The road Paul Dainton chose to forge to a professional hockey career wasn’t easy or always kind.
In fact, at times, it could be downright nasty.
It has tested him constantly and pushed him to his limits. Regardless of circumstances, he wasn’t going to stop. It was his path. It was his decisions. It was his own destiny he was making.
He would do it over and over again.
From injuries to getting cut to having people tell him he would never make it, Dainton has encountered a lot of setbacks along his journey to be a pro hockey goalie.
He has also devoted countless hours to becoming the best he can be and has sacrificed everything he holds dear and close to him for more than half his life to reach his goals.
Against the odds, Dainton made it to the junior level and then Division I NCAA hockey and now the professional ranks. He plays for the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League.
It has been a tough journey, rife with hurdles and challenges, but Dainton has stayed true to himself and kept his belief in himself when others didn’t.
Despite the difficult road he has travelled, Dainton knows it played a role in making him who he is today. When he looks back on the journey, he knows it was the only one he could have made.
“If I could go back and do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” the 26-year-old said.
“I have had plenty of setbacks throughout my career. From getting injured, getting cut from teams, to having bad coaches, to being told I was too small to play college hockey or pro hockey. Having bad games and trying to bounce back. The list goes on.
“These are all things I used to my advantage and as motivation. The worst one I have encountered was a coach in junior A telling me I would never play Division I hockey, and the best I would do would be as a junior A goalie.”
Pressure is always on
Dainton has gone further than many people have thought he would go. It’s not hard to figure out why. Dainton has resolve and will. These two elements mixed together in an athlete can get a lot done in the face of adversity.
Dainton earned a tryout with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2012 and played well enough to earn an exhibition game against the Winnipeg Jets. Even now, Dainton battles for every scrap of ice time he receives.
The 2012-13 season has seen him start with Springfield, but get sent down to an affiliate in the East Coast Hockey League due to the NHL lockout — more goalies than usual were playing in the AHL this season.
When that opportunity comes, you have to be ready to make the best of it. What’s at stake, realistically, is my job.
goalie for the Springfield Falcons
It’s about coming up big when opportunity presents itself for Dainton. He was called back up to Springfield in mid-January and started against Albany on Jan. 19. He flat-out sparkled, stopping 35 of 36 shots in a 2-1 overtime win.
It was classic Dainton. Experience a down, but fight it and bounce back with a brilliant performance. Dainton has forged a 2-3-1 record with Springfield along with a stingy 1.97 goals-against-average and .938 save percentage.
Dainton is driven by the madness that is the position of being a hockey goalie.
“Having only two spots per team, there is a lot of pressure on you to do your best every time you step on the ice,” he said.
“A lot of the time, it’s a numbers game where you get opportunity based off injury. When that opportunity comes, you have to be ready to make the best of it. What’s at stake, realistically, is my job.
"It’s a career choice where you’re rewarded for your performance, and everyone wants to be in the spot you are in, so you can’t take days off. Even though there are only two goalies on a team, there is only one net and one goalie that plays in the game, so there is always that competition to be that guy.”
Sudbury was catalyst
Dainton was born in Bradford and moved with his family to Greater Sudbury when he was five. He spent the following 12 years in the Nickel City learning the craft of the goalie. He played all his minor hockey in the city and his first year of junior with the Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats.
He moved away from his home and family at 17 to play junior in Port Hope. He earned a NCAA Division I scholarship with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst after his final season of junior hockey in Fort McMurray.
From 2007 to 2011, Dainton was the main man between the pipes for Massachusetts-Amherst, even serving as team captain in his final season. He signed an amateur tryout contract with the Springfield Falcons upon graduation.
Dainton has since bounced back and forth between the American Hockey League with Springfield and its East Coast Hockey League affiliates. This season, he started with the Falcons, but was sent down to Evansville due to a numbers crunch in the AHL thanks to the NHL lockout.
Dainton returned to the AHL to play on Jan. 19 against Albany. This is where he hopes to stay and continue his quest to be an NHL goalie.
When he looks back on his history, Dainton points to his time in Sudbury as the catalyst. It was here in Sudbury that Dainton put it all together and set the foundation for his career.
He didn’t do it alone.
One man played a major role in helping Dainton learn the ropes and instill in him the confidence and skill set to achieve lofty goals. That man was Netminders North coach and owner, Bruce MacDougall.
“I was terrible when I was younger and Bruce helped me a lot through a lot of patience,” Dainton said with a laugh.
“He pushed me to be better every time I went on the ice, and let me tell you, when I started off, I was not very good. Bruce really kick-started my career and shaped me as the goalie I am today.”