By Larry Moko
A defenceman from the Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School girls’ hockey team believes in Liberty.
That became apparent when Julia McDonald, 17, recently signed a hockey scholarship offer from Lynchburg, Va.-based Liberty University.
The Liberty Lady Flames play in Division 1 of the American Collegiate Hockey Association where they are the reigning national champions. McDonald plans on pursuing Sports Management beginning in mid August when she heads south.
“I’m excited to start another chapter in my life,” McDonald said. “Hockey has been a really big part of my life. I started playing when I was four.”
Considering what happened to McDonald last season, perhaps it’s only fair that the Liberty academic/athletic offers came along. Four days before Bishop Ryan’s 2018 Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association girls’ hockey championship game, she broke her right wrist. The timing couldn’t have been worse. That injury sidelined her for the city final, the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference playoffs and the OFSAA tournament which the Celtics participated in.
It was the furthest Bishop Ryan has ever advanced in girls’ hockey.
“It was disappointing,” McDonald said of her season-ending injury which occurred while playing for her club team.
Celtics assistant coach Sara Pavao says McDonald remained a valuable part of the BR team late last season even though she wasn’t able to suit up.
“Despite this misfortune,” Pavao said, “Julia was in the change room delivering speeches, calming down the younger players and cheering her heart out. She was the anchor that kept the team grounded. Even when she was unable to play, Julia was still the impact athlete the team needed.”
McDonald’s involvement with the Hamilton Hawks club program led to the scholarship.
“Hamilton Hawks had the opportunity (on two separate occasions) to go down to Virginia for a week of training camp at Liberty University,” she explained. “And at the end of the week we would play them in an exhibition game. Then, the coach and I were in contact about the opportunity.
“The Liberty facilities are really nice. My goal is to maintain a good average in the classroom and contribute to the team the best way I can.”
While at Bishop Ryan, McDonald played varsity hockey for four years. She was the Celtics rookie-of-the year in 2015 when her older sister, Kathleen, was also a member of the team.
“Julia has always been a key component to our defence,” Celtics head coach Paul Altobelli said. “She’s a solid, consistent and dependable player. She doesn’t just get rid of the puck. She always takes a look to see what she’s going to do.”
With the Hawks, McDonald participated in two exhibition games against touring women’s hockey teams from China. And because her mother was born in Ohio, McDonald is also a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.
“That might open the door for another opportunity,” she said.
The sixth-place Celtics (1-8) were recently eliminated, 6-3, by the St. Mary Crusaders in a HWCAA playoff quarter-final. Said Pavao: “In her final year, Julia fittingly served as one of the team captains. Despite the challenges the team faced, Julia always came to the rink with a positive attitude and the most infectious smile. She was a true role model. It’s hard to put into words the impact that Julia made on this hockey team. Her contributions extended well beyond her obvious athletic talent as she brought leadership, commitment, humour, sportsmanship and most importantly, character. While Julia will be dearly missed next year, the entire Celtic girls’ hockey community could not be more proud of her accomplishments. Liberty University is very lucky to have such a wonderful athlete joining their team, but she will always be a Celtic to her coaches teammates and the Bishop Ryan community.”