THUNDER BAY – Justin McDonald could have walked away a lot sooner.
A lot of other goaltenders, having been told they'd been reduced to a third-stringer, might have hung up the pads and called it a day.
He stuck around this season, practising just as hard as starters Nic Renyard and Devin Green, knowing the chance to see game action might never come.
On Saturday night he got to go out on his own terms.
McDonald, the sole fifth-year veteran on the team, made his first start of the OUA season – and just his second appearance – for the seventh-place Lakehead Thunderwolves (12-11-5), turning aside 28 of 32 shots he faced as LU closed out the regular season with a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the up-and-down Laurier Golden Hawks (15-10-3).
It wasn’t the result he was looking for, but was ecstatic to get the opportunity to play one final time, with his parents Blair and Sherry in the stands and his brother Austin on the ice in front of him.
“It was great. I was waiting for a while and it felt good to get back in there. Obviously the result wasn’t good. We wanted to win this game, even though we had made the playoffs. But just getting back in there and all the players rallying around me, it was fun to play,” said McDonald, whose only other regular-season appearance came on Oct. 13 in relief of Renyard in an 8-3 loss at the hands of these same Golden Hawks.
LU coach Bill McDonald said the goaltender deserved one last shot.
“McDonald’s been a real good soldier for us here, both on and off the ice. He’s a quality guy. He played all right. I think it’s a matter of us (not) scoring rather than him letting in any goals,” the veteran bench boss said.
Justin McDonald was one of five seniors honoured before the game in a brief ceremony, a grouping that included fourth-year Thunderwolves Tyler Anton, Trevor Hynnes, Dylan Butler and E.J. Faust.
Hynnes, who didn’t factor into the scoring, called it a special night nonetheless.
“Especially because there were a couple of guys out there I started playing minor hockey with, like Dylan Butler and Tyler Anton, and the other guys there. I’ve made such good friends in my four years here. And to have my parents come on the ice – because without them I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Hynnes, who said he’s been applying for government jobs across the country and plans to hang up the blades after the playoffs end.
“The only thing that could have made it better was coming out with the victory, but all in all it was a pretty special night.
The Wolves, who will take on the York Lions in a best-of-three opening-round series starting Thursday night at Fort William Gardens, outshot the Golden Hawks 20-9 in the first, but neither side found the net. The Golden Hawks struck three times in the third, Brandon Robinson breaking the goose egg just 1:29 into the second.
Jeremy Pullara doubled the lead at 6:05 and Christian Mroczkowski made it 3-0 late in the frame, pouncing on a loose puck that bounced off McDonald`s shoulder following a Matt Franczyk shot from jut above the left circle.
Kyle Jenkins rounded out Laurier’s attack in the third, firing a weak shot from the blueline that McDonald couldn’t catch up to.
Sam Schutt finally solved Colin Furlong in the Laurier net midway through the third, one-timing a Daniel Del Paggio shot on the Golden Hawks goaltender’s doorstep.
Scoring: None. Penalties: Del Paggio LAK (interference) 1:01, Witzell LAU (interference) 4:20, Sorrentino LAU (tripping) 12:08, Valiquette LAK (tripping) 14:54, Franczyk LAU (interference) 16:45.
Scoring: 1. Laurier Robinson (Adams, Clutsam) 1:29. 2. Laurier, Pullara (Pushka) 6:05. 3. Laurier Mroczkowski (Franczyk) 17:21. Penalties: Jenkins LAU (high sticking), Dubchak LAK (slashing) 8:29. Witzell LAU (high sticking) 11:21, Dubchak LAK (tripping) 15:31.
Scoring: 4. Laurier, K. Jenkins (Fritsch, Sauder) 3:40. 5. Lakehead, Schutt (Del Paggio, Ringuette) 7:13 pp. Penalties: Conti LAU (slashing) 5:53, Wright LAU (tripping) 10:11, Franczyk LAU (interference), A. McDonald LAK (unsportsmanlike conduct) 14:55.
GAME DATA – SOG – Laurier 9-13-10-32, Lakehead 20-12-12-44; Power plays (goals-chances) – Laurier (0-3), Lakehead (1-6); Goaltenders – Laurier: Colin Furlong, Lakehead: Justin McDonald; A: 2,529.