Players to Watch, 2016-17: Maxime LagaceJul 14, 2016
Nothing has ever come easy for Maxime Lagace in his hockey career.
As a Quebec native who idolized Patrick Roy as a kid, Lagace bounced around between four teams over four seasons in junior hockey. He went undrafted. He attended a development camp with one NHL team and never heard from them again.
Then, he picked up the phone one day, and the Dallas Stars were on the other end. The final result was an entry-level contract and an opportunity to begin his professional career, but the carousel was still just beginning for the young goaltender.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Lagace spent the 2014-15 season with two teams in the ECHL and as a practice goaltender for the AHL’s Texas Stars. Lagace entered training camp in 2015-16 slated to end up back in the ECHL, but Jack Campbell suffered an injury and the door was opened for the Longueuil, Quebec native to earn a spot on the AHL roster.
He wasted no time making an impact in Texas.
Lagace gave up five total goals in his first three appearances of the year, including a 32-save goaltending duel against the Stockton Heat on October 27th which Texas lost 1-0. Despite the losing result for the Stars, Lagace began to show that he could compete at the AHL level.
“It all started from his training camp,” said head coach Derek Laxdal after the 1-0 loss to Stockton. “He had a great training camp with Dallas, and he elevated his play. And, he’s kind of picked up right from training camp as he’s gotten a chance to play, and he’s played very well, so he’s going to force some tough decisions moving forward.”
When Campbell returned from injury, Lagace found himself back in the ECHL, but returned to claim the number-one goaltending role by the start of the January.
|Maxime Lagace: By the Numbers
“The thing about him is there’s a little bit of an ‘it factor’ within his game,” said Dallas’ Director of Goaltending Development Mike Valley in November. “He’s very calm the whole time. He doesn’t get rattled. And that’s part of the breathing that he does and the exercises that he does and the mental part of the game.”
He recorded 11 straight wins at one point last year, and also appeared in 17 of 18 games over a stretch through February and March. He forced his name into the AHL All-Rookie Team conversation as the year progressed, and finished with a 19-10-3 record in net, a 2.90 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. After moving through seven different teams over the previous six seasons of his junior and pro hockey career, Lagace had earned himself a home in Cedar Park.
“I worked hard last summer, and I think it showed up when I came to camp. I was ready,” said Lagace after the postseason ended for Texas. “Of course, I’m really happy that now I can be on the radar, but still, I’m going to have to prove people wrong. But, it’s always going to be like that. I enjoy the role.”
The competition is just beginning for Lagace to try and cement his place within the organization. Dallas draft pick Phil Desrosiers is also looking for AHL playing time in 2016-17, and rookie Landon Bow was signed to an AHL contract after finishing up his junior career. The three youngsters are expected to compete against each other in training camp for two available goaltending slots at the AHL level -- a familiar scenario for Lagace after his first two seasons in pro hockey.
“I’m a calm goalie in net. That’s what I want to show to the team,” said Lagace in February. “To give them confidence and I think the more I play, the more I got in my zone, and I feel great in net and it’s good for the team to give them a chance to win every night.”
Nothing has ever come easy for Maxime Lagace, and that is what makes him a player to watch in 2016-17.