📝 by Patrick Williams
The Henderson Silver Knights knew quite well the challenge that the Colorado Eagles present, and Game 1 of the teams’ best-of-three first-round series fully met that expectation Wednesday.
But one area in which the Henderson coaching staff has no worries is goaltending. Jiri Patera continues to show growth in net following Logan Thompson’s promotion to the Vegas Golden Knights earlier this season. The 23-year-old Patera held Henderson close against an offensively potent opponent, stopping 33 of 36 shots before Colorado tacked on two empty-net goals for a 5-2 victory.
Game 2 is set for tonight at Budweiser Events Center (9:05 ET, AHLTV).
With Thompson off to the NHL, Patera had geared up for the Calder Cup Playoffs with seven starts in April for Henderson, including a 44-save shutout against the Ontario Reign in the regular-season finale last Saturday night.
“I’m happy and grateful for [the opportunity],” said Patera, who was 10-11-1 with a 2.76 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in 22 regular-season appearances.
With Thompson a dominant presence in Henderson for much of the season, the Golden Knights elected to send Patera to their ECHL affiliate in Fort Wayne for regular playing time. He returned to the Silver Knights ready for a more substantial role.
“It’s been awesome,” assistant coach Joel Ward said of Patera’s emergence. “Our goaltending has been the least of our worries. Ever since Logan left here, [Patera] has kind of taken over, and he’s done a heck of a job.
“I thought [Patera’s] growth from last year, to see some of the stuff that he’s been doing, I mean, hats off to [Silver Knights goaltending coach] Freddy [Brathwaite] for working with him. He’s done an exceptional job. He keeps delivering every night.
“We know he’s going to bring his ‘A’ game, and he battles… Very happy to see him have success and the improvement he’s made just from last year alone.”
Now the Henderson net belongs to Patera, a sixth-round pick in the Golden Knights’ 2017 inaugural draft class, just in time for the big stage that is the Calder Cup Playoffs.
“I’m just trying to do my job and try to get the boys a chance to win,” Patera said. “It didn’t happen [in Game 1], but we’ll try to bring it into the next game. It’s going to be hard, but I’m sure and confident in our group to make a push next game.”
Patrick Williams has been on the American Hockey League beat for nearly two decades for outlets including NHL.com, Sportsnet, TSN, The Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM! Sports, and is currently the co-host of The Hockey News On The ‘A’ podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL’s James H. Ellery Memorial Award for his outstanding coverage of the league in 2016.