and extended family have totally supported me since day one and have shared my successes and failures with me.”
“I could talk about this subject for hours, but I think I can sum up my feelings by saying, without the total support of my family I would not be where I am today.”
“It scares me to think where I might be had they not been there for me.”
“I want to thank them all for what they have done for me, I love them all so much.”
The magnitude of his final opportunity to lace them up in the CHL isn’t lost on the well spoken 20-year-old.
“I believe actions speak louder than words,” MacDonald said when asked about how driven he is to have a good year and reach the pro ranks.
“For the last five months I have lived in isolation or lockdown without my family.”
For the first time in his life MacDonald wasn’t able to spend Christmas with his parents and sister which definitely took a toll on him mentally.
“I was fortunate to be able to stay with my Aunt and Uncle in Edmonton during that time, but I have been isolated from my friends and have not had social contact with people my age for months.”
MacDonald travelled out West to train and prepare for the upcoming season well in advance, but was confronted by lockdowns during the ongoing Red Phases.
“I have travelled across Canada three times and lived in four different cities in various types of accommodations.”
“Over that time I had to learn to deal with feelings of loneliness and depression that come from being in isolation and the disappointment when you finally emerge from isolation and discover that the season has been delayed indefinitely which happened while I was in both Winnipeg and Edmonton which was extremely difficult.”
“The months that I have spent in COVID isolation and lockdown has given me time to explore the question, “Who am I”?
“I discovered that I am not one dimensional, but that I have other things that I enjoy, and I am proficient at.”
While training and living in Edmonton MacDonald also threw his hat into the business world.
“I learned that I have strong entrepreneurial skills,” MacDonald said with a smile.
MacDonald and his Uncle started a business selling ATV’s.
“I love meeting people and closing a deal brings me a lot of excitement.”
MacDonald’s growth and maturity continues to help him put things in perspective.
“I now realize that life will not end if and when hockey ends,” said the three time 20 goal scorer.
“I realize that I am not only Anderson MacDonald, the hockey player rather, I am Anderson MacDonald the person.”
“Over time I have found out that I love working with younger players, I feed off their enthusiasm for the game especially in the off season.”
MacDonald has plans to give back to the game he loves becoming an on ice instructor at a hockey school in Saint John this summer.
There’s no question Anderson MacDonald has done a lot of soul searching.
“COVID-19 has destroyed or delayed the dreams of many young players. It has really been tough, for those who had to isolate and or live-in lock down conditions for prolonged periods of time.”
“I experienced feelings of loneliness and feelings of being lost caused by being in isolation and lock down.”
“I survived because, I reached out to my family and others and they helped me develop coping skills to survive the situation and escape the “dark hole” associated with depression.”
“Yes, I am super excited that my season is finally about to start, but I am very worried about the mental health of those players who are not as lucky.”
“If you are down, do not be embarrassed to admit you are having problems and struggles.”
“It’s okay not to be okay.”
“Reach out to your family, friends and professionals to help you develop coping skills to beat the “COVID Blues” and all forms of depression,” MacDonald said.
“It’s so important to remember that you are not alone.”
“We are all in this together, we all walk together, we will be okay.”
“Given the “bubble” situation this is the first time there are no distractions, just hockey and I believe this team has a lot of talent and potential. I think we are going to turn some heads this season,” stressed MacDonald.
Leaving the sport you love on your own terms is right of passage, Anderson MacDonald is ready to face his future in the game and life with a newfound inspiration and sense of clarity and purpose.
“It’s time to play hockey,” he said.
It’s time for Anderson MacDonald to leave everything on the ice to see how far that can take him.