Hockey star finds supplement in lacrosse


Junior Keegan McGonagle dodges defenders on the offensive side of the field. Photo by Asa Lory

Junior Keegan McGonagle dodges defenders on the offensive side of the field. Photo by Asa Lory
Junior Keegan McGonagle dodges defenders on the offensive side of the field. Photo by Asa Lory

As other four-year-olds lumbered around on their preschool playgrounds, junior Keegan McGonagle was skating on ice. His father said at age six, Keegan was skating with a purpose, getting started on his now dozen ­years of ice hockey experience.

“The speed, power, physicality and grace of the game was infectious for Keegan, just as it had been for me when my father introduced me to the game,” Keegan’s father, Craig McGonagle, said in an email interview. “Keegan took to the game naturally and his love for the game is all the motivation he has ever needed. As parents, we have always encouraged our kids to find their passion, whatever that may be. For Keegan, that passion has been hockey, and recently lacrosse, a very similar sport. In order to support our kids in pursuing their passion, we’ve spent plenty of money and time as a family towards those ends.”
Craig’s own father had grown up in Boston, playing “pond hockey during the winters,” he said. Craig spent almost every day skating and eventually played competitively for the University of Missouri-Columbia, back when ice skaters could frequent the Ice Chalet rink in Columbia. Keegan, unlike his father, could not play in his hometown. Instead, he started playing for Westminster Christian Academy in St. Louis. Craig said the family made the two hour commute three to four times each week for various practices and games. Certain weeknights father and son would not get home until 1:00 a.m. Keegan got his schoolwork done before practices or during the car rides up to practice, Craig said, and would sleep on the drive back.
“After two years of playing in St. Louis, we were all getting burned out, and so Keegan decided to play in Jeff City this past season,” Craig McGonagle said. Getting home after 11:00 p.m. from a weeknight practice in Jeff City was much easier that getting home at 1:00 a.m. from a practice in St. Louis.”
Keegan now plays for the Mid ­Mo Tigers in Jefferson City, Mo. Approximately a third of the team hails from Columbia, he said, with another third driving over from St. Louis and the last third coming from Kansas City. The team’s schedule is “pretty competitive,” Keegan said, playing half of their games at home and the other half in Springfield, Mo. or St. Louis. Neither state nor school sanctioned, the team members must pay for their own transportation, equipment and uniforms, he said, but these expenses matter little when he’s on the ice.
“It’s just such a fast sport, and it changes every year,” Keegan said. “Nothing in the game is the same twice. It’s always changing, and you have to get better every day. It’s just hard fun.”
Last year, with the less demanding hockey commutes, Keegan started playing lacrosse. The RBHS lacrosse team isn’t school sponsored either, and Keegan originally joined the team as “just something else to do to stay in shape for hockey.” But the experience has been especially rewarding because he gets to bond with his teammates outside of practices and games, Keegan said. Junior Caymen Menard, who, with Keegan, is one of the three lacrosse co-captains, said the other players have similarly enjoyed Keegan’s presence on the team, especially with the level of dedication he brings to both sports.
“With Keegan you never really saw that he wasn’t giving everything he had, like he never gave less to our lacrosse team because there was hockey practice after school,” Menard said. “It was really great because you never want a guy to be half there giving half effort. That’s not who Keegan is.”
On the field, it is easy to see Keegan’s “translation of hockey to lacrosse,” Menard said. Menard’s own history with lacrosse started with hockey when he started four or five years ago. Unlike his co-captain and teammate, however, Menard chose to play lacrosse because he didn’t want to commute to play hockey. Menard said Keegan brought his hockey conditioning and physicality to the lacrosse team, in addition to “those skills that a leader needed to be successful.” Menard said Keegan is known on the team for more than his role as a co-captain, though.
“He never really shies down from a big hit or anything like that, just because hockey has given him that skill set,” Menard said. “He’s always the one just in the middle of everything, scrapping and getting done what the team needs. It’s not always pretty, but he … plays a really important role on the team as like ‘that guy’ who makes plays with his feet and that kind of stuff.”
Though lacrosse and hockey compliment each other, Keegan said it was hard to manage both together last year when one season started just as the other ended. Practices for hockey started in late August this year, and the team played their last game in early March. Just 24 hours after the end of hockey season, Keegan went to his first lacrosse practice of its season. The transition was even harder because he’d never played lacrosse before, Keegan said, so his familiarity with both teams this year made the shift easier.
Last year “I didn’t know any of the rules of lacrosse,” Keegan said. “It wasn’t as bad this year. The mentality is same; what’s different is what you’re going into the game to do and how you’re going to do it and all of the specifics.”
Craig said his son is dedicated to the sports beyond their demanding schedules, commutes and financial costs, practicing the sports’ “similar stick handling and deeking/dodging moves” in the basement. Mid MO Tigers Hockey coach Jay Visgar said Keegan’s “skate hard, skate fast and never let up” strategy of playing was remarkable the first time he saw it. As a coach, Visgar started with the nine and 10-year-olds on the ‘squirt’ team and moved through the ‘bantams’ up to Keegan’s age group, called the ‘midgets.’ Visgar, who grew up in North Dakota, said the other coaches in Jefferson City, Mo. recognized that “hockey is in our blood up here in north country.” Visgar still lives in North Dakota but commutes to Missouri for the winters to coach the team and spend time with his fiancee, who goes to vet school here. Keegan is a hard worker, willing to make even the most minor adjustments, Visgar said, but more than that, he has “a calling” for hockey.
“Keegan is that guy, the one you want on the ice in those moments when the game can be won or lost,” Visgar said in an email interview. “He already is a complete player, and I would love a team of Keegans because we would be unstoppable.”
By Nomin-Erdene Jagdagdorj