EVERETT — To call Gage Goncalves’ 2019-2020 campaign with the Everett Silvertips a “breakout season” may be an understatement.
After scoring only a single goal as a 17-year-old rookie in 2018-2019, Goncalves potted his 30th and 31st goals of the season in Sunday’s 6-2 win over Portland. The 31 goals are the most he’s scored in any level of hockey dating back to his bantam season in 2015-2016.
“It’s been really fun this year,” Goncalves said. “The puck has been bouncing my way a lot and it’s been nice. Hopefully we can keep this going and keep it going into the playoffs.”
But Goncalves’ season hasn’t completely come out of nowhere.
Despite being a marginal contributor in his 17-year-old year, the Silvertips staff was always bullish on his potential to be an impact player in the WHL.
But becoming over a point-per-game player (Goncalves has 64 points in 54 games) in just a season? That’s a welcome expedited development.
Goncalves started his WHL career mostly as a winger, but he was moved from the wing to center at the start of the season and has since formed a lethal top line with Cole Fonstad and Bryce Kindopp.
Goncalves has not only demonstrated the offensive production required of a top-line center, but has managed the defensive responsibilities required to play the pivot spot, regarded as the most demanding position in hockey.
“I think what it is, is that Gage is a smart, smart player,” Silvertips head coach Dennis Williams said. “His hockey IQ is very, very high. … And Gage is a really competitive player. He’s probably 165 pounds out there, but he’ll compete with everyone.”
The Mission, British Columbia, native, along with speed and skills training in the offseason, tacked on 10 pounds to help with the physical battles required to play the 200-foot game at center. After having little experience in the faceoff circle, Goncalves worked frequently with Silvertips assistant coach Mike Lysyj on winning draws and studied hours of video with former Silvertips center Max Patterson and compiled a list of tendencies on other WHL centermen.
Goncalves has won 51.9% of his faceoffs this season and is an all-situations player for Everett, playing consistently on special teams and in six-on-five scenarios with a goaltender pulled.
“From the end of the year to the next year, everyone gets a clean slate,” Williams said. “He obviously took full advantage of that and wanted to be a big-time player and he showed that.”
Goncalves wasn’t drafted in the 2016 WHL bantam draft and the prospect of playing major junior hockey wasn’t even remotely a possibilty.
“It didn’t even cross my mind,” Goncalves said. “I thought I was going to play Junior B or Junior A somewhere.”
The Silvertips listed him, signed him and now he’s on the NHL draft radar after being ranked as the 92nd-best North American skater by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau in his second year of draft eligibility.
The kid from Mission is on a mission.
“Last year I didn’t get a ton of playing time right at the start, so I just wanted to show everyone what they missed out on in the WHL draft (this season),” Goncalves said.
This past Saturday, David Ayres, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver, was a sensation in the hockey world after he came in for the Carolina Hurricanes as an emergency goalie and stopped 8-of-10 shots to earn the win in a 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Fifteen years ago, David Ayres, the Zamboni driver who recently played in an NHL game, needed a kidney transplant and received the kidney from his mother.
We surprised him with a call from his mom this morning! pic.twitter.com/wU9CFkzbdC
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) February 24, 2020
So, let’s set the hypothetical scene: Dustin Wolf is trucked by a division rival and needs to leave the game in the first period. Backup Braden Holt is injured on a slapshot 10 game minutes later.
Who takes the crease for Everett in that doomsday scenario?
The WHL rules are different than the NHL, which has an emergency backup goalie, or EBUG, in every rink that could enter the game for either team. In the WHL, a rostered goalie in attendance could suit up on an emergency basis, otherwise a skater must suit up as goalie.
Williams said Everett doesn’t have anyone currently designated as an emergency backup goalie, but his first choice is Gianni Fairbrother due to his propensity for blocking pucks.
Since Fairbrother is currently out with likely season-ending surgery to repair an upper-body injury, Williams’ second choice is Dawson Butt, mostly for his fearlessness and the fact he “lives in the paint area anyways.”
“I wonder if there would be a volunteer or someone that would be willing to go into the net?” Williams said. “I might have to do some homework and see if anyone played youth hockey in net a little bit. Probably your best shot-blocker, because you have to be a different player to face those shots. I don’t care how much equipment you’d give me, I wouldn’t want to go into the net.”
Wolf picks up weekly accolades
After allowing three goals and stopping 60-of-63 shots in a trio of wins, Everett netminder Dustin Wolf was named the WHL’s goaltender of the week and to the CHL’s team of the week.
Wolf now leads the Canadian Hockey League in goals-against-average (1.84) and save percentage (.938).
“It’s been no different since I’ve seen him day one,” Williams said. “He comes in and comes to battle. Obviously he’s an elite goaltender and gives us a chance to win every night. His compete is phenomenal. His puck management and rebound control is great. He’s just dialed in. I think our whole group was really strong this weekend.”