Peyton Krebs, Bowen Byram, Matthew Robertson, Taylor Gauthier, Braden
Schneider and Dylan Cozens were all first-round picks in the 2016 WHL
Gage Goncalves wasn’t picked at all.
Byram, Cozens, Krebs, Alex Newhook, Thomas Harley, Philip Tomasino, Jakob
Pelletier and Ryan Suzuki were taken in the first round of the 2019 NHL
Goncalves didn’t hear his name called there, either.
But even though he has taken a path untravelled by his peers, the Mission,
B.C., native will be sharing screen time with the names listed above – the
best and brightest in junior hockey – this week at Canada’s National Junior
Team Sport Chek Summer Development Camp.
“It's my first time with Hockey Canada, and I've been dreaming about
working with them and especially with the World Juniors my whole life,”
Goncalves says. “So it's going to be a pretty cool experience to see what
happens over Zoom in the online camp.”
His story is one of perseverance, of not taking ‘no’ for an answer and of
using perceived slights to his advantage.
“I play with that chip on my shoulder, just trying to prove everybody wrong
every time I step on the ice,” Goncalves says. “I think it shows my
resiliency and how much of a late-bloomer I was, but once I got my shot, I
made it stick and I started to turn some heads.”
The 18-year-old was a revelation for the Everett Silvertips this season,
finishing third in team scoring with 71 points (33 goals, 38 assists) in 60
games. That’s a heck of a leap from his rookie year, when he scored just
once in 67 appearances.
His offensive production also earned Goncalves the chance to show his stuff
in the shootout, and his first-ever attempt didn’t disappoint.
“I think my mentality changed a lot, and I got bigger,” Goncalves says of
his transformation. “I played in a grinder role and a shutdown energy line
kind of thing [last season]. I just wanted to help the team win. We had a
lot of goal scorers two years ago, so I think me playing that role really
helped our team.
“[This season] I came back with a mindset that I wanted to be the guy in
every sense. I wanted to be power play, penalty kill, face-off with two
minutes left. We need this. We need that. I really took pride in trying to
be the best player on the team in all aspects, mentally and physically.”
That approach helped the Silvertips post the second-best record in the
Western Hockey League and earned Goncalves a little bit of NHL attention,
one year after being passed over – he was 80th among North American skaters
in the final NHL Central Scouting rankings, up from 92nd at midseason.
The COVID-19 pandemic scuttled any hopes of a long playoff run for the
Silvertips and of another move up draft lists for Goncalves, although he’s
happy with his body of work.
“I think we could have really made a strong push,” he says. “We had a
really deep team. I think that we would have went far and that would have
helped the rankings a little bit, but I can't control that. I feel like
I've done everything I could to show all those NHL teams what I'm capable
of and I'm confident.”
A product of the Mission MHA, Goncalves knows how to win; his Mission team
reached the B.C. U15 Tier 1 provincials in 2014, he won the Canadian Sport
School Hockey League championship (Bantam Prep) with Yale Hockey Academy in
2016 and added a B.C. Major Midget League title with the Fraser Valley
Thunderbirds in 2018, the same year he finished second in BCMML scoring.
That was also the season he officially joined the Silvertips; he attended a
pair of training camps after going undrafted, was added to their protected
list early in the 2017-18 season and signed shortly after Christmas, making
his WHL debut on Jan. 7, 2018.
Goncalves isn’t the first player to make an impact after not being drafted
in the WHL – Shane Doan, Darcy Tucker, Dan Hamhuis and 2020 Hockey Hall of
Fame inductee Jarome Iginla immediately spring to mind – and he won’t be
So the next time a player faces the same hurdles Goncalves has cleared,
what should they be focused on?
“Just keep trusting the process,” he says. “If you just keep working at
your craft and you keep getting better every single year, your time's going
to come. You're only going to get one or two opportunities and those two
are going to be really big. So focus on getting better. Be a real student
of the game and make your moment count.”