Backup goalie shines in Silvertips’ win over Ice

EVERETT —If there’s just one word to describe Max Palaga’s season, it’s redemption.

The 18-year-old goaltender, who stopped 36 shots in the Everett Silvertips’ 3-0 win over the Kootenay Ice on Saturday, started the season with the Kamloops Blazers, his hometown team, but didn’t make the roster after training camp and was sent down to the British Columbia Hockey League’s Vernon Vipers. Everett eventually traded for him in late October to serve as the backup behind Dustin Wolf.

Palaga recorded his first win in Kamloop’s Sandman Centre in his first start with Everett on Nov. 11.

Redemption.

Palaga’s next start provided another hiccup against Spokane on Nov. 18. He was pulled eight minutes, 43 seconds into the game after relinquishing a pair of power-play goals. He skated off the ice in frustration, put on his baseball cap and witnessed his team suffer a 3-2 overtime loss from the bench.

But more redemption came Saturday.

Palaga recorded his first Western Hockey League shutout of his career in an ultimate bounceback performance.

“It felt amazing,” Palaga said. “It’s obviously important to hit the reset button after a game like that (against Spokane). I know I’m a better goalie than that, and I wanted to show that tonight. I felt like I did.”

Part of the recipe for Palaga’s success Saturday was that he didn’t lose confidence in himself, but the other part is that his coaching staff and teammates didn’t lose confidence in him, either. Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said he was eager to find another game for Palaga to start, and seeing the Palaga come through only validated his team’s trust in the goaltender.

“He was the best player out there,” Williams said. “I thought he played really well. What a response. (I’m) really happy for him. He made some big saves and he bailed us out. If it wasn’t for him this evening, we could have even been behind quite quickly. I’m really happy and proud of his effort, and it’s really encouraging. I know the guys were excited for him.”

Coaches don’t always pull goaltenders for performance; sometimes it’s about providing your team a spark. As for that Nov. 18 game, Williams determined nothing would give his team a spark like seeing its starting goaltender skate back to the bench.

But Palaga still had cobwebs to shake off, and he did so the day after while working with Everett goaltending coach James Jensen on the ice. An iPad was set up on a tripod on the ice so Palaga could watch himself and his positioning and technique in the crease in real time.

It was just the reset he needed.

“(Jensen) is awesome. He’s probably one of the better goalie coaches I’ve ever had,” Palaga said. “He’s big with the sciences behind goaltending and getting to the point where you’re not trying to get the save. He’s awesome.”

Palaga rectified some mistakes and bad habits, but backup goaltenders don’t have the luxury of coming out the next game and seeing if they’ve indeed rectified their mistakes. They wait patiently for their next chance.

It’s a challenge, but it’s one Palaga is prepared for.

“The most important part is probably just habits,” Palaga said. “If your habits don’t change, then it won’t change anything when you go into net.”

The Ice had plenty of chances to make a dent in Everett’s lead with breakaway chances, including one from Brad Ginnell in the second period and one from Michael Milne in the third, but the goaltender squelched both opportunities.

“I was just trying to read them,” Palaga said. “The first one I saw that he was going glove, so I shifted my whole weight there, and the last one a desperation, lucky toe save.”

Luke Ormsby put the Silvertips up 1-0 at the 11:27 mark of the first period, potting a rebound goal past Ice goaltender Jesse Makaj. The 19-year-old forward extended his point streak with his third goal of the season.

Bryce Kindopp just beat the horn at the end of the second period, scoring a power-play goal with 0.6 seconds left. A shot from Connor Dewar in the high slot was blocked, but the puck trickled down to Kindopp’s stick, and he buried it for his 10th goal of the year.

Everett’s penalty kill unit, after giving up three goals in six chances to Spokane on Friday, was 4-for-4.

Artyom Minulin, Connor Dewar, Riley Sutter and Jake Christiansen recorded assists for the Silvertips.

Gianni Fairbrother tacked on an insurance goal with an empty-netter with 12 seconds remaining in the third period.

Makaj (1-7-1-0) recorded 43 saves.

Palaga was unsurprisingly named the first star after the game, and the crowd of roared when his name was called.

“It almost gives you shivers down your spine,” Palaga said. “It was one of the coolest moments I’ve ever had.

“I’m loving my time here. The shutout made it even sweeter with how the season’s going so far.”

Next up

Everett hosts Spokane, the two teams’ second meeting in three games, at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday.

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