Max Lagace’s profession is goaltending, which means his work life is governed by one rigid rule: Don’t let the puck cross the goal line.
It doesn’t matter how graceful he looks, how impeccable his technique or how expensive his gear. If the puck stays out of the net, he’s a success. If not, the goal light flashes to let the world know he failed.
Nothing is open to interpretation. There’s no grading on a curve. No style points awarded as a consolation.
Perhaps this cold, binary existence explains the 25-year-old Quebec native’s new passion away from the ice: Fashion.
Not long after serving as the Vegas Golden Knights’ backup goaltender for every game of the Stanley Cup Final last summer, Lagace met with a group of friends in Quebec City who inspired him to find something in addition to hockey that lights him up inside.
Turns out clothes make the man happy.
“Everywhere around, there are rules,” Lagace said. “There are things you can’t really say or you can’t really show, but this is an art. You put yourself out there and what you want to show. Some days you’re all colorful and all happy. Other days you’ll be in a background kind of mood. It’s just so much fun, so much liberty. No rules.”
For some, fashion means runway models and ridiculous pricetags and pledging allegiance to specific brands. Not for Lagace. While he doesn’t mind spending good money for something he likes, he’s more about how a piece of clothing or a shoe makes him feel. He researches designers online and watches their YouTube videos when they release new lines – he likes to know their personalities and inspirations and whether they’re “nice dudes” — but he also shops at thrift stores where he never knows what he might find.
“My favorite T-shirts are probably the ones I bought in packs for 12 bucks from music bands,” Lagace said. “It’s so cool. When I see something really nice, I’m like, ‘Oh, I really want to be in it and rep it.’ I like diversity. It doesn’t have to be expensive at all. At all.
“I was more on the shy side before. Now I’ve opened up a little and I’m more outgoing. To me, it’s a way of expressing myself. It doesn’t always have to be fancy clothes. It’s just the way you wear it, the way you put it on. To me, there’s no day for a boring outfit. I just love to put pieces together.”
The Groundhog’s Day-like nature of the hockey season – waking up early each day to head to the rink for practice or a morning skate – does not encourage players to focus on fashion. In general, they shower, grab a bite to eat and slap on whatever clothes are convenient.
Not Lagace. Each day, he considers himself an artist who uses his body as a canvas to communicate his mood.
“It takes me 20 minutes to dress,” Lagace said. “It’s crazy. But it’s my thing. I like it. I like to be proud of myself.”
And his teammates enjoy when Lagace arrives. As you can imagine in a dressing room filled with alpha males who enjoy busting each other’s chops, Lagace’s sartorial selections are of great interest. He admits when he’s taking those 20 minutes to pick that day’s outfit, he’s predicting what the boys might say.
“Absolutely,” Lagace said with a smile. “I know I’m going to get it sometimes with some outfits when I push it, but it’s all fun. I know they just have a laugh and that’s it. That’s why I love it even more with a bunch of guys. You can laugh about it and then you can talk about it with the ones that like it – it’s so much fun.”
Second-year forward Keegan Kolesar and rookie defenseman Nic Hague are among the Wolves who keep an eye on the fashion world – and on Lagace’s choices.
“First thing, he does a lap around the rink, just to let everybody know what he’s wearing before he changes,” Kolesar said with a laugh.
“Whenever he comes to the rink, I notice the outfit,” Hague said. “He always looks nice. Even if he’s just wearing sweatpants, he still looks good. I’ve asked him a few times about the clothes he buys because everyone wants to look nice. I’m definitely impressed with the way he dresses.”
“Oh, he pushes the envelope,” Kolesar said. “But I guess maybe guys are jealous they can’t have clothes that nice. I’m jealous of some of the stuff he has.”
“That’s good style – being different and not just wearing what everybody else wears,” Hague said. “When you come in and guys notice because it’s a little bit out there, I think that’s kind of the point sometimes.”
REACHING THE NHL
Lagace’s love affair with fashion began midway through one of the most fruitful stretches of his life – both professionally and personally.
In July 2017, Lagace signed a free-agent contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. Considering he owned a 3.19 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage in American Hockey League play when he signed the deal, Lagace had no illusions about his status with Vegas.
“In my mind, I was going to fight for a spot HERE,” said Lagace, referring to Chicago and the Wolves.
Then crazy things started happening to Vegas less than a month into the season. Top goalie Marc-Andre Fleury suffered an injury. So did backup Malcolm Subban. That meant Lagace and Wolves teammate Oscar Dansk became Vegas’ goaltenders even though neither had any NHL experience.
Then Dansk suffered his own injury on Oct. 30, which meant Lagace – who was never drafted by an NHL team – became the Golden Knights’ main man for more than a month.
“Obviously, I never came through the front door as a first-round draft pick,” Lagace said. “I think every guy will tell you they’ve had thoughts of, ‘Oh, my God, what am I doing here? Am I going to make it ever?’ But you just stick with it. If you show up at the rink and put in the hours, good things are going to happen eventually.
“It can be luck like I had last year. As much as it was great, there was a little luck in there.”
The good fortune wasn’t just the fact he got to start 13 games from Halloween through Dec. 9. His first NHL win happened to come on Nov. 4 at Ottawa, which was close enough for his parents (Manon and Gill), brother, aunt, uncle, grandmother, godfather and his billet family to be in attendance to witness the milestone. As the final seconds ticked away during Vegas’ one-goal win, the television cameras kept panning to his happy family.
“That was great,” Lagace said. “That meant a lot for me.”
The end of Lagace’s season might have been even greater. After shattering the Chicago Wolves record for saves in a game when he posted 72 stops in the team’s triple-overtime Calder Cup playoff loss to the Rockford IceHogs, Lagace was called to Vegas to be a black ace for the team’s Stanley Cup playoff run.
It didn’t appear to be much more than an extended practice stint, but then Subban suffered an injury after Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
That meant Lagace dressed and served as Fleury’s backup for each of Vegas’ final eight games – the last three games of the Western Conference Finals and all five Stanley Cup Final contests against the Washington Capitals.
He celebrated on the ice with his teammates when the Golden Knights clinched the Stanley Cup berth – and he suffered in the dressing room with them when the Capitals captured the Cup.
“Sometimes I was so nervous because I saw those guys work and it was just amazing to see how they wanted it and how they bonded together to make it happen,” Lagace said. “They were such a great group and you want to see them win so bad. It was heartbreaking to see that.”
Though Lagace didn’t play in the postseason, he gained invaluable knowledge working together with Fleury and Vegas goalie coach Dave Prior.
“ ‘Flower’ is a great mentor, a great person,” Lagace said. “He’s easy to talk to. I never felt out of place. That’s huge when you’re a new guy. He’s probably the best to learn from – he’s got a couple rings.
“I remember when we got to Washington and you hear the whole crowd just on you and on the team, you’re like, ‘OK, it’s going down.’ It’s pretty impressive. But it was so much fun. So much fun. After it was over, I was like, ‘I was part of this. That was unbelievable.”
AND THEN CAME SUMMER
And just when he thought there was nothing better than being part of a Stanley Cup Final, along came summer. And fashion. And Sarah.
While hanging out at home with friends – some old, some new – he became bothered when they asked what inspired him other than hockey and he couldn’t give them an answer. Eventually, he realized fashion served as that outlet for him.
Now, might that discovery have been influenced by the presence of Sarah Buteau – a new acquaintance who wound up becoming his girlfriend? Maybe. Sarah is the founder and designer of Aonewear – a Quebec-based clothing line geared toward women who like high-quality sportswear.
“She’s doing really well and I’m so proud of her,” Lagace said. “She’s great. She’s obviously supportive. She makes me feel like I can express myself – the freedom of it. She helps me and I try to help her, too.”
By Lindsey Willhite / Photos by Ross Dettman