AMHERST – It has been a long road back for Cameron McDonald.
Early in his rookie season with the Moncton Wildcats, the Waverley native was left with a serious concussion after being checked from behind in a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game. It forced him to miss the rest of the season.
Soon after his return to the Wildcats lineup this season, he was released by Moncton and rejoined the team where he got his start in junior hockey – the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ramblers.
“I love it here, it’s a great place to play hockey,” McDonald said Wednesday. “The fans here are so passionate about the game and their team. You get so much energy when you step on the ice at the stadium. I couldn’t think of a better place to play hockey in this league.”
McDonald, who was the Ramblers’ top pick in the 2010 Maritime Junior Hockey League draft (15th overall), has the most of his return to Amherst scoring three goals and adding eight assists for 11 points in 19 games.
As a rookie, during the 2010-11 season, he had two goals and 14 assists for 16 points, while in 68 total games with the Moncton Wildcats he had one assist in 23 games (including just seven games this year).
Then came the concussion.
“It was a real challenge coming back,” he said. “Fortunately I haven’t had any symptoms since April, but it was really tough for several months. I had a lot of bad headaches. It was not a lot of fun and not something I ever want to go through again.”
When he entered Wildcats’ camp in August, he knew he was in for a challenge. While he worked hard to get back in game shape, he realized Moncton was going to have a strong team this year and cracking the lineup was going to be tough.
McDonald said he enjoyed every moment of his major junior experience, adding it was like being treated as a professional with hockey being the main focus every day.
After getting the news he was being released, he knew he would be returning to Amherst.
“I knew I was coming back to a great hockey team,” McDonald said. “It’s an all around solid hockey team, especially on defence. I think that’s one of the biggest differences from before. Our defence is so strong, it’s the backbone of our team.”
McDonald said he’s also impressed with how committed the forwards are to playing defensively and he sees the hockey club making a solid run in the playoffs.
“From what I’ve seen of Truro and Yarmouth I know we can compete with them. They are good hockey teams, but so are we and I have every confidence if we play good hockey we can beat them,” McDonald said. “I’d like to see us go all the way.”
Ramblers’ coach Jim Bottomley said he was excited when he learned McDonald was rejoining the team.
“We’ve been watching him for a while hoping that sometime we would get him back. It was a big surprise to get him when he did,” Bottomley said. “He’s going to be a big part of our team for a couple of years.”
Bottomley said he likes McDonald’s leadership skills, and while he isn’t a captain or assistant captain he consistently takes a leading role in the dressing room and on the ice.
His experience in the QMJHL has also proven beneficial. He sees considerable time in numerous situations including the penalty kill and the power play and Bottomley said he’s one of those players you want on the ice when the game is on the line.
“He’s among the best defencemen in the league, in my mind,” Bottomley said. “He has a pro shot, he’s a good skater and he sees the ice really well. He has really solidified our defence.”
For his part, McDonald prides himself on looking after his own end of the rink.
“I consider myself more of a stay-at-home defenceman,” McDonald said. “I’m getting a bit more confidence carrying the puck, but I take great pride in keeping the puck out of our net.”