By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Daniel Cotton now holds the keys to the Everett Silvertips’ net.
And he’s charged with backstopping Everett through its busiest part of the schedule, a grueling stretch of 10 games in 16 days that includes a lengthy four-game road trip through the WHL’s Central Division.
Cotton did not play much during the first month of the season, but took over in the net when No. 1 goaltender Austin Lotz was injured two weeks ago. He welcomes the opportunity.
“It’s nice,” Cotton said about getting a chance at a heavy workload. “It’s always kind of tough when you’re not playing. But (Everett coach Kevin Constantine) has been doing what he said he was going to do at the start of the year, going with the hot hand. It’s nice to be getting some games, for sure.”
Cotton was staring at the prospect of spending his 19-year-old season primarily opening and closing the gate on the Everett bench during games. He started just three of the Tips’ first 14 games while Lotz compiled eye-popping numbers as Everett’s primary netminder.
But Lotz suffered a twisted ankle during Everett’s 7-6 victory at Kamloops on Oct. 26. That opened the door for Cotton to get another chance at showing what he can do.
“There’s always opportunities in hockey,” Constantine said. “He had an opportunity at the beginning of the year because he outperformed Lotz in training camp and was given the opportunity to play two of the first games to start the season. There was an opportunity there, and with Lotz’s injury there’s another opportunity.
“It’s the nature of hockey, things in hockey change so fast,” Constantine continued. “If you looked at our roster a month ago you wondered how we could possibly carry so many players. Within two weeks we’re trying to go out and find a player because of injuries and trades. So things constantly change in hockey. You always have to be ready for your chance and make the most of it. There’s been thousands of hockey careers where a guy maybe didn’t think he would get a chance, got a chance, and took advantage of the opportunity.”
Cotton’s first start following Lotz’s injury came last Friday against Brandon. It was Cotton’s first game time in three weeks, and the rust showed. The Wheat Kings scored on four of their first five shots on goal while handing Everett a 6-3 defeat.
But Cotton has settled down since. He recorded a 16-save shutout against his former team, the Seattle Thunderbirds, the following night. Then Wednesday he came 1 minute, 12 seconds away from notching his second consecutive shutout in a 17-save performance.
“The first game against Brandon obviously didn’t go too well,” Cotton said. “But the team has been playing unbelievable in front of me. None of the past three games I’ve gotten more than 20 shots. Any time that happens it’s pretty easy for a goalie.
“(Shutting out Seattle) was awesome, it was great to shut those guys out,” Cotton added. “But like I said, it wasn’t me winning the game, the team was unreal. It was a great game for the team.”
Cotton might not have had a lot to do in Everett’s past two victories, but he made the saves when they needed to be made.
“He had a tough outing against Brandon,” Constantine said. “A lot of it related to the fact we took a really undisciplined penalty to start the game. So we didn’t put our goalie in the best spot to have a chance to get into the game, and he didn’t make the saves he needed to make, either. But he’s responded and been really solid for two games. It’s been nice that we’ve gotten leads for him, but he’s also gotten the job done. Nice reaction to a tough start getting back into playing every game.”
It’s possible Cotton will have to play every single minute in goal for Everett during the upcoming busy stretch.
Constantine said Lotz is recovering faster than originally anticipated and that he’s back on his skates, but has yet to return to practice. Sixteen-year-old Nik Amundrud was called up following Lotz’s injury, and although Constantine said it was possible Amundrud would get some game time, he was noncommittal about whether Amundrud would get a start.
But if Cotton is asked to start all of the upcoming games, he believes he’s ready for the challenge.
“It was frustrating (not playing), but it’s not like it wasn’t fair,” Cotton said. “I just kept going, kept practicing hard, and sure enough something’s opened up here. It’s nice to backstop the team for a bunch of games in a row, and hopefully I’ll make the most of it.”
Winger Dawson Leedahl, suspended two games by the league after his checking-from-behind major penalty against Brandon, is eligible to return tonight when the Tips welcome Tri-City to Comcast Arena.. … Everett plays a home-and-home set this weekend against Tri-City, which is one of the Western Hockey League’s hottest teams. The Americans appeared to be the odd-man out in the ultra-competitive U.S. Division this season. However, Tri-City’s only loss in its past seven games came in a shootout at Medicine Hat, and Wednesday the Americans ended Portland’s 11-game winning streak.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.