Joonas Donskoi (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Joonas Donskoi scored the most important goal in San Jose Sharks history Saturday night and Joel Ward scored the second-most important goal in Sharks history. But being saviors for the Sharks is nothing new for these guys.
SAN JOSE – When the San Jose Sharks desperately needed to change their complexion and GM Doug Wilson needed to save his job, the GM turned to Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi and it all worked out rather nicely.
When the Sharks needed to change the complexion of the Stanley Cup final and they needed to save their season, the same two players came to the rescue. With a decade separating the time when the two of them basically came out of nowhere, Ward and Donskoi are kindred spirits, in a way. And they’re also, for the time being at least, the saviors of the season for their contributions in the Sharks’ 3-2 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3.
Despite looking dead in the water for much of this series, the Sharks now have some serious oxygen in their gills going into Game 4 Monday night. If they continue to get outplayed the way they have for long stretches of the first three games, they will ultimately lose this series. Of that there is no doubt. But if they can somehow take advantage of the lifeline Donskoi and Ward have given them, they still might be able to pull this thing off.
And here’s a huge wildcard in this series. Someone compared Penguins goalie Matt Murray to Ken Dryden on Friday and Murray wisely shut that one down in a hurry. But it was just too difficult not to go there. But for the first time in these playoffs, Murray looked very ordinary. Ward’s goal to tie the game simply should not have gone in and Murray was on his knees on the overtime goal, dropping down when Donskoi gathered the puck in the corner and staying there until Donskoi whipped around and shot it off Murray’s helmet and into the net.
So now it’s a new series, thanks to Ward and Donskoi. Ward has a penchant for making big plays at big times. When he played for the Washington Capitals, he used to watch Paul Pierce in the playoffs. He visualizes himself scoring big goals, but most of all, it’s about being in the moment.
“It’s just fun,” Ward said. “It’s just fun.”
It hasn’t always been fun for Ward. In December of 1993, Ward’s father Randall suffered a stroke at the St. Michael’s College Arena while watching his son play minor hockey. Fifteen days later, he died in hospital when the embolism that caused his stroke struck his brain. His mother, Cecilia, worked her way through nursing school after taking a job being a nanny for rich, white families in Toronto. After Randall died, she was so busy working that Joel would sometimes sleep in a cot in the hospital. After junior hockey with no pro prospects, he went to the tiny University of Prince Edward Island.
Donskoi’s path to the NHL was not quite as difficult. After all, the Florida Panthers saw enough in him to take him 99th overall in the 2010 draft. But he was not signed by the Panthers and took longer to develop his game before the Sharks took notice of his fine play last season. It didn’t take long for them to realize they had a special player on their hands.
“Couple of skates of captain’s ice,” Logan Couture said of how long it took for him to notice Donskoi. “He showed up early and you kind of had to look at the number on the back of the helmet and then look him up on line to see who he was because he was gifted with the puck. He came in and nothing was given to him from the start. He worked for everything. He’s on the bike as soon as the game ends, every day at practice. He’s someone who was drafted and not signed, so he kind of has a chip on his shoulder that he has something to prove.”
Consider it proved. Donskoi produced for the Sharks from the start of the organization’s development camp and never stopped. The overtime goal was his sixth of the playoffs.
“He was our best player in development camp,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of Donskoi. “We went on to the main camp, he was the best player in the main camp, exhibitions. He just kept jumping over hurdles. He’s the real deal, a real good player for us. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
The Sharks were the first team to show interest in Donskoi and he rewarded them not only with his play during the regular season, but by saving their season.
“Great organization,” Donskoi said of the Sharks. “I’m so happy that I picked the Sharks.”
He’s not the only one.