Tim McDonald served two tours in Iraq as a helicopter pilot.
Back in 1992, the Jefferson Jaguars were beginning to go on a run that wasn’t and hasn’t been equaled since the Eveleth teams of the mid 1940s.
They were loaded with superstars and future Division 1 players like Mark Parrish, Mike Crowley, Dan Trebil, Nick Checco and many others.
But like any good team, they also had guys who were quiet leaders – guys who went about their business out of the spotlight and who played integral roles in the success of the team.
The Jaguars were in the semifinals at the state tournament in 1992 against a Cloquet team that had future NHL All-Star and Olympic captain Jamie Langenbrunner. Cloquet had just come off a win against defending champion Hill-Murray and took the Jaguars into overtime.
By that time, Tim McDonald had already had two goals. He completed his hat trick in overtime to send the Jaguars to the championship game. They won that one, and the next one, and the one after that.
Had McDonald not scored that goal, the Jaguars three-year run wouldn’t have happened. And while it was a huge goal for the team, McDonald, or “Timmy Mac” as he was called by his teammates, had different goals in mind.
Christian. Husband. Father. Veteran. And a complete commitment to others.
It was those qualities that he had as a young man that made him a great man in his shortened life.
McDonald died in a helicopter crash this summer at age 44, leaving behind his wife and four children.
Dan Trebil, perhaps one of the Jaguars most talented players said, “There were a lot of special hockey players in that group. But nothing anyone ever did on the ice came close to the selflessness and courage Tim displayed.”
McDonald served two tours in Iraq as a pilot and when he came home served as a medevac pilot – a person who transports patients to hospitals and provides medical care. In 2018 he was named the head coach of a western Wisconsin high school. He called his former coach, Tom Saterdalen, for advice. They met to discuss Tom running some clinics for the kids.
“We had a great talk,” said Saterdalen.
Saterdalen was home with his wife when she heard the news about a chopper crash in Brainerd. They knew Tim worked out of that airport and was a medical pilot. Tom called Nick Checco.
“He didn’t say a word,” said Saterdalen. “We just cried. It wasn’t good.”
This year, the Jefferson Jaguars are wearing a sticker on their helmet commemorating a Jaguar who was exemplary in how he went about his game and about his life.
Mike Crowley remembers the last time he saw Tim.
“It was at our ’93 gathering at a restaurant in Eden Prairie,” he said. “He drove all the way form Siren (Wis.) to be there and then drove home that same night. I can still see his big smile. He wanted to celebrate with his teammates but wanted to also get back home with his family. That was Timmy Mac.”
His teammates from those glory years were shocked and of course saddened by the news of his passing. He was more than just a hockey player. He was a great student, a talented musician, a homecoming king, and someone who always had time for others, whether they wore the Jaguar colors on the ice or in the band room.
“He loved all people no matter what they were good at,” said Cort Lundeen. “It didn’t matter if they were an athlete, a musician, a popular kid or not…he treated everyone the same.”
In junior high, Lundeen and McDonald attended a summer camp together. Tim encouraged a fellow camper, a kid who was very shy, to step out of his comfort zone and stand on a table in the middle of the wilderness in front of the other campers and sing.
“This was before Tim was a champion hockey player, homecoming king and warrior for our country,” said Lundeen. “Even then, Tim had the heart of a champion and a selfless compassion for others. I’ll never forget the feeling I had afterwards. Tim gave the kid a huge hug, pat on the back and a high five. I was blessed to call him a friend.”
“Mac was truly just one of the best humans around,” said goalie Randy Koeppl. “You hear the phrase a lot ‘I don’t have a bad word to say about him’... but with Timmy it was the truth.”
Joe Pankratz said, “Timmy was an old soul in a group of teenagers. He was the most mature and obviously had life goals that were far beyond hockey.”
Brian LaFleur remembers a selfless teammate who always deflected praise to others and who was a great athlete, no matter what sport they were playing.
“He was good at anything he tried,” said LaFleur. “I can say he was the most underrated player on our team. We were surrounded by a lot of talented hockey players and he didn’t always get a lot of credit, but the reality was, he was a fantastic hockey player.”
His overtime goal in the semifinals against Cloquet will forever be part of Jefferson hockey lore.
“That goal helped us to keep chasing the dream of a state championship,” LaFleur said. “A dream we ultimately achieved thanks to him.”
Saterdalen called him the “ultimate teammate.”
“He was a kid who just went out and did his job,” said Saterdalen. “I knew Tim from the time he was five years old and he was a coach’s dream. You could rely on him and you always knew he was prepared and ready to play.”
His performance in the semifinals in 1992 was legendary.
“I was so happy for him when he scored that hat trick,” said former high school and college teammate Jon De St. Hubert. The two played together at Gustavus.
At college, Tim kept to himself and had a close group of friends. He was a private person.
“He didn’t go out much at all,” said De St. Hubert. “I didn’t even know he wanted to be a helicopter pilot and I didn’t know how many tours he did in the Middle East until I read it in the paper.”
He was more than a hockey player.
“Most of us had no idea about all of his accomplishments until his funeral,” said Pankratz. “His life, in totality, was so impressive.”
McDonald’s life has put perspective into the lives of others.
“Sure, we won a few state tournaments, which was awesome,” said Crowley. “But the person Tim was is what I will always remember. He was friends with everyone. And I mean everyone.”
In the end, family was what mattered most to Timmy Mac. His Jaguar family, but more importantly, his wife and four children.
“I remember a conversation we had at our ’93 gathering,” said Checco. “He was talking about his family and I could just see on his face how proud he was of his wife and kids. We didn’t talk work or hockey. We talked about what matters most. Family.”
That was Tim McDonald. A young kid who aspired to be more than a hockey player. A teammate, a friend, a veteran, a father and a husband.
“Timmy Mac fit a lot of life in his 44 years with us,” said Checco. “We’re all grateful for the memories.”
Joe Bianchi was neighbors with Tim and remembers playing street hockey and baseball when they weren’t on the ice together.
“I will miss Timmy Mac as a teammate, a linemate, friend of 36 years, but most of all how he approached life and always had his priorities in order,” he said. “He was able to treat everyone the same whether it was teammate, teacher, parent or bandmate. We all have a hole in our lives with the passing of Timmy Mac. He truly made an impact on the world he lived in and those he touched.”