Two NHL starts. Two NHL wins. Goaltender Jiri Patera wanted to make the absolute most of his time with the Vegas Golden Knights – and succeeded. Patera was recalled to the Golden Knights on Thursday, March 9 and made his NHL debut on the road against the St. Louis Blues that weekend on March 12.
“I knew what was going on and that they were on the road trip, and how many games they were going to play. I called my dad and I told him that I might get a game, that he might have to fly down,” Patera said.
“But I didn’t know for sure until the morning in Carolina when Bruce Cassidy and Sean Burke talked to me in the morning and told me I was going to play in St. Louis. I just tried to wrap my head around it.”
When playing a back-to-back with travel, there wasn’t a whole lot of time for him to wrap his head around it. Patera noted that he didn’t even think about his upcoming start until his gameday afternoon nap. But he had no concerns about being prepared to face St. Louis.
“Sean Burke helped a lot, he helped me with some plays that St. Louis likes to do, especially from behind the net. I actually had my first save off of that kind of situation. I got confidence from that,” he said.
In his two starts with the NHL team, he averaged 2.50 goals against and earned a .929 save percentage. But it was the team victory, family, and friends – not individual statistics – that stayed at the forefront of Patera’s mind throughout his callup.
“I just tried to make the most of it, just jump in there and help the team get the two and then the four points,” Patera said.
“All the guys were happy for me, especially [former Silver Knights teammate] Paul Cotter, he was really pumped for me. But the winning part of it, for the team, was more exciting for me than starting the game. It was great.”
And Patera’s teammates were far from the only ones eager to show their support for his callup. On March 19, he would get to make his second NHL start of the season – this time on home ice, in front of not only thousands of ardent Golden Knights fans, but also his family.
“The team told me on Wednesday that I was going to be starting on Sunday at home. I really appreciate my family flying out. It was a quick turnaround for them. To have them in the crowd watching me play – they sacrificed so much for me, throughout my whole career, so I really appreciate that they got to see it,” he said.
“Getting the winning debut puck after the game was good. I gave it to my parents.”
So, what’s next for Patera? A modest celebration of a major accomplishment, and then a prompt return to the hard work of the season.
“When my parents and my friends were here, I took them to a nice restaurant, but that was about it. I think it’s been a step forward for me. Obviously a lot of the credit goes to Fred Brathwaite and Sean Burke,” he added.
“They’re doing a really great job with the goaltending department. Just trying to do what they told me, trying to be a little bit more patient, a little bit more controlled. Just trying to get better every year, every game, and then it’s hard work in the summer again.”
“I talked to both Burke and Cassidy; they just told me to keep up the hard work [with the Silver Knights]. Keep doing what I’ve been doing. Keep it simple and work hard, basically. I was really happy about that.”