TORONTO – “He doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page,” a member of the Las Vegas Golden Knights staff admitted, with a chuckle.
“The colours on his gear don’t match the team,” commented a reporter during warm-ups.
“He looks about 10,” noted another keen observer.
He is Dylan Ferguson, the emergency-loaned fifth goaltender on the Vegas depth chart, and he was one gasped breath away from making an odds-bucking NHL debut midway through the expansion club’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night.
When fourth-stringer Maxime Lagace got bumped by a crease-charging Zach Hyman in the second period, the score 3-1 Leafs, you could smell the sweat trickle down Ferguson’s baby face from the 300 level. (A face, mind you, that isn’t available on the Knights website.)
“Fortunately for us, (Lagace) got up,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “He shut the door the rest of the way and gave us a chance to come back — that’s what you want in a goalie.”
“You never want your goalies to get hit,” said Deryk Engelland. “Especially when you’re down to your fourth goalie.”
Engelland’s comment reads like a punchline, but he’s not joking.
Ferguson isn’t 10 exactly, but he didn’t celebrate his 19th birthday until after the Knights camp opened, and he was busy tending goal (with a not-so-NHL-ready .878 save percentage) for the WHL Kamloops Blazers when he suddenly became a No. 2 with a bullet.
First it was face-of-the-franchise Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion), then waiver gem Malcolm Subban (lower body), then third-string AHL call-up Oscar Dansk (lower body) — the top three goalies belonging to a club that has had only a few months to stock its pipeline are all on injured reserve.
“I can’t remember a time when goalies were dropping down like flies like that,” said Vegas forward Brendan Leipsic. “Guys making their first starts, you want to work extra hard and give them their best chance to be successful out there.”
So it’s undrafted 24-year-old Lagace, a scant 36 games removed from the ECHL, defeating the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and stealing a standings point from the Leafs in Toronto.
Barring a twisted ankle de-boarding the Knights charter, the Quebec native should get the nod again Tuesday night in Montreal, marking his fourth game against an Original Six opponent.
“Every night is a pretty good experience. Not pretty good. It’s amazing, I should say,” Lagace corrected. “All the guys know my situation, so they give me advice and help me out.”
Fleury’s best tip to the kid: “Take it day by day. Have fun with it.”
Still not quite old enough to step foot on the floor of a Las Vegas casino but we like him anyway pic.twitter.com/SMxbjmyr6l
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) November 2, 2017
Despite blocking 19 shots Monday, seven more than Toronto, the Knights insist their mission to clog lanes has nothing to do with the inexperience between the pipes.
“You’re going to block it no matter who’s in net,” said Engelland, who stuffed six pucks himself, the same number of saves Lagace had in Period 2. “All the goalies have played phenomenally for us.”
Gallant, a hockey lifer, said the closest thing he’s seen to the Knights’ epidemic of goaltending injuries was in March 2015, when he was coaching the Florida Panthers and both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya suffered injuries in the same game:
“It’s next man up. The guys are playing hard,” Gallant said. “I can say one thing: The goaltenders haven’t lost us a game this year, so they’ve been great.”
Lagace stymied Auston Matthews on a partial breakaway and again in the shootout. He battled through the Leafs pucks-and-bodies-to-the-net onslaught.
Truth be told, aside from a poor first period and getting dangled by Mitch Marner to open his first NHL skills contest, Lagace looked more poised than Toronto’s Frederik Andersen for long stretches this night.
“I’m a pretty calm goalie,” smiled the Francophone. “It’s not the result I wanted, but I stood my ground. I wish I had the first one, though. We’d be still going.”
Reilly Smith conceded that under normal circumstances, yes, hockey players tend to overcompensate in the D-zone when a goaltender they don’t trust is between the pipes. But each understudy — even the understudy of the understudy’s understudy — has played with such confidence, the Knights aren’t skating with worry.
“It’s a crazy scenario that’s going on right now. It seems like every guy has stepped up and been able to perform for us,” Smith said. “That’s exciting. It’s good there’s that opportunity for goalies.”
Yes, good, unexpected opportunities. Amazing, I should say.
But no more, OK?
There is no sixth man on the depth chart. Ferguson is the last goalie standing.