If that bearded guy in the Dos Equis beer commercials is the most interesting man in the world, Barry Brust must be, at the very least, the most interesting goalie in the world.
The Abbotsford Heat netminder was worth the price of admission on Sunday, blending big-time saves with adventurous poke-checks and even the odd body check, backstopping his team to a 1-0 shootout win over the Lake Erie Monsters.
Brust stopped 38 shots in regulation and overtime, and turned aside four of six Monsters shooters in the breakaway contest.
“Barry is an interesting cat,” Heat head coach Troy Ward noted with a grin afterward, “but he finds a way to get it done.
“You have your faults with Barry now and then, but he’s one of those guys – it’s odd to say – but you could never question his compete level for a goalie. He competes really hard – to either make a save, to get to a puck, to find a different way to get to a puck than he’s ever gone before. He competes, and I’m proud of him for that. I give him high marks.”
Brust got off to a red-hot start to the season, breaking Johnny Bower’s AHL record for longest shutout streak which had stood for 55 years.
But while he was selected for the AHL’s all-star game, his play slipped in the month of January. Danny Taylor surged to the top of the Heat’s goaltending depth chart, and Brust’s starts were few and far between.
Taylor’s signing and ensuing recall by the Calgary Flames this week opened the door for Brust to get back into the swing of things, and after a rocky outing in a 6-2 loss to the Rochester Americans on Wednesday, he picked up a pair of weekend wins over Lake Erie.
At this point, the Monsters probably wouldn’t mind if they didn’t see Brust again this season. The Heat keeper has beaten the Colorado Avalanche affiliate four times at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre in 2012-13, including three times via shutout. Brust posted back-to-back goose eggs vs. Lake Erie Nov. 13–14, part of his record shutout streak.
“I’d rather see them than Rochester, that’s for sure,” joked Brust, whose goals against average (1.87) and save percentage (.935) both rank third among AHL goalies. “It’s just one of those things.
“The more you play, the better you feel,” he added. “That last few games I played it just seemed like a lot of things weren’t bouncing my way and every decision I made was wrong. I was struggling a bit – well, a lot – so I wasn’t going to play. With the quality of goaltenders we had here if you don’t perform you’re not going to play, and that’s the way it should be.
“It was just getting a feel for the game and trusting my instincts.”
Sunday’s performance was classic Brust – in addition to stopping every puck he saw, he also ran over Monsters defenceman Cameron Gaunce as the latter chased a shoot-in deep in the Heat zone in the second period. The Heat goalie flattened Gaunce, but the officials somehow saw fit to assess the Lake Erie player an interference penalty.
Brust’s best saves came in the waning minutes of the third period. First, he stretched out his right pad to rob Harrison Reed on a one-timer from point-blank range. Shortly thereafter, he had Markus Lauridsen holding his head in his hands after being denied on another five-bell chance in the slot.
Late in overtime, Brust got caught way out of his net on an extremely aggressive poke-check, but Paul Byron bailed him out and cleared he puck to safety.
“These guys are developing into NHL players, and whether you’re a goalie or a D or a forward, you don’t want to over-coach players or make sure they’re robotic in everything they do,” Ward said, explaining his philosophy of handling an unorthodox player like Brust. “You give them some freedom to make decisions.
“We’re a stringent team defensively, but not offensively. We give guys freedom to make reads and make plays, and Barry’s no different. With us as a group of coaches back there, it’s a lot of patience – a lot of, every now and then, ‘What did he just do?’ But at the same time, that’s Barry and that’s who he is. That’s how he likes to paint the picture, and we trust him.”
In the shootout, Paul Byron, Tyler Ruegsegger and Carter Bancks scored for the Heat, with Bancks notching the winner in the sixth round in highlight-reel fashion. He absolutely befuddled Monsters goalie Kent Patterson with a deke to the forehand before sliding the puck into the wide-open net.
Bancks is employed mainly in a checking capacity these days, but Ward noted that the third-year pro was looked upon to score for the Heat back in 2010-11, when the team was laden with rookies.
“You have to remember, Carter Bancks was our leading scorer up until mid-December,” recalled Ward, who was an assistant under Jim Playfair at the time. “Out of all the rookies who were here, he was kind of the catalyst of that group.
“Carter has his moments, and shootouts are one of them. He has some magic in there.”
Monsters goalie Patterson was making his AHL debut, and he was flawless in regulation and OT, stopping all 23 shots the Heat sent his way.
“No goals against in his first start is pretty huge,” Heat blueliner Chris Breen noted. “A 1-0 shootout loss is a good way to start for him.”
• The Heat (26-16-7, 59 points) extended their lead in the North Division standings, but Lake Erie (24-17-7, 55 points), the Toronto Marlies (25-16-4, 54 points) and the Rochester Americans (25-16-3, 53 points) are in hot pursuit.
• Ward elected to dress seven defencemen on Sunday, using Zach McKelvie occasionally as the fourth-line left winger.
“(Mike) Matczak and (Drew) MacKenzie are going through the growing pains right now, and we felt that if things got out of hand, we’d like McKelvie’s toughness,” the Abbotsford bench boss explained. “If you get the wrong D in the box . . . we had the luxury of putting McKelvie out there as a penalty killer.”
• Up next for the Heat is a five-game road swing through the Midwest Division, beginning Tuesday at the Milwaukee Admirals.
Heat forward Carter Bancks fooled Lake Erie Monsters goalie Kent Patterson with a deke to the forehand in the shootout on Sunday. (Clint Trahan / Abbotsford Heat)