By Phil Stacey
---- — BOSTON — Kevin McDonald considers himself one lucky guy.
He’s happily married with two children and three stepchildren. The longtime North Andover resident lives one town over from where he grew up in Lawrence. He loves his job and, unlike many in his line of work, doesn’t often have to stray far from home to do it.
A 1983 graduate of St. John’s Prep, McDonald is the assistant general manager of the St. Louis Blues, who beat the Bruins in a shootout last night. The Blues are currently in second in the Western Division.
Having spent the last 26 years working in the National Hockey League — 13 with the New York Rangers and the last 13 with St. Louis — McDonald is one of the fortunate few who was able to turn a passion into a profession.
He has worked in a myriad of roles, from communications and scouting to player development and management, and still carries the same enthusiasm with him to the rink as he did as a 23-year-old New York Rangers intern in the fall of 1988.
“It’s been good timing and a lot of luck,” said the 48-year-old McDonald. “I’ve had a lot of great experiences with a lot of great people. I’ve been able to get a ton of experience in different areas of the game and the business, all in a sport that I love.”
His primary job these days is coordinating the transfer of players (from the NHL to the American Hockey League and vice versa), as well as acquiring pro players. He travels to rinks in the NHL and AHL (with occasional college games thrown in) to evaluate talent.
A self-made scout — during the 1994-95 lockout, he moved back to his parents’ house and basically taught himself how to evaluate players — McDonald is always on the lookout for players who can help the Blues.
He also provides reports on opponents.
Last night, for example, he was taking a good look at Bruins rookie defenseman Kevan Miller, who was playing in his first NHL game.
Vladimir Sobotka is a good example of one of his finds. A Bruins forward for parts of three seasons, McDonald watched him play for Boston and Providence and saw that he had all the intangibles the Blues were looking for in a bottom six forward: speed, skill, grit, tenacity, etc.
So while Sobotka (traded to St. Louis in June 2010) isn’t lighting the league on fire (3 goals, 6 assists, 27 PIMs in 21 games), he fits perfectly into the Blues’ scheme as a third line faceoff specialist and tenacious three-zone player.
“The Bruins and Providence Bruins are easy for me to see because of where I live (in North Andover),” said McDonald.
McDonald grew up playing for power skating guru Paul Vincent of Beverly with the North Shore Raiders.
He played at St. John’s Prep and then two years of JV hockey at BC.
“I just loved hockey, going to games and being around the game. It was a passion,” said McDonald.
“I was roommates with Kenny Hodge and Eddie McCarthy who were both on the BC varsity, and I went to as many games, home and away, as humanly possible.
“As it turns out, I went to graduate school for sports management and had to do an internship (in 1988). My friendship with Kenny helped set up an interview for me, through his dad (Ken Hodge Sr.) with Phil Esposito, who was the GM of the New York Rangers. I wound up doing an internship with the Rangers for the entire 1988-89 NHL season.”
Esposito was fired by the Rangers in 1989 just as McDonald was ending grad school, and 35-year-old Neil Smith was hired. He hired McDonald as director of public relations. Working closely with Smith and assistant GM Larry Pleau, he gained “a ton of experience.”
During the ‘94-95 lockout, he’d go with Pleau to college and AHL games (the Rangers’ minor league team was in Binghamton, N.Y., 5 hours away) and cut his teeth as a scout. Pleau would tell him what the organization was looking for in its game reports, and they’d spend the car rides home discussing what they had just seen.
McDonald won a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994 and began scouting full-time for them in 1995. When Smith was let go by the Rangers in 2001, Pleau had already moved to St. Louis, so McDonald followed him and has worked for the Blues ever since.
“There’s a lot of similarities between the Rangers then and the Blues now,” said McDonald.
“That year (1994) we were fortunate enough to win the President’s Trophy and the Cup with a whole lot of pressure on us. Now, St. Louis is up and coming and already considered a solid team, but we’re getting to that stage of no matter how you do in the regular season, it’s all about what you do in the playoffs. I hope, like the Rangers did, we can reach that final step.”