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MacDonald working hard for recognition

Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Joey MacDonald, right, watches Buffalo Sabres defenceman Steve Montador shoot the puck during a preseason NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009.

Don Heupel

The off-season acquisition of free-agent goalie Joey MacDonald was overshadowed by the attention lavished on the Toronto Maple Leafs' other summer-time moves.

But the MacDonald signing has become a significant one - a netminding insurance policy for the Leafs as they venture into the unknown this NHL season with veteran Vesa Toskala and rookie Jonas Gustavsson.

No one knows how Toskala will rebound over the long haul from hip and groin problems, and Gustavsson was good in Sweden, but is unproven in the NHL.

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If one or both are not up to snuff, the Maple Leafs have the good-natured, positive-minded MacDonald to fall back on.

"The competition brings out the best in everybody," MacDonald said yesterday, a day removed from a spectacular 28-save preseason performance against the Sabres in Buffalo. The Leafs lost 3-2.

"I've had the same mindset as I've had in other training camps: Play my best and leave it all out there."

The 29-year-old MacDonald was not drafted after three solid seasons with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. But he was invited to his first pro camp in 2001, competing for a job in the Detroit Red Wings organization against Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood, Manny Legace and, a year later, against childhood hero Curtis Joseph.

He eventually improved enough to play eight games for the Wings in 2006-07, before bouncing to the Boston Bruins for seven games, followed by two with the New York Islanders in 2007-08.

Last season, MacDonald become the starter for the lowly New York Islanders in place of the injured Rick DiPietro, going 14-26-6 with a 3.37 goals-against average.

"Nothing has ever been given to me," MacDonald said. "You have to work for everything.

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"I went into that first camp in Detroit, and you learn from those guys. I saw how hard Hasek worked. He was 39, and I saw how hard he worked every single day. I was 21 years old in that first camp. You just have to battle and work hard every single day, whether you're 20 years old or 30 years old. And every goalie can get better."

MacDonald showed the Red Wings just how much better he has become with a 42-save performance in a 3-0 Islanders win in Detroit on March 27.

The native of Pictou, N.S., gets his attitude and work ethic from his parents, Leonard and Judy. For four decades, they both have worked for the ferry that carries cars and people back and forth from Pictou to Prince Edward Island.

"They always let me make my own decisions," MacDonald said. "They pushed me, but they didn't push me too much that I didn't like the game any more. They always had a positive outlook on everything."

Growing up, MacDonald enjoyed watching Joseph star for the Maple Leafs. He studied the netminder's acrobatic style and donned the same jersey number as Joseph (31) in most of the stops in his career. But he didn't feel it was right to ask for it when he arrived at Leafs training camp.

"That's Curtis's number here," said MacDonald, who wears No. 29. "I just can't see anybody else wearing No. 31 in Toronto other than him."

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In training camp, MacDonald has been working with goaltending guru François Allaire, who is known for his technical butterfly approach - a far cry from MacDonald's freelance style. But MacDonald said Allaire hasn't asked him to change his ways.

"It's been huge to have the opportunity to work with him," MacDonald said. "I've been getting more technical the last few seasons. But he told me he wasn't going to change my style. It's been more about the little things."

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