When 62-year-old Mike Palmateer made a sprawling, diving penalty shot save on 43-year-old Tomas Holmstrom to kickoff the 2017 Centennial Classic Alumni Game, none of his teammate’s were surprised.
“Oh my god, in Detroit when he kept waving “get me out of here, get me out of here,” we kept saying “no, no, you’re playing so well”,” Leafs legend Lanny McDonald said after Toronto’s 4-3 loss to Detroit, remembering the 2014 Winter Classic.
Palmateer, wearing the exact same equipment he wore in his final NHL game in 1984, right down to the jock strap, the mask, and the skates, committed so aggressively to the shot that he hurt his back and needed help off of the ice.
“This time, we knew we had to get him out of there,” McDonald added. “It was quite the save but obviously we knew he was hurt.”
For fellow goalie Felix Potvin, who came into the game after Palmateer made his lone save, the save was even more impressive.
“He (Palmateer) had the same start in Ann Arbour,” Potvin said. “It’s a tough act to follow actually!”
Palmateer, who hadn’t played since the 2014 Winter Classic and recently had his left knee replaced, was nonetheless thrilled to have played, despite being in noticeable pain during a post-game interview.
“I wrenched my back pretty good,” Palmateer said after the alumni game. “I couldn’t straighten it up.”
Still, at 62, the save came naturally.
“It’s certainly a save I’ve made a few times in my life. You’re just trying to read him. I stayed with him which is pretty good because he made a move on me pretty quick,” he said. “If he goes upstairs on me it’s in but it’s all about the second effort. It was kind of nice to go out like that. It’s funny how things feel natural — you think the game well but you don’t move like you think you can.”
If he’d been stung in the mask (a throwback to his iconic early-80s mask), he knew it would hurt, but he had it moulded to his face ahead of the game regardless — “I had to do it. Everyone remembers that mask.”
Despite the pain, the save certainly helped his ego.
“It was good, I got a shutout!” Palmaeteer said. “The save percentage is pretty good. I still haven’t let in a goal in 35 years now! All the boys loved it, what can I say.”
Before the 2014 Winter Classic, he hadn’t played in 17 years.
“My legs are too bad, so I can’t afford to play,” he said. “I can’t afford to hurt myself. But for the opportunity to come out with the guys, you just have to do it.”
It’s a save he won’t forget, and probably his last in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.
“Maybe I could have played it better but I’ve always been good at second effort and that’s really how the save was made,” he said.
He never intended to stay in the game long, leaving it to the young Potvin and Curtis Joseph.
“I was only going to play for a couple of minutes,” he said, laughing. “We don’t want to take it too far. But it worked out, the timing was great. But I couldn’t stand up straight.”
The pain will last. He knows that.
“I won’t move tomorrow,” Palmateer finished. “When you move like that, you can’t stretch (ahead of the game) for it. Good way to go out.”
But the folklore will too.