Drew MacIntyre doesn’t know why at the age of 30 he hasn’t started an NHL game. The journeyman goaltender can only go by what he’s told.
“Probably the main reason why I haven’t gotten a game while I’ve been up is because I don’t have NHL experience,” MacIntyre said. “That’s the most frustrating thing.”
It’s hard to have experience without someone giving him a chance.
“Chicken and egg thing,” said his agent, Thane Campbell. “You have to get that right opportunity. Some of it is just luck — being at the right place at the right time.”
MacIntyre is now in exactly the right place at the right time. With the Toronto Maple Leafs officially eliminated from playoff contention and Jonathan Bernier out with a knee injury, the Charlottetown product is set to make his first career NHL start Thursday night at the Florida Panthers.
It’s a long time coming for a veteran of 351 AHL games, 56 ECHL games and even two in the KHL. Along the way, he has seen Cory Schneider, Ben Scrivens and other goaltenders he competed against in the minors earn full-time NHL gigs.
“It literally feels like every day I see one of the guys that I’ve competed against for a while getting starts and becoming a No. 1 goalie in the NHL,” MacIntyre said last month. “So that kind of thing can get frustrating because I’ve competed pretty well against all those guys. That’s just more evidence that I believe that I can play here (in the NHL).”
MacIntyre’s resume so far includes just five NHL appearances, all in relief. Two came for the Vancouver Canucks in 2007-08, two for the Buffalo Sabres in 2011-12, and the most recent one in March after James Reimer gave up three goals at the New Jersey Devils.
On March 23, MacIntyre came in and stopped all 14 shots he faced. He saw that as something of an audition, which Thursday night can be, as well.
“That enters your mind,” he said. “I haven’t had that many opportunities. They’ve all been kind of getting thrown in there. ... That’s just the position that I’m in where every summer I’m hoping to get a job and scrambling to find something. I want to get a chance to compete for a backup role just to see what I can do.”
MacIntyre will likely be scrambling again this summer. The AHL’s Toronto Marlies could go with a young goaltending duo of Garret Sparks and Christopher Gibson, leaving the career minor-leaguer to look elsewhere.
Campbell’s sales pitch is that MacIntyre is a two-time AHL all-star, people know him around the league and he’s “not too old.” He said MacIntyre is considered one of the best No. 3 goalie options around, but where he might end up next season depends on trades and other player movement.
If nothing else, MacIntyre shouldn’t have to face the same questions he did last year after breaking his ankle playing for HC Lev Prague of the KHL, getting released and struggling to find a job anywhere. For a while, no team in the ECHL or Central Hockey League would sign him.
While practising with the University of Prince Edward Island, MacIntyre was asked by people close to him if he was considering retiring.
“It kind of made me say, ‘Jeepers, should I be thinking that?“’ MacIntyre said. “It definitely crossed my mind, but I didn’t think about retiring. I just knew I was up for a fight.”
It’ll likely be a fight to get an NHL deal that gives him a legitimate opportunity to compete for a backup job. After trips through three organizations, that’s what MacIntyre expects.
“With a number of teams he’s been knocking on the door and he’s been very close,” said Campbell, who has represented MacIntyre since he was 16 years old. “But it’s tough to get into the NHL, it’s a tough league to play in. It’s the best league in the world. But he’s only 30 and there’s time left, that’s for sure.”
The goaltender who gives MacIntyre inspiration is Tim Thomas, who didn’t make his first career NHL start until the age of 28 and didn’t get a real chance until after a sojourn to Europe showed what kind of performer he could become.
Family members and friends always bring up Thomas, now a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup-winner, to give MacIntyre hope. And he buys into that belief.
“He did it. I don’t see why I couldn’t do it,” MacIntyre said. “I’m not saying I’m going to be Tim Thomas if I get a chance, but I like to think I can compete well up here.”