Dustin Donaghy played as aggressively as ever last week after returning from a six-week injury. It appeared that the Thunder forward, in accumulating 29 penalty minutes and drawing a one-game suspension, built up so much energy during his time away from hockey that he was unable to harness it.
According to Donaghy, however, it was just the opposite. During his 19 missed games, Donaghy became a student, analyzing the Thunder and determining how to more easily fit into his role as a hard-hitting forward.
The suspension, the result of a boarding penalty on a check gone awry, wasn’t in the plans, but ramped-up physicality was. Donaghy, who was out with an injured hand, was determined to make up for lost time.
“It just gave me a new look at the game, really, because I had a lot of time to look at the game,” Donaghy said. “It helps because you can watch how other people react to different situations and (figure out) how I would put myself in different situations. It definitely made me think a lot more to see what our team needs from me.
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“Obviously we don’t have a guy of my size who’s willing to go out and hit as much as I try to do, and fight guys that I can fight.”
Other forwards, such as Ian Lowe and Todd Griffith, were helping to fill Donaghy’s role in support of enforcer Erick Lizon, who was called up to Oklahoma City of the Triple-A American Hockey League on Thursday.
With Donaghy back in the lineup, those players and others can focus on their more-needed strengths while supplementing them with physical play. Donaghy seems to have abandoned other aspects of his game in favor of playing tougher. Last season he took nearly two shots per game and had 14 points; this year he hasn’t scored and is averaging less than a shot.
A renewed outlook on physicality can come with the occasional near-crossing of the line. That seemed to happen last week against Fort Worth, when some of his hits appeared dangerous, especially the boarding penalty that got him a game misconduct and then a suspension.
“I made it a point to go out there and hit everything, wear them down,” Donaghy said. “…On my suspension penalty, it was bad luck. I had already committed 100 percent to finishing a clean check at the time, and at the last moment he turns and dumps the puck. Just as he does that, I make contact with him and it’s obviously a boarding and it looks pretty bad.
“It’s on me to not do that, but I was already 100 percent and you can’t really stop a train in a second.”
Now that Lizon has been promoted to the AHL, Donaghy might have to turn up his style even more. Donaghy doesn’t fight enforcers like Lizon does, and Wichita activated Aaron Boogaard to fill that role, anyway, but Donaghy’s presence has become a necessity rather than a luxury.
He was looking forward to making it known against Allen, but Donaghy was suspended for Wichita’s game in Texas on Saturday and their game against the Americans in Wichita scheduled for Wednesday was postponed. The teams aren’t scheduled to play again until February.
“The first 10 minutes or so we were definitely going to send a message,” Donaghy said. “A few of the boys got together and we basically decided we’re not going to take any of their crap and we were going to set a precedent. If the game had been played, there definitely would have been some fireworks.
“Whether we play them again in February when we’re supposed to or they give us a game before then, stuff is going to happen and they’re not going to be the Allen team they are.”