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Mission hockey star itching to return to NHL

Gage Goncalves will play in the AHL All-Star Game on Monday after making his NHL debut last month
Mission’s Gage Goncalves earned an NHL call-up and a trip to the AHL All-Star Game after a great start to the season with the Syracuse Crunch. Goncalves is hoping for another in the NHL. /Syracuse Crunch Photo

In his NHL debut, it didn’t take long for Mission hockey standout Gage Goncalves to get in a scuffle.

After a high hit on his Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Erik Cernak from New Jersey’s Nathan Bastian, Goncalves took issue and picked up a roughing penalty.

In the locker room afterwards, the 22-year-old received some compliments from Lightning veterans for stepping up.

“Just to see that respect factor from them with how long I’ve grown up watching guys like Stamkos, Hedman, and Kucherov — to get that recognition back from them, that was a pretty cool experience. It’s kinda like, ‘Woah, I’m here right now’,” Goncalves said.

The Mission product saw nine minutes of action in his debut against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 11 after he was called up from Tampa’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.

He was on the ice for just under 11 minutes in his second game, a 5-1 Tampa victory over the Anaheim Ducks. Goncalves dished out one hit in the contest and also received a tripping penalty early in the third period.

“It was super exciting. The nerves definitely kind of get to you when you’re in the warm-up and everything but once you settle in [and] get the first few shifts under your belt, you treat it like a normal game. But everything leading up to that was really exciting and really nerve-wracking,” he said.

The pace and execution of NHL players stood out to Goncalves during his jump up to the top level. He had to adjust his game slightly to be more responsible because mistakes are more magnified.

“But for the most part, I kind of kept my game the same way. I don’t know, I thought I did a pretty good job of just maintaining, of trying to build some offence and making the right plays at the right time,” Goncalves said.

Before his debut, Goncalves was pulled into the Syracuse coach’s office and handed a piece of paper with his flight on it.

“He told me I was going to the show,” Goncalves said.

Goncalves ran outside to receive congratulations from his teammates before he called his parents and sister.

“Everybody dreams of playing their first NHL game, so it’s kind of a whirlwind of emotions and I was just really proud,” he said. “Growing up in Mission, I don’t know if a lot of guys have made it out of there to this high of a level. So hopefully I can kind of be a role model for those kids growing up.”

Goncalves says he’s had a lot of ups and downs throughout his hockey career so far. It’s had a lasting impact on his mindset and work ethic.

He wasn’t drafted into the WHL and he had a rough first year in the junior league at 17 years old. He was cut from the World Junior team and says there have been teams where he was much lower on the depth chart.

“My parents have always told me, ‘somebody made a mistake cutting you’ and ‘just keep that chip on your shoulder [and] try to prove them wrong’,” he said.

The previous hurdles don’t bother Goncalves as much any more, but he says there are always new things to motivate him.

“If I’m having a rough day or [I’m] a little bit tired or something, I kind of kind of try and reflect on those [things] to keep me going,” he said.

It wasn’t until Goncalves was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning that he thought his dreams of playing in the NHL could come to fruition.

“It was tough because I’ve had so many ups and downs in my career. I tried to keep my confidence and my and my mindset as high as possible,” he said.

The Lightning re-assigned Goncalves to Syracuse on Jan. 14. Returning to the NHL might be out of his control, but he’s proud of the two games he played in the big leagues. However, getting a taste of NHL action has made the Mission forward even more hungry to return.

“It might sound crazy but it just makes you want it more if that’s even possible,” he said. “Everything in my mind kind of goes [to] what I can do to go back up. [It] makes you want to do more off the ice — to think about the game — whether it’s breaking down some video a little bit tighter or working on some stuff that some people up there told me to work on.”

To get the call-up again, Goncalves says skating is the biggest improvement he needs to make with his game.

“If you want to be a top player at that NHL level, you need to be able to skate and you got to be able to get up and down the ice with the best players in the world,” he said.

Goncalves has 176 career AHL games under his belt with the Crunch, tallying 37 goals and 117 points. Additionally, he appeared in 10 career Calder Cup Playoff games with Syracuse, producing three goals and six points. He leads the Crunch in assists (29) and points (36) through 39 games played this season.

He was named an AHL All-Star for the North Division on Jan. 10 and will participate in the festivities on Feb. 4 and 5. Goncalves is excited to have family come to San Jose to watch him play in the All-Star Game.

“My mom and my dad put their life on hold to help me pursue my dreams, so I was pretty lucky,” he said.

The game will be televised on TSN in Canada at 4 p.m. PT.

READ MORE: Mission’s Gage Goncalves makes NHL debut

Dillon White

About the Author: Dillon White

I joined the Mission Record in November of 2022 after moving to B.C. from Nova Scotia earlier in the year.
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