Leaving Kamloops was a bittersweet affair for Max Palaga.
The bitter is rather obvious. The recently acquired Everett Silvertips goaltender was the odd man out in the Blazers’ goaltender numbers crunch, with overage goaltender Dylan Ferguson, a Vegas Golden Knights prospect, shouldering most of the load for the Blazers, and 16-year-old Dylan Garand, an up-and-coming netminder, surpassing Palaga as the backup. Palaga, a native of Kamloops, fell out of favor with his hometown club and was playing with the Vernon Vipers of the British Columbia Hockey League.
But Everett, which acquired Palaga on Oct. 29, presented an opportunity as a backup to Dustin Wolf. That’s the sweet part.
As his Silvertips career progresses, Palaga said he hopes the sweet overrides the bitter.
“I was pretty excited,” Palaga said of the trade. “When Kamloops released me to Vernon, I made a goal to make it back to the WHL. I’m excited to be back into the league.”
When Palaga was reassigned to Vernon, he held out little hope he would crack the Blazers’ roster again. He knew it was more likely his return to the WHL would be with another club. He made it clear to the Blazers that he would like another opportunity if it came up.
Palaga was with his team heading to play Alberni Valley on Vancouver Island when he heard he’d been traded. He stayed for the game, which the Vipers won 4-0, rode the bus home to Vernon, packed up and departed for Everett the next day.
The 18-year-old goaltender posted a 3.71 goals against average (GAA) and an .875 save percentage in 17 games with Kamloops last season. He played in five games with the Vipers, compiling a 1.77 GAA and a .943 save percentage.
He enters a situation where Wolf is solidly the No. 1 goaltender and excelling in that role. The 17-year-old netminder is third in the WHL in GAA (1.84) and fifth in save percentage (.924).
Everett general manager Garry Davidson said he brought in Palaga to challenge for minutes.
“I’m here just to push him, battle for minutes and make Dustin work that much harder,” Palaga said.
Palaga is also in Everett to give Wolf a spell when needed. Wolf has started every game for the Silvertips this season. With a three-games-in-three-day road trip looming — with a Saturday tilt at Seattle bookended by contests at Kamloops — Palaga’s Silvertips’ debut could come against his former team Sunday.
“It’s hard for us to pull the trigger on a decision like that at this point,” Silvertips assistant coach Louis Mass said. “We have intentions but all those things change at times. A lot of it depends on how the weekend goes.”
Whether or not Palaga starts between the pipes in the upcoming two games against Kamloops, being back in the Sandman Centre will be a reflective experience.
“I remember when I was younger I was the sixth man out out on the ice and I got in my first game (with the Blazers) when I was 16,” Palaga said. “That will be awesome. I’m just excited to be back in Kamloops.”