On January 26th, the Mavericks put together arguably their best 60 minutes of hockey all season, as I wrote about in my previous piece. At the time, the return of goalie Mason McDonald from injured reserved seem like a small piece in that glorious display we all witnessed against (at the time) the first place Utah Grizzlies. McDonald was excellent in that game, stopping 24 of 27 shots, with about half of those saves coming against prime scoring opportunities. That game wiped away the embarrassment from the 5-1 loss a night prior for Kansas City, but little did we all know at the time that those 24 saves would be a catalyst to completely remake this entire season.
Frustration mounted for McDonald as he battled a nagging lower-body injury throughout the first half of the season. He wanted nothing more than to get out on the ice and stake his claim as the go-to guy between the pipes. He worked with the team training staff relentlessly, trying to play through the pain.
“The injury for him was frustrating, and he wanted more than anything to get back out there with us.”- Mavericks Captain Rocco Carzo
He wasn’t right. He wasn’t the same “Mase” that we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons. Finally, the decision came to place McDonald on injured reserve. While it couldn’t have been an easy decision, knowing what kind of competitor and talent that he is, it had to be done. If the Mavericks were going to get back to the Kelly Cup playoffs and make a serious run at a championship, they were going to need #31 to be at the top of his game. The current path wasn’t working. Much like the theme of this year’s squad, McDonald kept working. He kept grinding. He was getting the rest he needed to heal and get his body right for the first time all season, but he wanted to get back on that ice as soon as possible and never look back. He kept getting treatment. He kept his body strong and his mind even stronger. For 36 days, he worked to overcome the hurdles and setbacks, the frustration and exasperation.
Then, January 26th came and McDonald was home, right back where he belonged, back where everything in the world made sense, back between the pipes.
“He came back with a determined focus.”- Mavericks Head Coach John-Scott Dickson
Since returning from injury, McDonald has been arguably the best netminder in the ECHL, and the Mavericks are playing their best stretch of hockey all year. That is not a coincidence. In his 15 starts since coming off injured reserve, McDonald has a record of 10-4-1, with eight of those wins coming against teams currently slotted to make the playoffs. He has stopped 425 of 455 shots and has a staggering .934 save percentage. He is tied for the ECHL lead with four shutouts, all of which have come during that 15-game stretch. During the most brutal stretch of the season against the toughest opponents on the slate, McDonald has stepped up and put this team on his back. He has stared down some of the more potent offenses in the league, turned away their best, and then asked for more.
“He’s been nothing short of spectacular, battling every night for us.”- Carzo
This is not the finish line, and McDonald knows it. He has been incredible but there is still work to be done. McDonald didn’t put in all that work, all the blood, sweat, and tears for a brilliant 15-game stretch. He has proven to be among the elite, but that isn’t enough. He wants to be the best. He wants his team to be the best. He wants this team to beat the best. Every night he has given his absolute his best and it has spread like wildfire throughout the veins of this team. When this team needed a boot in the backside, he gave it to them. It came in the form of 24 saves against Utah, but the number is irrelevant. It could have been six saves or 600. What mattered most was that Mason McDonald was back, that net was his, and he wasn’t giving up again without a fight, a fight that he was prepared to give everything he has to win. His teammates saw it in his eyes, and since January 26th, they’ve stood beside him, shoulder to shoulder, slaying the giants of the ECHL.
“He has been our Team MVP.”- Dickson