It seems appropriate that if one of Johnny Bower’s many entries in the AHL record book must be erased, Barry Brust would be the goalie to do it.
The Abbotsford Heat netminder is, in some ways, a stylistic heir to Bower, the Hockey Hall of Famer who spent 11 seasons in the AHL (mainly with the Cleveland Barons) before making it big in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bower was revered for pioneering the poke check as a goaltending tactic, and that type of old-school aggression is what defines Brust’s game.
In the Heat’s 3-2 shootout win over the San Antonio Rampage on Saturday evening, during which Brust surpassed Bower’s AHL record for longest shutout streak, he even busted out the poke check on a couple occasions.
“Growing up, my dad used to tell me about Johnny Bower,” marvelled Brust, who also familiarized himself with the Leafs icon via the Legends of Hockey TV series.
“It’s pretty special (to break the record).”
Bower established the AHL shutout mark with the Barons in 1957 (Nov. 27 to Dec. 7), keeping the puck out of the net for a remarkable stretch of 249 minutes, 51 seconds.
That’s almost 55 years ago to the day, and to put the enduring nature of the record into perspective, it’s worth noting that goalies didn’t wear masks during that era. Bower retired in 1970, a full 13 years before Brust was born.
Brust, riding a streak of three straight shutouts and having allowed just one goal in four starts this season, came into Saturday’s game needing just 18:10 of flawless ‘tending to pass Bower.
He kept the Rampage off the board until 16:36 of the second period, when Rampage forward James Wright corralled a rebound off the end boards and found the back of the net on the power play.
The goal triggered an avalanche of stuffed animals from the stands – it was Teddy Bear Toss night at San Antonio’s AT&T Center – and closed the book on Brust’s streak at 268:17.
In the aftermath, he offered an analysis that was both humble and pragmatic.
“A strategically placed horseshoe, that’s all it can ever be,” he said with a chuckle, acknowledging the good fortune involved.
“You don’t get shutouts on a bad team,” he added. “It’s a lot of work by a lot of guys – a lot of blocked shots, a lot of pain.”
The record would have rung somewhat hollow for Brust had the Heat not prevailed on Saturday, and they pulled out the W in dramatic fashion.
The Heat led 1-0 on Paul Byron’s first-period goal, but tallies by Wright and Quinton Howden boosted the Rampage to a 2-0 lead through 40 minutes.
The hosts clung to that one-goal margin down the stretch, but with 14 seconds remaining, Brett Olson scored on a goalmouth scramble to knot the score.
Overtime solved nothing, nor did the first 10 rounds of the shootout – Abby’s Sven Baertschi and Roman Horak beat San Antonio goalie Jacob Markstrom in the breakaway contest, while ex-Heat forward Jon Rheault and Wright replied for the Rampage.
In the 11th round, Brust stopped Michael Caruso, and Carter Bancks finished things off by beating Markstrom with a deke to the backhand.
The Heat (12-2-3, 27 points) leapfrogged the Charlotte Checkers for first place overall in the AHL, while the Rampage (4-9-3, 11 points) are dead last.
“We have a little charisma about our team,” Brust said. “There’s a good feeling with it.”
• The Heat wrap up their road trip against the Houston Aeros on Sunday. They return home for a Friday-Saturday set against the Hamilton Bulldogs next week.
Heat forward Roman Horak goes airborne to score on a deke against San Antonio’s Jacob Markstrom in the shootout on Saturday. (San Antonio Rampage photo)