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When 16-year-old goaltender Mason McDonald earned a spot on the Acadie-Bathurst Titan lineup out of training camp, he didn’t expect to see a lot of action this season. He didn’t expect to see this many shots either.
“We want to make sure he’s got a lot of shots because he’s not playing as often,” joked Titan coach Eric Dubois, after McDonald faced 91 shots in his first two starts of the season. “Obviously (that many shots) wasn’t part of the plan but he’s shown he can handle the pressure. He has a lot of potential. He played really well both games. It is just about experience.”
The first goaltender taken in the 2012 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League entry draft, McDonald was chosen by the Titan with the second pick in the second round, 20th overall, after posting a 14-1 won/loss record along with a 2.01 goals against average and a .916 save percentage with the Halifax Titans of the Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League last season. In three exhibition games with Acadie-Bathurst, he went 3-0 with a 3.23 goals against average and a .905 save percentage to earn the job as backup to Titan netminder Jacob Brennan.
After spending the first four games of the season on the bench, McDonald finally got a chance to start in goal on Sept. 30th as the Titan played host to the Rimouski Oceanic at the K. C. Irving Regional Centre in Bathurst. It was a game where the Titan were badly outshot, including 13-6 in the opening 20 minutes, but thanks to some stellar play from McDonald a game that Acadie-Bathurst wound up winning 5-4 in a shootout.
The Halifax, N.S. native faced 50 shots, including 29 in the first two periods where he helped the Titan gain a 2-1 advantage, before denying all three Oceanic participants in the shootout for the win.
It’s a game McDonald won’t soon forget.
“It was a long game,” he said. “I got kind of tired near the end, so I’ve got to work on my stamina for that, but it was a really fun game. I was happy that we won.”
McDonald wouldn’t get his second start until Oct. 12th, when the Titan travelled to Charlottetown, P.E.I. to face off against the Prince Edward Island Rocket. It was another game where the Titan were badly outshot, this time 41-24 by the Rocket. Despite another solid outing by McDonald, Acadie-Bathurst wound up losing 4-3 in overtime.
“It has been awesome so far,” said McDonald. “The speed of the game has picked up a lot (from Midget), but it is just a lot of fun.
“I’m not the starting goalie of course, I’ve got to work to earn some minutes in there, but I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can and have a good attitude in practice,” he added.
Dubois said he likes what he’s seen from his rookie netminder so far, and knows he’s only going to get better as the season progresses.
“He needs to get some experience and learn to read the play a little better in certain situations but I see good potential, I see good size, professional size,” said Dubois. “Now it is to try to put everything together and try to progress and get better every day.”
Listed at 6’3” tall and 170 pounds, McDonald is the second tallest player on the Titan, looking up only to veteran forward Matthew Bissonette, who stands 6’4”. That size, says Dubois, is a huge advantage.
“I’ve got some friends who are scouts in the NHL (National Hockey League) and I know for a fact that some teams don’t look at any goalie under 6’2”. He’s got the professional size and he plays big too,” he said. “I think he can play bigger, but we’ll get there.
“He’s only 16 and he’s got some adjustments to make to learn to be an everyday player,” continued the coach. “Midget is still minor hockey. He needs to learn to get more professional, but that comes with experience. So far so good. I like his work ethic.”
McDonald already had a good friend, and role model, on the Titan when he was drafted last June in Brennan, who also played his midget hockey for the Halifax Titans.
“We get along great,” said McDonald. “We knew each other before training camp started. I knew he would be my mentor here and he’s been great so far. He’s good in the dressing room, he’s a leader for the team and he leads by example.”
Dubois frequently points to Brennan as a leader on and off the ice. He hopes McDonald continues to take after the 18-year-old.
“I hope he watches the right guys, but he’s got a great example in front of him,” said Dubois. “Jake (Brennan) is by far our most professional player in that dressing room with his preparation, his approach, and little details after practice. He and (forward Raphael) Lafontaine are very professional and I hope (McDonald) is watching what is happening in front of him. When you have a good example, when you can learn from somebody, you’ve got to take as much as possible before it is your turn to be the number one - and there is no better guy to learn from than Jake.”
As he continues to get adjusted to life at the major junior level, McDonald just wants to keep working hard while staying focussed on stopping pucks. It’s a formula that seems to be working just fine for the young netminder.
“It is all about the focus before the game. If I’m focussed I can concentrate on everything during the game,” concluded McDonald. “Then just work as hard as I can and hope for the best.
“I love it here. The fans seem pretty good…they are loud for us. It has been great so far. It’s been fun, and hopefully it will stay fun for the rest of the year.”
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