Matteau and MacDonald’s Long-Awaited Return to Eagles Country
Mar 13, 2022
Friday, February 26, marked the official return for two Colorado Eagles players from long-term injury: Jacob MacDonald and Stefan Matteau.
Matteau, a newly signed veteran forward, had yet to play his first game as an Eagle before suffering a high ankle sprain during his Colorado Avalanche call-up against the St. Louis Blues on October 16, 2021.
MacDonald, Eagles co-captain and veteran defenseman, was placed on Injured Reserve after taking a big hit from Ryan Lomberg in the Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers game on December 12, 2021. MacDonald was stretchered off the ice following a head injury that left him unconscious.
Both Matteau and MacDonald were activated off IR and reassigned to the Eagles in the days leading up to the team’s back-to-back matchups against the Milwaukee Admirals on February 26 and 27. Matteau made an immediate impact in his return, recording the game-winning overtime goal and an assist in the team’s second matchup against the Admirals.
The series against the San Diego Gulls marked Matteau’s first games on home ice as an Eagle, and the first time he got to experience the crowd from the ice on March 2. Matteau dropped gloves with San Diego’s Trevor Carrick in his first game in Loveland, getting the crowd going even more than usual.
"The energy in the building is awesome, and being on the ice is even cooler,” Matteau said.
Despite only making his Eagles debut in late February, he described being no stranger to the team: attending practices and watching games from the stands while navigating through his injury recovery.
“It's a great group of guys, so (joining the team has) been super easy,” Matteau said. “I've been around them. I've been practicing for a while now, so it hasn't been too much of a change; it's just getting into the game. It’s nice being able to battle with everyone. It's been awesome.”
While off the ice, Matteau had some hard work to do himself to recover from injury, a process that took months of patience and dedication.
"Being injured is tough mentally,'' Matteau said. “But (I was) coming in every day and keeping that smile and keeping up hard work. I knew that time would heal, so just kind of pushed through it and kept going.”
Despite the hardships that came with navigating a long-term injury, Matteau pointed to a benefit that came from spending that time away: family.
"I think one of the only positives out of the whole thing was spending so much time with my family, and with my wife being super pregnant now, they need me more than ever, so it's been good on that side,” Matteau said. “We’re expecting a little girl, and it's very exciting.”
MacDonald is an Eagles veteran who has played for Colorado since 2019. After starting the season with the Eagles, he received multiple NHL call-ups with the Avalanche before experiencing the injury that placed him on IR for 10 weeks.
MacDonald noted that his injury was the longest he has been faced with throughout his career, making the experience that much tougher being away, yet even more rewarding to return.
MacDonald also makes up half of the first co-captain partnership in Eagles history along with centerman Jayson Megna. MacDonald’s leadership for this team made his absence that much more heartbreaking.
"It’s an honor to have that designation with Megs, that’s something that means a lot to me,” MacDonald said. “The dynamic’s great. It's a lot of fun being two of the older guys on the team, and it's fun to give your experience and your advice to some of the younger guys; whether it's hockey or not, passing that along has been a lot of fun.”
Injuries similar to MacDonald’s are not rare in the sport of hockey, and conversations around the protection of players were re-sparked following the hit on MacDonald being ruled clean despite the unfortunate outcomes.
"I think it’s part of the game, and it's an unfortunate situation that happened, and being on the receiving end of it sucks,” MacDonald said. “But it's part of the game, and the guy paid his dues … somebody came in and fought him, and that’s part of the game too.”
He also recalled the frustration that came from the attention his injury received from the media. The video of his hit was replayed several times and shared across many online platforms.
Despite some of the negative attention that came from the public following his head injury, MacDonald also experienced endless amounts of support from his teammates and other staff members.
"The support was tremendous,” MacDonald said. “You never want to do it again obviously, but it was super cool to have that support from your teammates always reaching out and checking in; how are you doing, how are things going, do you need anything, especially early on … They were all super helpful and super supportive.”
MacDonald’s impact was felt quickly upon his return as well. He notched two goals and a fight during the home series with San Diego.
It is clear that both MacDonald and Matteau are integral figures on the Colorado Eagles roster. Their skill and physicality was missed while they were recovering, but now they both have an extra dose of mental toughness and motivation to finish the season strong.