By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
When the Everett Silvertips took the ice for practice Thursday afternoon in Kamloops before boarding the bus for Prince George, Austin Lotz was a conspicuous absence.
But if anyone ever earned a day off, it was Everett’s goaltender.
“He deserves some time off the ice today, that’s for sure,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said via cell phone Thursday in the wake of Lotz’s 65-save performance Wednesday against the Kamloops Blazers.
Lotz worked overtime and then some Wednesday, producing one of the spectacular goaltending performances of the WHL season. His efforts were the primary reason why Everett was able to come away from Kamloops with an unlikely point in a 4-3 overtime loss, despite being outshot 69-21 and facing 12 Blazers power plays. Lotz and the Tips killed off all 12 Kamloops advantages, including a pair of lengthy five-on-threes.
The 17-year-old from St. Adolphe, Manitoba, then spent Thursday recovering from his exertions from the previous night.
“I’m feeling good,” Lotz said. “But it was nice not having to skate today.
“It was a pretty tiring game,” Lotz added. “At the same time, while maybe it doesn’t show up on paper, I think the team did a good job keeping them to the outside and giving me a good look at the shots.”
Lotz’s performance Wednesday was historic. His 65 saves smashed the Everett franchise record for saves in a game. The previous mark was 55 by Kent Simpson on Jan. 6, 2012 against Portland. The 65 saves were also by far the most Lotz ever made in a game. His previous high-water mark was 50 against Saskatoon on Oct. 14, 2011, which happened to be his WHL debut.
All 65 of Lotz’s saves came in regulation and fell just seven short of the WHL record for saves in regulation. Chilliwack’s Lucas Gore holds the record, making 72 saves in regulation against Spokane on March 16, 2011.
Lotz received a standing ovation from the Kamloops crowd after the game when he came out to be acknowledged for being named the game’s third star.
“He was outstanding,” Davidson said. “I don’t know why he wasn’t named the first star of the game. He was the best player on the ice for either team by a longshot. He gave us a chance to win, despite the fact we gave up 12 power plays. He faced lots of traffic and lots of shots, and he was outstanding.”
Lotz said he’d never experienced a game quite like Wednesday’s.
“Maybe when I was younger, but definitely not in this league,” Lotz said. “It’s a different story if you face 65 shots playing bantam AA in Manitoba. It was definitely one of the tougher games I’ve been in so far.”
But despite the high volume of shots faced, Lotz was not forced to make a lot of spectacular saves. Instead, his saves came as the result of being positionally sound.
“They had so much power-play time, so a lot of the shots he faced were on the power play,” Davidson said. “The positive thing is that guys helped with taking away the back-door play, so all (Lotz) had to deal with was the shooters. He was in the zone and tracking the puck well.”
Those power plays made it a particularly stressful game for Lotz.
“I’d say this game was a little more mentally taxing,” Lotz said. “We had to kill off 12 penalties. For a goalie it’s one thing if you’re facing a lot of shots, it’s another thing when you’re having to move around that much while killing the penalties.”
By earning a point, Everett has taken seven of a possible eight points from its past four games. Now, the Tips head into the weekend’s double-dip against the Prince George Cougars with a chance to secure their playoff position.
The past two seasons Everett had to sweat it out to the final weekend of the season to find out if it made the playoffs, sneaking into the eighth-and-final spot both times. This season seemed set for a similar sprint to the finish. However, the recent upswing in results has the Tips occupying seventh place in the Western Conference, where they are nine points ahead of ninth-place Prince George. With a pair of regulation wins, Everett would move 13 points above of the danger zone and essentially eliminate the Cougars as a threat to the Tips making the playoffs. A pair of regulation losses would cut Everett’s advantage to five points and turn it into a race once again.
“This weekend amounts to eight points, so it could be really big,” Lotz said. “If we go in and have a good weekend, we can kind of put them in such a hole that it would be tough to climb out, at least to catch us. That could certainly affect things down the stretch. But we’re just going to play one at a time. We’re not going to worry about the future, we just want to come out (tonight) with a solid team effort and look to get the two points.”
Everett overage defenseman Connor Cox has been cleared to return. Cox missed the previous five games because of complications from a neck injury. With Cox back, overager Landon Oslanski, who’s been filling in on defense, is likely to move back to forward. Tonight is the debut of new Prince George coach Mark Holick. Holick was hired after Dean Clark was fired Tuesday.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.