By Nick patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — It seems Austin Lotz will have to carry a weighty load down the stretch for the Everett Silvertips.
Everett is being forced to lean heavily upon its No. 1 goaltender during the team’s final 13 games of the regular season because of the suspension of Daniel Cotton.
“I don’t get that far ahead of myself, but I know (Lotz) will play a lot of hockey down the stretch here for us, for sure,” Everett coach Kevin Constantine said.
Cotton, Everett’s No. 2 netminder, was one of two players suspended indefinitely by the team last week for violating team rules. Winger Darcy DeRoose was the other player suspended. Everett general manager Garry Davidson confirmed those suspensions re-main indefinite.
With Cotton out suspended, Lotz will have to be a workhorse in goal for the Tips. But Lotz is no stranger to long stretches of consecutive starts. He had one streak of 13 straight starts earlier this season, as well as stretches where he started 10 out of 11 games, as well as nine out of 10.
Therefore, the 18-year-old from St. Adolphe, Manitoba, says he’s ready for the possibility of starting the remainder of Everett’s games.
“Absolutely,” was Lotz’s immediate response when asked if he was prepared to start the rest of the way. “I feel like I’ve been ready for that for quite some time. I love doing it, and when you love doing something like that it’s not hard to do.”
Lotz’s current record is 20-18-3-1 with a 2.76 goals against average and .897 save percentage. He had a rough stretch from Jan. 22-Feb. 8, going winless in six starts and getting pulled three times. But Lotz has been better of late, allowing a total of six goals in his previous three games, winning two of those.
“I feel like my game is starting to pick up,” Lotz said. “I got off to a good start, then sort off slowed down a little bit. I just try stay positive and try not to get down on myself too much, and I think it’s starting to pay off.”
Following the suspensions, Lotz was staring at the possibility of having to play every minute of Everett’s final 18 games. When the suspensions were handed down, Lotz had played Everett’s previous two games, and the Tips had 16 remaining. In addition, Everett, had no obvious contingency plan to replace Cotton.
However, the suspensions happened to occur while 15-year-old prospect Carter Hart was in town practicing with the team for a week. Hart, an eighth-round pick in the 2013 bantam draft, extended his stay to serve as Lotz’s back-up for the three-in-three weekend. Then the Tips pulled a surprise, handing Hart the start In Sunday’s game at Spokane and making him the first 15-year-old ever to start in goal for Everett. Hart stopped 20 of 24 in his WHL debut, which the Tips lost 5-3.
“I don’t think we would have done it if it wasn’t a three-in-three weekend, but that opened up the idea of doing it,” Constantine said about the decision to give Hart a start. “Austin Lotz is going to have to play a lot of games down the stretch for us, so it looked like one of the rare times where we could play someone else and not have Austin play three nights in a row. (Hart) practiced all week and did a good job in practice. We were confident he could get in and play competitively, based on what we saw in practice.
“I thought he played well,” Constantine added. “He wasn’t perfect, any goalie who gives up four and his team loses is probably going to say he would like one or two back. But he did a decent job.”
Hart returned home to Sherwood Park, Alberta, following the weekend, meaning the Tips had to maneuver again to find a back-up for Lotz. Therefore, Everett called up Nik Amundrud for the remainder of the season. The 16-year-old Amundrud, a third-round pick in the 2012 bantam draft, was called up to serve as an emergency back-up earlier this season because of an injury to Lotz, though he didn’t appear in any games. Amundrud spent most of the season with the North East Wolfpack midget AA team in Saskatchewan, where he was 9-2-1 with a 2.81 goals against average.
“We have limited options to fill the spot, but (Amundrud) was one of them,” Davidson said. “His team felt it was in his best interest to get this opportunity, and it certainly gives us an opportunity to have a good, hard look at him. It also gives him to get some quality experience, which he can build upon going into next season.”
Tonight’s home game against Seattle is being televised live on Root Sports, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The Tips are on Root two consecutive Fridays, as next Friday’s home game against Tri-City is also being televised. … Tips wingers Zane Jones (upper body) and Tyler Sandhu (upper body) remain out injured. However, both skated in gear following practice Thursday. … Everett defenseman Mirco Mueller’s younger sister, Alina, scored what ended up being the game-winning empty-net goal as Switzerland defeated Sweden 4-3 Thursday in the Olympic women’s hockey bronze-medal game in Sochi, Russia.
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.