MacDonald making mark

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Mike MacDonald has been in this situation before and did all right for himself the first time.
Shaking off a slow start to his university hockey career, the Lakehead Thunderwolves freshman forward has continued to put in the work — and it’s caught the attention of his coaching staff resulting in more playing time.
MacDonald notched his first multi-point game in over three months last Saturday when he scored a goal and an assist in a 5-3 win over the York Lions. The win salvaged a weekend split for the Thunderwolves (11-7-2), who host the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks today and Saturday at Fort William Gardens.
“I feel like it’s definitely getting there,” the speedy five-foot-11, 170-pound MacDonald said before practice on Thursday. “I still think I can bring my game to another level. I’ve just been climbing the ladder in our depth charts and I’m going to continue to keep trying to push myself.”
Hard work out of MacDonald is what shot his value up from being a fourth-round selection in the 2007 OHL draft, catching scouts’ attention in the Superior International Junior Hockey League before enjoying a three-year major junior career which ended last spring as captain of the Sudbury Wolves.
“He’s the one guy who has worked the whole year,” Thunderwolves interim coach Mike Busniuk said of the 21-year-old MacDonald. “You can’t question his work ethic. That’s what we want. We want our players to come in now and be hard workers.”
As a reward and because the Thunderwolves were hit with a mild injury bug, MacDonald was given playing time with top-six forwards Trevor Gamache, Mike Hammond and Luke Judson (MacDonald’s former teammate on the Thunder Bay Kings) at various times against York. His third goal of the season came off an assist from LU leading scorer Matt Caria while they were up front on the penalty kill.
“It was good to play shorthanded with (Caria). I felt we had good chemistry,” said MacDonald, who also has eight assists while suiting up for 18 of LU’s 20 games this season.
MacDonald, a first-year commerce student, admits he has to use the cold-blooded approach in order to make a bigger splash. May the best man win, as the old adage goes.
“Obviously there are the other guys on the team that deserve their ice time and their spots,” he said. “It’s a matter of taking that from them and being better than other guys and that’s how hockey works.”
The focus for the Thunderwolves remains earning that elusive weekend sweep. They haven’t earned two wins in two nights during conference play since the season opener. This weekend is a golden opportunity to achieve that as the Ridgebacks (7-12-1) come to Thunder Bay losers of four of their last six.
“It’s good timing for us,” Busniuk said. “(Ontario Tech) beat some good teams lately but they’re (last in the OUA West) standings. We’d like to keep them down below us.”
As for their inability to sweep, Busniuk was short and sweet when addressing it.
“We don’t really dwell on that. As long as the team is playing hard, that’s what you want,” Busniuk said.
Game time tonight is 7:30 p.m.

NOTES: Alex Dupuis will get the start in goal for Lakehead tonight. . . . Thunder Bay native Rob Whistle is an assistant coach at Ontario Tech. Whistle was a former all-Canadian at Wilfrid Laurier during the early 1980s and played four pro seasons, including stops with the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues. . . . Luke Van Moerkerke leads the Ridgebacks with six goals and 16 assists. Freshman Bryce O’Hagen has started all but two of Ontario Tech’s games, posting a 3.60 goals-against average and an .893 save percentage. O’Hagen’s percentage is last in the OUA based on games played. . . . Thunderwolves forward Andrew Wilkins (concussion), who missed the last two games, said he’s been cleared to play this weekend. Busniuk said Ryan Magill (neck) is also undergoing tests. Wilkins and Magill have been taking part in practice this week. . . . Lakehead is 11-2-0 all-time against Ontario Tech.