Cole MacDonald ‘Cooks’ on the Ice for Wichita Thunder
All Images Courtesy of Super Ed Bailey/Wichita Thunder
Wichita Thunder defenseman Cole MacDonald is in his first season with the club, but is already establishing himself as a true artist, taking the same kind of artistry he uses in his culinary endeavors to drive his performance on the ice.
Wichita Thunder Cooking on the Ice
It’s just a few short hours before the Wichita Thunder take to the ice against the Rapid City Rush, one of the teams in the Mountain Division standings chasing Wichita for second place in the division standings. The Thunder are coming off a tough weekend series against Idaho Steelheads where they were swept, dropping them 18 points behind the first-place club, but they find themselves looking to solidify their position as a force in the ECHL playoffs.
Several players are having career years for the Thunder, but this is a young club leaning on those players who have even a small amount of professional experience to help keep this club focused on its goal of reaching the playoffs. One of those players is defenseman Cole MacDonald, who is in his third professional season and just his second in the league.
MacDonald has blown away the numbers from any of his previous seasons, recording four goals and adding 24 assists through his first 38 games. In his previous 45 ECHL games, MacDonald had seven assists and had eight goals and 15 assists in his 40 games playing overseas last year, but this has been a breakout campaign for the 27-year-old, as he has paired with Dylan MacPherson to become one of the best defensive duos in the ECHL, while also quarterbacking arguably the best power play in the league.
It is a true testament to his skill and artistry on the ice, but is something that should have been expected from the start. MacDonald prides himself as quite the gourmet chef when it comes to creating the perfect pizza, and it is not surprising that he takes that type of passion and creative innovation when he enters the arena.
What it Takes to Create Greatness
When one thinks of a great pizza, there will be various opinions as what makes it great. Some like thick crust, deep dish style, Neapolitan or thin crust. The toppings used, the different types of cheeses, the type of sauce, even the cut used all play a role for some in determining what makes for a sensational pizza. However, regardless of one’s individual tastes, there are ideas that are universally accepted. A pizza not cooked long enough is to doughy while one cooked too long is burnt.
This is all a part of the artistry of making a great pizza, and is one of the things that Cole MacDonald prides himself on as well. He fashions himself quite the chef when it comes to him Neapolitan pizza, but the same type of individuality and commonality plays a role in his success on the ice.
Starting with the Crust
When one grows up in Canada, they are going to be introduced to the sport of ice hockey. The same was true for Cole MacDonald. His parents had skates on his feet from the moment he learned how to walk and it was only natural for him to fall in love the sport.
His originally wanted to play goalie, choosing that as his pathway to demonstrate his artistic abilities, but his father had other plans in mind, steering him towards defense. “As a kid I liked playing goalie. I asked my dad after the first year if I could playing goalie but he said “no,” I had too much skill and so he put me on defense and I have been there ever since. I have been on defense my entire life.”
The move was obviously a good one. Cole thrived on the ice as a defenseman, using his offensive mastery to help turn himself into a solid junior hockey league player. The defenseman joined the Everett Silvertips (WHL) in 2012-13, playing 60 games where he scored two goals and added seven assists. Each season he improved his skill set, scoring two goals and adding 15 assists a year later, then reaching a high of 10 goals and 26 assists in 2014-15. A year later, he duplicated his 36-point performance, scoring nine goals and adding 27 assists.
Building A Layer at a Time
Not ready to take a professional route, Cole MacDonald headed out east to play for St. Francis Xavier. His family was not only from the area, but many of them had received their degrees from the University. Cole earned a degree in finance, but he also starred on the ice, producing 20 goals and 69 assists in 110 career college games. That included a 29 point performance his senior season, where he set personal highs for goals (7) and assists (22).
At the end of his senior year, he joined the Florida Everblades, appearing in two games before the Covid-19 pandemic ended his season. He remained in Florida the next year, adding seven assists in 43 games before deciding to take his talents to Europe. MacDonald began playing in Poland, appearing for Unia Oswiecim for 13 games, scoring a goal and adding five assists, but found the challenge of playing in a country where he spoke very little of the language to be a little more difficult than he had expected.
“I wasn’t planning on going to Europe that year. It was late in the summer and I got a last-minute offer that was too good to turn down. I decided to take a little leap of faith there. It was a tough transition for sure. I enjoyed my time there but things kind of went sideways, and that’s when I made the move over to Romania.”
In Romania, MacDonald played 27 games for ASC Corona Brasov, scoring seven goals and adding 10 assists. He helped the team make the playoffs, where they lost in the first round.
Time for the Toppings
it looked like Cole MacDonald would be headed back to Florida for the 2022-23 season, but he soon found himself on the open market.
“I started the year off in Florida and did not make it there. They put me on waivers and Wichita took a chance on me. (Head Coach) Bruce (Ramsay) called me and picked me up. I just get a lot more opportunity here. They trusted me a little more. They have a great team here and I love everything about being here. I’m just thankful for Bruce taking a chance on me.”
MacDonald found himself on the line with MacPherson and had immediate success, held off the score sheet for the first two games of the season, but then recording points and five straight games. The two instantly clicked.
“When Dylan came back from Abbotsford, they kind of put us together. We were both new guys and they figured we would do good together. He is a great player to play with. I feel like our chemistry is great together, both on and off the ice. We are pretty good friends off the ice. That translates into how well we play on the ice as well. Whenever we mess up or do something wrong, we are able to talk with each other. We work well together and feed into each other’s game.”
It was true but, as Thanksgiving Day approached, the defenseman went into a minor slump, recording one point over the next seven contests. Ironically, it was the contest just prior to Rapid City coming to town where MacDonald caught fire, scoring points in 11 of 14 games, including in eight contests in a row (December 21-January 6).
His success meant a move to the No. 1 power play unit, a move that the defenseman saw as a golden opportunity to record points on a regular basis.
“We have two of the top three goal scores in the league on the power-play, one on each side. They make my life a little easier obviously. I’ve always been on the power-play my whole life, that’s what I like to think about myself, that’s my game, being an offensive defenseman and a power-play guy. I was trying to make the most of this opportunity for sure.”
Cole was spectacular following the move, but his offensive productivity was not the only thing that the Thunder Coach was looking for. This was a young club, needing several voices to create the right culture. While the club had a great captain and two assistants, it was still an opportunity for MacDonald to be an voice to help provide some additional leadership.
“I try not to step on their roles. I let them handle that part, but if I see something or hear something, I try to help the guys out. I try to be there for the guys as an older guy for those younger players.”
A True Masterpiece
When one puts all the ingredients together, blending them together perfectly, then baking it just the right amount of time, the perfect pizza is created. It is something everyone looks at and says, “That is a masterpiece.”
That is the pathway for Cole MacDonald as well. The team has leaned on their defenseman and he has been up to the task, sixth among ECHL defenseman in points (28) and he is first in power-play assists (17) and points (20). He has become the quarterback of the fourth best power-play in the ECHL (23.3%).
While his role of the club has been instrumental, the finishing touch is that he is not gloating over his success. Instead, he is recognizing the contributions that all his teammates are making.
“Early on in the season we had a lot of players coming and going. The guys were still trying to figure it out but, obviously, now we are settled in. Everybody has their role, and they know it and they are able to bring that every night, so we all feel like we are doing that well and obviously it has been showing in the games.”
Cole has always been looking to improve his performance on the ice. To help, he continues to turn to his No. 1 coach for advice.
“My dad is always telling me some ideas. He’s a pretty good hockey guy and he’s been following me my whole life. Knows my game probably better than I do myself.”
Cole MacDonald has turned into one of the best defensemen in the ECHL. His performance has helped spur the Wichita Thunder to second place in the Mountain Division, and no one is satisfied with second place on this club.
“I see us only getting better from here on out. We are all filling into our roles, we all know what we have to do every night. Obviously, this is kind of the dog days of the season. We have a team to catch in front of us and I think we’re feeling pretty good for the rest of the year.’
With a talented lineup and a true artist helping to anchor this strong defensive core, it may be that a masterpiece is being created. Cole MacDonald has proven to be one of those artists on the ice helping to reach toward perfection. Now, if we can only get a sample of his pizza.
by Robert Pannier