It takes a special kind of persona to stand in front of frozen, vulcanized rubber screaming at you in excess of 90 miles per hour.
The first player on the ice and the last line of defense, goaltender John Donohoe put up a near-impenetrable wall for Christian Brothers Academy this season and when the ice chips settled his Colts stood as state champions for the eighth time in team history on March 9 at Prudential Center.
With eight straight wins to close out the season — five shutouts — including 20 saves on 21 shots in a 4-1 victory over Don Bosco Prep in the NJSIAA Non-Public final, Donohoe was a unanimous decision as HockeyClan’s 2019-20 State Player of the Year.
“It’s still a pretty surreal feeling. It was really special,” said Donohoe. “It wasn’t really me at all. Yeah, I made those saves, but we barely gave up any shots and the shots I saw, I saved. I knew if I gave up a goal we’d get one right back. It should say ‘CBA’ under this award.”
A sophomore transfer from Coopersburg, Pa. in his first season with the New Jersey Titans while attending classes at the academy in Lincroft, N.J., Donohoe was nothing short of spectacular down the stretch beginning with back-to-back shutouts over Bergen Catholic and Don Bosco Prep to secure the team’s ninth Gordon Cup in 2020.
Embracing the challenge, Donohoe extended what would amount to an absolutely stunning 193-minute, 46-second scoreless streak which bled well into the 2020 NJSIAA Tournament starting with a 14-save blanking of St. Peter’s Prep in the first round. The streak continued into the second round against Morristown-Beard until a single goal in the third period brought his string of 12 consecutive scoreless periods to a halt.
“I didn’t play high school hockey so I had no idea what it was like but a few of my buddies won it last year,” Donohoe said. “We always talked about it and looked up state championship videos on YouTube. They were always so pumped about it, so nervous before the game, but felt like all-stars afterwards.
“‘Wow, what a feeling,’ Donohoe thought, ‘must be great.'”
Coming into the season, first-year CBA coach Andy Gojdycz had a pretty good idea who his No. 1 goalie would be but still put Donohoe and the rest of the varsity and JV through a rigorous, week-long training camp.
“You have your lineup cards and you go through all the scenarios every day in practice. I had expectations, but I went through all the guys and at the end of that time period I knew he would probably be our No. 1,” Gojdycz, who announced a return to his alma mater in July. said. “It wasn’t necessarily the way he played, it was the way the team responded when he was playing. You could just tell. It wasn’t anything said. It wasn’t anything you can put into words. It was just a feeling.”
“No offense to the position, but goalies are different,” Gojdycz said with a laugh. “He definitely fits that mold as a traditional goaltender in a sense of his personality and that’s important as the most-stressed player on the ice. But with John, his personality, it rolls just like water off a duck’s back. When it’s time to be serious, the guy’s all-in. But when it’s time to take a breath and be a kid — he is — he knows when to have fun and that’s what characterizes him the best — his team-first mentality — he cares more about them than he does himself.”
A month into the season, after appearing in six of CBA’s first seven games of the season, Gojdycz noticed a toll being taken on his No. 1 netminder. It was then Gojdycz sent Donohoe home for a week to unwind.
“I treat my kids as professionals. When I see they need a break, mentally, when my star player needs a game off, we’ll go right down the line,” Gojdycz said. “I knew what his travel schedule was like, what his school schedule was. I could tell he was grinding and I told him, ‘Johnny, you need a break. I don’t want to see you around the locker room for a week. Do your studies, go for a run, go work out — go home and take a break.’ At first he was surprised, but then he understood and he rebounded very well.”
“At one point I said to my dad, ‘I don’t think I can do this’,” said Donohoe, who lists Cayden Primeau and Anthony Stolarz as his favorite players. “I let in a soft goal against Seton Hall Prep and was putting a lot of pressure on myself. But honestly, it was pretty great and it came at a time when I was pretty tired of hockey.
“But when I came back, I definitely felt recharged, almost like I just plugged myself in to a charger to get back to 100 percent,” Donohoe said. “It brought me back to bat and it was on from there.”
With a fresh start, Donohoe excelled the second half of the season finishing the 2019-20 campaign with a 17-3-2 record, 1.77 goals-against average and .928 save percentage with seven shutouts.
“I can be a pretty crazy kid out there, but like every goalie, once it becomes game time I get focused,” Donohoe said. “If we’re winning or it’s a fun game or even if they’re tight, I’ll say something to get them to laugh.”
Donohoe’s mask and throwback-style goalie pads were just as colorful.
“I had a pair of all-white Warrior goalie pads — they were so great, so light, but they started to break and I needed new pads,” said Donohoe, who began his career as a goaltender as a Mite in the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers program. “And I thought, ‘Do I get blue for CBA? Or red for the Titans?’ We were at MonkeySports in Jersey and there were these brown, throwbacks and I thought, ‘CBA has this long legacy. Maybe I could take it back with my pads and go brown?’ I get a lot of compliments on them.”
Donohoe’s mask is a work of art with the Christian Brothers Academy crest on top, an outline of the state on the left underneath an iconic image of musician Bruce Springsteen and the letters ‘C-B-A’ on the right. Flyers’ mascot “Gritty” adorns the back along with a Polar Bears logo, a special hockey organization in the Lehigh Valley with whom Donohoe has been a passionate volunteer the past four years.
“One night, my dad made a promise to me that if I got straight A’s I could get helmet painted,” Donohoe said. “That was pretty hard for me because school didn’t come easy. But I kept plugging away and got the grades. That was great. Gritty’s on the back because you have to play gritty and get under the skin of the other players and I’m a Flyers fan.”
🚨 CBA goalie John Donohoe wins JSZ’s Hockey Player of the Year 🚨
Donohoe was a difference-maker between the pipes in 2020 after helping @CBAColtsHockey win the Gordon Cup and Non-Public State Title.
— Jersey Sports Zone (@JSZ_Sports) April 1, 2020
It has certainly been a long and winding road for Donohoe — much more than most 16-year old sophomores have endured at this point in their careers. And to finish it off with a state championship is something he won’t soon forget.
“So now, honestly, thinking about it then doing it… looking up at the scoreboard, all the fans, all the “Colt Crazies” in the stands… having that confidence to do it no matter what… it gave me the extra power to get through to the end knowing I could do it. It really was something special.”
“His performance was spectacular,” added Gojdycz. “But it wasn’t just his performance, it was the way he carried himself. He just did the job, knew what his role was and played spectacular for the guys in front of him. He’s selfless — he never played for himself — that’s the way he is and that’s why we won.”
Related: 2019-20 HockeyClan Video Catalog
Written by John Christian Hageny @JCCSPORTS
Special to HockeyClan
2018-19 HockeyClan Honors
2017-18 HockeyClan Honors
2020 HockeyClan State Finals Coverage
Main Image: Christian Brothers goalie John Donohoe hugs the post to keep this shot from getting past him during the CBA-Gloucester Catholic NJSIAA State Tournament Semifinal game at Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ. Donohoe made 18 saves to record his fourth shutout in his last five games. 3/4/20 (Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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