Slowly but surely, Gage Goncalves is starting to shake off that underdog tag.
Unselected in the WHL Draft, the product of Mission, B.C., was left to prove himself with the BCMML’s Fraser Valley Thunderbirds before signing a WHL Standard Player Agreement with the Everett Silvertips on January 3, 2018.
Now, he is ranked 80th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting after posting 71 points (33G-38A) in 60 games with the ‘Tips and looking forward to the NHL Draft on Tuesday.
“It’s been really tough to see it get pushed back so far, but now that it’s right around the corner, me and my family are really excited for it,” Goncalves said of the COVID-19 delayed 2020 NHL Draft being moved from June to October. “Obviously, we’re all going to be sitting at home watching it and hopefully I get to hear my name called.
“My parents have sacrificed absolutely everything for me to play hockey. I can’t thank them enough and it will be nice to have my sister home. My grandpa will be coming over and then my uncle and my auntie. It will be just great to have them all near my knowing how much they’ve sacrificed and how much time and effort they’ve put into come watching me. It will be a great moment for the whole family.”
Chances are pretty good the 6-foot-1, 170-pound centre will hear his name. He might have to wait until Wednesday when Rounds 2 through 7 commence, but he should hear it nonetheless.
Goncalves is a player who has steadily been on the rise. After joining the Silvertips, he managed one goal and 15 points in 67 games during the 2018-19 season. He followed that up with an outstanding season in 2019-20, earning himself recognition from NHL Central Scouting as well as an invite to Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp – a key part of the decision-making process for Canada’s World Junior Championship entry.
Though the energetic Goncalves is clearly making inroads in all the right places, he still has a bit of that underdog chip on his shoulder, driving him on the daily to continue improving.
“It really started with my offseason the past year,” Goncalves said. “When we lost to Spokane [in the 2019 WHL Playoffs], I talked to a couple guys and they just said, ‘You have to keep working and plunging away – you have the hockey IQ, everything will start coming around once you build the physical assets.’
“I came in with a little more confidence and a better attitude with my offseason training, put on some weight and some strength. I came in and I wanted to be the guy – I wanted to be power-play one, penalty-kill one, ‘D’ zone with 30 seconds left – I wanted to be taking that faceoff. That mindset really helped me get over that hump into the next level and into the top-six of our lineup.”
And boy, did Goncalves ever make the most of the opportunities. His 71 points were good for third in Silvertips team scoring and he was doing it with a ton of skill. On December 15, he scored a shootout tally that went viral, making the rounds throughout the hockey community and officially introducing his name to NHL Draft experts.
“My go-to- move is low blocker, so I thought if I can come down that right side, fake low blocker and then pull it back, maybe I can open him up or get him leaning,” Goncalves recounted the goal. “I did practice that move a couple times and it was working, so I thought why not try it and he bit on it hard and it slid in.”
Since embarking on the NHL Draft process, the dazzling goal has come up in Goncalves’ conversations with NHL hockey staff – a testament to his courage, they’ve told him.
“They were asking me if it was a read-and-react play, or if I had it set in stone as soon as I touched [the puck],” Goncalves said. “As soon as I touched that puck I had it set in stone. They liked that I showed off the skillset and had the courage to try that.”
Goncalves has skill. That much is apparent when watching him on the ice. But he will also tell you he believes strongly in his hockey IQ, his vision and his overall knowledge on the ice. Plus, he likes to bring a little jam – all things attractive to NHL teams.
“You’re going to see a lot of skill, a lot of playmaking out of me, but you’re also going to get a physical aspect and a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude and play out there,” he said.
“We always talk down in Everett about ‘Nosebreak Alley’ – trying to get to that middle crease. That’s where I scored a lot of my goals this year, was getting to the net – rebounds, little tips, stuff like that. You watch the NHL, guys like Joe Pavelski are always scoring big goals from in the paint and I try to do that.”
Going to the hard areas is the kind of thing you’d expect of a guy who has had to battle, scrap, and fight tooth and nail for everything he has earned. It’s the testament of an underdog clawing his way to the front of the pack, which is exactly what we continue to witness from Gage Goncalves. No matter where he goes in the 2020 NHL Draft, you know he is going to continue to persevere and prove his doubters wrong.