Many people are familiar with the story of “Rudy” Ruettiger, the football player with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who got on the field once at the end of his first, and also final, football game of his college career.
His getting on the field was a testament to his hard work and overcoming many challenges, and his inspiring story was made into a blockbuster Hollywood movie.
Michael Desgroseillers, a third-string goaltender with the Royal Military College Paladins, had his own “Rudy” moment on Sunday at Constantine Arena, getting to start the team’s final game of the Ontario University Athletics regular season against the Nipissing Lakers.
With both teams eliminated from the playoffs, RMC head coach Richard Lim thought it would be good to reward Desgroseillers, who has been a “good soldier” for the team despite never seeing any regular season action in three years.
Desgroseillers made the best of his first and only start, winning a thrilling 3-2 game in overtime.
He faced 32 Lakers shots, many of the difficult variety, including a point-blank, cross-crease slide in the third period to preserve the tie.
He retires undefeated for his career with a goals-against average of 1.92 and a save percentage of .938.
“What an incredible feeling. It’s indescribable because it’s something I never thought I could ever achieve,” Desgroseillers said in an interview on Monday. “To be a first start and a first win at the same time with all the other graduating guys, it’s a really good feeling.”
He was one of seven RMC players who played their final university game on Sunday.
“I’m graduating this year so it was a good end,” he said.
Desgroseillers, from the south shore of Montreal, will graduate with a business administration degree, then head off to train to eventually become a pilot in the Canadian Forces.
Desgroseillers played recreational hockey while in the first year of his studies at Royal Military College St. Jean. He played midget A hockey two years prior and took a year off the game before attending school in St. Jean.
“When I came to RMC, I attended [training camp] and made the team as a walk-on,” he said. “I knew my job was to be a backup goalie,” he said. “I was completely fine with it because it was a great opportunity for me because I didn’t think I was going to be able to play at such a high level of hockey at this point.”
He attended all of the practices over the three years and helped the team out whenever he could.
“Just being a good teammate and just doing the right things and supporting the guys every day,” he said.
Lim said the decision to start Desgroseillers came after a discussion among the team’s staff.
“Desi’s been a phenomenal teammate for three years,” Lim said on Monday.
The only game action he’s seen amounted to a few periods of exhibition action.
“But never once has he complained. He’s at practice every day, he’s never missed a team function and been a great teammate for all the guys,” Lim said. “We figured what the heck, he’s earned it, why not give him the start.
“He played well. He made some big saves when we needed him to when the game was real close, and I couldn’t be happier for the guy, not only to get his first-ever start but to cap it off with a great team effort and get a win for him was pretty cool.”
Lim said Desgroseillers fit in perfectly in the team philosophy.
“He makes sure that he’s exactly what we want our culture to be,” Lim said. “He embodies all that, being a good team guy first and making sure he never puts himself in front of anyone.”
Desgroseillers went on road trips with the team and did jobs during games to help wherever needed, Lim said, whether that meant keeping game stats, packing the bus or organizing things away from the rink.
“Whatever we asked him to do, he never hesitated to lend a hand.”
His character makes him great officer material for the Forces, Lim said.
“If Desi wasn’t a great teammate and someone they wouldn’t be able to follow as an officer in the future, he wouldn’t be in the dressing room,” Lim said.
Lim said Desgroseillers was presented with the game puck in the win, and because he was the last guy to enter the dressing room after the game, his teammates gave him the cold shoulder for a minute or so before celebrating the victory with him.
“They were pretty happy for him once they broke the silence. It was a pretty cool sight to see,” Lim said. “For the guys to send him off with a game like that, that is something he’ll remember forever. It could not have ended in a better way.”
Desgroseillers said his brother, father, girlfriend and other friends were at the game.
He thanked his teammates for helping him get the win.
“They give their effort every second they’re on the ice,” he said. “They’re a bunch of great guys and I couldn’t ask for a better team to spend my three years at the college. I absolutely loved them and I thank them for supporting me all the way.”