EVERETT — Daniel Cotton still can’t believe the dramatic turn his hockey career took.
Three weeks ago Cotton was confronting the likelihood that his WHL career was coming to an end.
Now he can claim credit for helping turn the Everett Silvertips’ season around.
Everett’s newest goaltender went from temporary emergency pickup to road-trip workhorse literally overnight, and now he may have forced himself into Everett’s future plans.
“It’s been great,” Cotton said about his brief time with the Tips. “It’s been a whirlwind two weeks and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Cotton arrived in Everett less than 48 hours before the Tips departed for their six-game road trip through the East Division. He’d barely played in more than a year. Yet he ended up playing every minute in goal for Everett during the trip, and he was more than just a fill-in. Cotton backstopped the Tips to four wins during the trip, and going into Wednesday night’s action he ranked among the top six in the league in both goals against average (2.45) and save percentage (.918).
“He played well,” Everett coach Mark Ferner said. “The last time he actually played a meaningful game was 1 minute and 47 seconds, and that was last (March). So you’re happy for him. He played pretty well, but the players in front of him played better, too.”
Who could have imagined Cotton would be the subject of those sentiments?
Three weeks ago Cotton was staring at the possibility of becoming among the least of the league’s footnotes. The 18-year-old from Vancouver, B.C., spent last season backing up Seattle’s Calvin Pickard, which meant he was the most idle player in the league. Pickard played virtually every game in goal for the T-birds for three seasons, and Cotton’s main duty last season as a rookie was opening and closing the gate on Seattle’ bench. Cotton made just eight starts last season, losing all eight.
This season Pickard finally graduated from the WHL, which should have opened the door for Cotton. However, the T-birds traded for overage netminder Brandon Glover, then in the preseason Seattle settled on 17-year-old Justin Myles as the backup. Cotton remained on the roster when the season began, but he spent every game in the stands in a suit as Glover and Myles dressed. Cotton was the clear odd-man out, and it seemed just a matter of time before he was released.
“It had been months since I played, so I was just looking for somewhere to go, trying to keep all the doors open,” Cotton said. “Luckily I was traded to Everett.”
Indeed, fortune simultaneously frowned upon the Tips and smiled upon Cotton. Austin Lotz, Everett’s No. 1 goaltender, suffered a groin injury playing against the T-birds on Oct. 6. The Tips played Tri-City the next night and desperately needed someone who could dress as the backup. Cotton conveniently was both available and in close enough proximity to Everett to arrive in time for the game.
So Tips general manager Garry Davidson swung a quick trade for Cotton, sending a conditional sixth-round pick in the 2014 bantam draft to the T-birds. It seemed a trade that would nullify itself. If Cotton was no longer on the roster at a specific date, the draft pick wouldn’t exchange hands, and there was conjecture Cotton wouldn’t even be on the bus when it departed for Everett’s eastern road trip two days later.
But in that game against Tri-City, Colo Holowenko struggled and was yanked after allowing four goals on 16 shots as Everett fell behind 4-0. That gave Cotton a shot to show what he could do.
Cotton grabbed the ball and ran. First he turned aside all 14 shots he faced against the Americans as the Tips rallied to pull within one in the third period before falling 5-3. That earned him the start in Everett’s first game on the road trip at Brandon, and Cotton made 25 saves as the Tips came from behind to win 3-2 in overtime. He hasn’t looked back since.
“In my whole life I don’t think I’ve ever played more than three games in a row, let alone six in nine days,” Cotton said. “It was nice getting a taste for what being a starter in this league is like.
“I just wanted an opportunity, but I didn’t know I’d be getting this big an opportunity,” Cotton said. “I thought it was a place I could start fresh. But if you had told me two weeks ago I’d be playing all the games on the road trip I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Cotton’s string as Everett’s everyday starter may be coming to an end. Lotz returned to practice this week and could be available for this weekend’s home games against Spokane and Seattle. But one would think Cotton has done enough to keep himself in the equation.
“Lotzy is obviously getting healthy and looking good out there,” Cotton said. “I’m just going to keep working hard and see what happens.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.