EVERETT — Dustin Wolf recorded his third career shutout Wednesday in a 4-0 blanking of the injury-depleted Tri-City Americans.
It gave the Everett Silvertips rookie goaltender enough minutes to be listed among the league leaders and he’s now second in save percentage (.933) and goals-against average (2.17).
His reward? He’s losing his job.
More accurately, Wolf is returning to his old job as Carter Hart’s backup.
“(I’m going to) be ready behind Carter,” Wolf said. “You never know when you’re going to get the call if he needs a night off or whatnot. Going forward (I’m) just picking little bits and pieces from his game and trying to incorporate that into mine. And just grow as a person and a player behind him.”
Hart was back with the Silvertips Thursday, gold medal in tow as he returned following some time off after leading Canada to the World Junior Championship last week in Buffalo, N.Y.
The Canadians knocked off Sweden 3-1 in the championship game. It was something of a redemptive moment for Hart and his Canadian teammates after they fell to the United States in a shootout for the gold medal a year earlier.
“Definitely a lot better than last year for sure,” Hart said Thursday with a smile. “That was crazy. All the support that you get from the whole country is insane. And you hit the final game in Buffalo and they’re all Canadian fans. It’s a sold-out game and they’re all coming across the border to watch us. So that just shows how much hockey means to our country of Canada and it was a great experience.”
World Junior players are often given time off following the tournament to rest and recharge since they aren’t able to utilize the WHL’s holiday break. Hart spent four days back home in Sherwood Park, Alberta seeing family and friends.
His goals for the remainder of the season are team-oriented.
“If you’re not going for a championship every year you’re selling yourself short,” Hart said. “But personally I haven’t really thought about it yet. I’ve just been relaxing at home for the past week and was kind of focused on the whole World Junior thing. But now it’s time to get ready back here in Everett.”
The two-time reigning WHL Goaltender of the Year is having a year of historic proportions while making Wolf’s impressive numbers seem almost pedestrian by comparison.
Hart, who figures to return to the crease at 7:05 p.m. Saturday against the Spokane Chiefs at Spokane Arena, has a 13-3-0-1 record and league bests in shutouts (five), save percentage (.961) and GAA (1.32).
He was named the WHL Goaltender of the Month in November and December, and returns to backstop a recently revamped Tips lineup following Wednesday’s trade deadline. Everett made its big splash Sunday when it acquired Garrett Pilon and Ondrej Vala from Kamloops. The Tips added complementary pieces Wednesday in defenseman Jameson Murray and forwards Bronson Sharp and Spencer Gerth.
“That’s definitely going to help our group,” Hart said. “We were playing good hockey before and to add these guys to our group is exciting. Those are some good players we added. I think we’re going to be a good hockey team and be tough to beat down the stretch.”
Speaking of the stretch — Wolf has shown himself plenty capable of handling the rigors of the league. Look for him to spell Hart during busy weeks the remainder of the season as the Tips look to defend their U.S. Division banner from last season and advance beyond the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“He’s been fantastic,” Everett head coach Dennis Williams said of Wolf. “I didn’t know … if Dustin at that age and size could play that many (games) because it’s a whole different (game) than playing youth hockey. … When you’re playing three-in threes, and four-in-fives at this level it takes its toll physically, but also on the mental side. He’s responded from losses well. He doesn’t take it too personally.”
The Tips play at Portland Sunday before returning home for a 4:05 p.m. game against Tri-City on Martin Luther King Day.
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