The test drive was a good one for Matt Mahalak and the UPEI Panthers men's hockey team.
When Mavric Parks went down with a groin injury in October 2014, the Panthers were looking for a goalie — and quickly. Mahalak had been bouncing around some minor pro teams since his junior career ended.
"Neither party knew how the story was going to unfold," head coach Forbes MacPherson explained. "We were both searching for each other and, lucky enough, we found each other."
Both parties described it as an open and honest discussion. It was possible the relationship could only last a semester.
Mahalak left South Carolina and drove two days straight to get to P.E.I. on Oct. 30. The next night he made his debut with the Panthers.
He carried the load in Parks' absence while fitting in well with his new teammates. He played with Panthers forward Nick Czinder in the United States Hockey League and knew fellow Michigan native Tyler Brown and Darcy Ashley before coming to UPEI. But he knew nothing about the university or the province.
"Ultimately, (I'm) really happy with my decision and (I'm) loving every minute here on the Island," Mahalak said. "It's infectious and you don't want to leave. . .
"The decision to come was more of a whirlwind, but the decision to stay was (due to) the experience on the Island."
He said the professors, as well as staff in the admissions and international athletics offices helped make his transition smooth.
Mahalak and Parks shared the net to begin this season. When Parks went down with a lower-body injury on Jan. 8, Mahalak regained the crease and the Panthers continued to fight for a playoff spot.
He's 6-6-0 with a 2.76 goals-against average and the second-best save percentage (.916) in the Atlantic University Sport conference.
"We've managed to put a lot of points in the bank against teams that were positioned higher than us in the standings, and a lot was the result of Matty's play," MacPherson said. "He's been a big piece of the backbone of our team this year."
Mahalak is a strong student who made visits to NCAA schools like Harvard, Notre Dame and a couple in Boston before turning pro.
He took courses at Michigan while playing in the Ontario Hockey League with the Plymouth Whalers, where he suited up with his older brother R.J. for two-and-a-half seasons.
Mahalak gets the net tonight with Parks still recovering when the Acadia Axemen come to town for a 7 p.m. contest. Saturday it's the Saint Mary's Huskies on alumni night.
"Acadia and SMU are teams we could be matched up with in the playoffs," Mahalak said. "Playoffs, for us, are really starting right now."
But the focused individual said he doesn't alter his approach and reflects back on something his goalie coach in Plymouth told him.
"You play every game like it's the biggest game of your life, so when the biggest game of your life comes, it's just another game."
Who - A second-year UPEI Panthers goalie.
Hometown - Monroe, Mich.
Age - 23.
Coach Forbes MacPherson said: "He's very calm . . . When he's playing well, his rebound control is spectacular, he looks square all the time, he looks big, he looks set and pucks just hit him."
Did you know? Mahalak had a chance to shoot for a goal against St. Thomas on Saturday. Up two goals, the Tommies dumped the puck in on a delayed offside and Mahalak got the puck at the side of the net, looking down the ice at an empty net. "I looked up and . . . went to shoot and (Panthers defenceman Ryan MacKinnon), standing right in front of me, stole it right off my stick, rimmed it around the boards and got me an assist," Mahalak said.