Fans on Thunder message boards have described Wichita left wing Dustin Donaghy as an improved fighter. That suggests Donaghy is throwing jabs as he watches himself in a mirror, dedicated to becoming a better brawler.
That isn’t the case. Instead, Donaghy is just fighting more often, especially at Intrust Bank Arena. The 22-year-old has given fans an education on his skills, most notably as the decisive victor in two fights in the Thunder’s win over Tulsa on Saturday.
As Donaghy, who was acquired from Allen in the middle of last season, becomes more comfortable with the Thunder, he has dropped the gloves more often.
"I wouldn’t say I’ve improved," Donaghy said. "I feel that nobody has seen me fight, because I think I only fought once in front of our home crowd last year. People are now just understanding that I can fight. The more they see that, the more they’ll realize I can fight.
"I wasn’t a bad fighter turning into a good fighter. I’ve always been able to fight."
As a third-line forward, Donaghy’s chances to throw down don’t occur as frequently as some of his teammates.
Still, Donaghy’s six fights rank second on the Thunder behind enforcer Erick Lizon, who has fought 11 times according to dropyourgloves.com.
According to the site, Donaghy has been the "clear winner" three times, the same number as Lizon. That relatively high percentage comes from Donaghy picking his spots with the knowledge that teammates such as Lizon and Justin Snyder can provide enforcement.
"If I don’t need to do that, and if the game isn’t going that way, then I don’t need to (fight)," Donaghy said. "But I enjoy games like (Saturday’s against Tulsa) and I enjoy doing that for the fans and the guys. It helps with momentum, for sure."
It also helps psychologically. Players without Donaghy’s brawn can be bullied by the opposition with no recourse.
Donaghy puts up with a lot, he said, but sometimes the trash talking of an opposing player can push him over the limit.
"It’s a good release," Donaghy said. "You don’t want to have a guy all over you all game and not be able to do anything about it. Once you deal with it, like anything in life, if you deal with it head on you always feel better about yourself after."
Third-line players often need to carve out a niche to continue the momentum established by the top two lines. Donaghy’s specialty is physical play, which fits in with the rest of the group.
"We’re an energy line," Donaghy said. "The third line, the majority of our role is to tire guys down, bang the body and cause frustration so our top lines can get in there and put pucks in the net."
That isn’t Donaghy’s only contribution. He had 18 points in 33 games with Wichita last season, and though scoring chances opportunities have been limited this year, he still has that capability.
"I see myself as a rounded player," Donaghy said. "… I like to see myself as a guy that can do a little bit of everything. I don’t see myself as just a fighter or just a goal scorer or just a third-line guy who hits players. I see myself as an all-around player."