Bill McDonald planned to ease rookie goaltender Justin McDonald into the nets this season.
An injury to Lakehead Thunderwolves starter Jeff Bosch against the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs has accelerated those plans.
The first-year coach confirmed Wednesday that Bosch twisted his knee and is expected to be out up to three weeks – or more, depending on the result of an MRI.
It was the second major injury of the pre-season for the re-tooled Wolves, who on Friday lost sophomore forward Carson Dubchak to an apparent dislocated knee. Dubchak could be sidelined for six weeks or more.
Coach McDonald’s more pressing concern as OUA regular-season play opens Friday with a rare Fort William Gardens visit by the RMC Paladins, is how to handle Bosch’s absence.
Justin McDonald, who spent last season with the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s OCN Blizzard, gets a trial by fire, there’s no other option, Bill McDonald said after practice.
“Obviously the plan was not to push (Justin) in so quick. But he’s going to be pushed in quick, as we speak,” McDonald said. “That’s part of hockey. Injuries are part of hockey. We’d love to have a veteran seasoned guy to go in there.
“The plan was that Bosch was going to be No. 1. A credit to (Justin) he played very well over the three games. I was very impressed the way he came into camp and the way he handled things. But it’s part of hockey and we move on.”
The 21-year-old Turtleford, Sask. native played 42 games for the Blizzard last season, registering a 2.99 goals against average and .912 save percentage.
However, McDonald’s first start with the Thunderwolves last weekend was less than memorable.
He allowed five goals before being yanked early in the second. He took over after Bosch was hurt midway through the Duluth contest.
He’s ready for the challenge, he said, though he’d rather have earned it on the ice rather than being forced into the situation.
“As a back-up, you never want anything bad to happen to the other goalie. But when you’re thrown into this position, you’ve just got to make the most of it. I’ve got to do my job here,” Justin McDonald said.
He’s already noticed a big difference in the pace of play.
“Everyone’s more experienced, bigger, stronger and faster. Even off the ice, you have to get used to a different routine.”
Bill McDonald said what he’d like the 21-year-old to focus on against the Paladins and beyond is his concentration.
“I think he gets beat on the odd long shot. He’s a very agile, quick goalie. He seems to be good covering the low part of the net and going side to side,” the coach said.
Captain Andrew Wilkins, whose team lost all three pre-season contests over the weekend, said it’s a chance for other players to step up and show what they’ve got.
“It’s a big test for the rest of us. With McDonald, we have a lot of faith in him to step in and do the job. There are also a lot of other guys who can fill in for (Dubchak). He plays a big role for our team, on the penalty kill, on the power play. He does it all. There’s going to be a lot of ice time for guys to step up,” Wilkins said.
Jordan George, who filled in last season when Bosch went down, will be McDonald’s back-up. He’s yet to see any CIS action.
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