INDEPENDENCE, MO – There’s an incredible amount of pressure placed on certain positions in sports. A pitcher is expected to produce absolute perfection when the game is on the line. The star basketball player is supposed to come through in clutch moments. The quarterback is relied upon to make the correct read of the defense and make the throw to the perfect spot for his receiver.
Then, there are hockey goalies.
Goalies are a special breed. Full of superstition and mystery, goalies can be particularly polarizing. One moment they can be the hero and the next, the goat. While they aren’t invincible, in their greatest moments they seem that way. Save after save becomes story after story told by fans in attendance. They are the thing of legend…for better or worse.
When you grow up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, you hockey. Yes, hockey is a verb in Canada. When it is ingrained in the very nature of your being and your culture, you hockey. It was no different for Kansas City Mavericks goaltender, Mason McDonald, when he began to skate at the age of four. Interestingly enough, “Mase” was known as a goal scoring winger prior to making the switch to tendy at the age of ten. That pressure of being a scorer has prepared McDonald well for the trials and tribulations of being in net now. The ups and downs of the goalie position will bring even the toughest minds to their knees from time to time, but the routine (read as superstitions) each goalie has combats the immense pressure on them from puck drop to final horn.
So, who signs up for that job? There has to be a reason people are drawn to the challenge of stopping a small chunk of rubber flying at nearly 100 miles per hour at your face. For McDonald, however, it was an innocent love and curiosity of the gear worn by a goalie the piqued his interest early in life.
“I remember picking up the goalie’s gloves and I loved it. I got to try it one time and I went to a summer camp as a goalie when I was ten. That’s when I knew I was really good at it. I caught on really quick and I was pushed by my dad to do well and it really worked out for me.”
Being a naturally lefty goalie created its own set of challenges early on though.
“I remember when I was real young, maybe five, and I was skating on my community rink back home and I put a set of righty gloves on. It just didn’t feel right, so my dad went and got me a baseball glove and used a regular hockey glove for my blocker. That’s how I figured out I was a lefty.”
Once he got the equipment figured out though, life has been very good for McDonald. Surrounded by a support system that includes his parents and coaches, McDonald was drafted into the ultra-competitive Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). For most, that would definitely be a highlight of the career, but McDonald was just getting started.
Anytime you get the opportunity to compete on a national stage and represent your country, it is extremely special. When you’re representing your country in the sport it cherishes the most on the highest stage short of the Olympics, it creates an atmosphere for great moments to happen. For McDonald, representing his native Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2017 was a surreal experience.
“My World Juniors was in Finland, but it kind of felt like a home crowd when we went over there. For our first game, we played the United States on Boxing Day. I think there were seven or eight thousand seats in the rink and six or seven thousand of them were red jersey Canadians. I was just shocked to see how many people were there supporting us. Stepping out on that ice, I’ll never forget the feeling that I got in my stomach and that tournament was a great experience. I got to play in two of the games and I savored every moment, tried my best, and it was really fun.”
Did the opposing goalie, Tyler Parsons, now his teammate, give him any grief about the USA winning the gold that year?
McDonald cracks a smile, “He’s got his gold medal, I’ll let him run with it.”
While Team Canada wasn’t able to walk away with a gold medal, being able to represent your country is something that few have the chance to do. Those memories will last a lifetime and put you in very hallowed company in history.
Following World Juniors, McDonald was able to return his focus to progressing his professional career. The Calgary Flames had selected him #34 overall in the second round of the 2014 National Hockey League entry draft. The draft day experience definitely did not disappoint for the young man and his family.
“My family went down to Philadelphia with me. I was a little nervous the first night. The first round was on Friday night and the second thru seventh rounds were on Saturday morning. The first round went by and I didn’t get picked; I wasn’t really expecting to get picked because goalies nowadays are going later. I was expecting to go on the second day and I hear my name as the fourth one called on that day,” McDonald says with a smile. “It was really exciting and really thrilling. It was such a good moment with my family.”
His path now laid out before him, the pressure again fell to a young man to make the most of it.
“It’s knowing that an opportunity arose and from there it’s more of a process than anything. It’s about battling everyday and trying to make it up the ranks and up your system to someday make your team.”
Even with the pressure that has to land squarely on McDonald’s shoulders, he carries himself with an ease and demeanor of calmness. With a gameday routine that includes a nap, juggling, and putting on his gear the same way, McDonald comes across relaxed and at ease with where he’s at in life right now. The routine brings about predictability.
What’s not predictable about his position, however, is what the opposition is going to do night in and night out to try to bring even the most polished tendy to their knees. From slappers from the point, clappers from the slot, and wristers attempting to go five-hole, there’s nothing McDonald hasn’t experienced at this point in his career. But, it’s how he mentally handles it shot by shot that has him at the top of his game.
“Tonight, they had a breakaway with under ten minutes left and I think we were up one or two. In my mind, I was just thinking I am going to save this. There’s no way he is going to score. My team needs me and I’m going to do everything I can. I’m going to be a wall in front of him.”
Inevitably, a goalie will get scored on; and while they don’t necessarily like to talk about that, the position has built in “failure” worked into it. It’s how a goalie reacts that is so important to their well-being and the well-being of their team.
“I have a routine if I do get scored on. I think it’s important to mentally regroup.”
December 1st, 2017 is a day that McDonald will be remembered for in Kansas City Mavericks lore for a long time. In a Friday night televised tilt against a frisky Kalamazoo Wings team, the Mavericks found themselves down early with a slew of extra-curricular activities having already occurred. But, the granddaddy of them all was on the brink of exploding that evening.
As soon as Wings’ goaltender, Joel Martin, left his crease to assist in a scrap, McDonald iced himself into Mavericks history and endeared himself to a fanbase as he made quick work of the length of the ice and delivered a full speed hip check to Martin. That was followed by a flurry of lefts and rights to his newly found foe. It would be something replayed hundreds of times online and talked about for many games following by Mavericks fans in the concourses.
“There was a lot of adrenaline going through my body at that point. I wasn’t too happy with the first couple of goals that had gone in that night and I was thinking I had to do something to spark my team. I had never done it before, but I was like, let’s do something crazy. I skated down the ice full speed, full tilt, not really knowing what I was doing, and just went for it as it happened,” McDonald says with a grin on his face as Coach John-Scott Dickson walks up behind him, slaps him on the back and confirms that he had skated faster than some of their forwards that night.
That moment was huge for more than just his team that night, though. That night brought McDonald into the folds of the Orange Army. The fans in Kansas City have always loved players that are willing to put it all on the line and stand behind the logo they bear proudly on the front of their jersey.
“It’s really good to have a good relationship with the fans. I think our team loves the support that these fans give us. We’ve got a really full barn every night and we have one of the best crowds in the league behind us every night. We really appreciate it because it is a lot more fun playing with 5000 people here than 500.”
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that McDonald hockeys (verb) well. With highlight saves, solid nights in goal, and an attitude that nothing will get to him, the future is so bright for this young man. Being the last line of defense definitely has its share of pitfalls, but for “Mase,” it’s just another day in his office.