At this point, the last time Barry Brust allowed a goal is fading into distant memory.
For the record, the last such occasion was at 8:19 of the first period on Oct. 20, when Chicago Wolves winger Zack Kassian walked in off the left wall and ripped a blocker-side wrist shot past the Abbotsford Heat netminder.
But Brust has been flawless since then – he bounced back from the Kassian goal to backstop the Heat to a 4-1 win that night, and he’s reeled off three straight shutouts in the aftermath.
The latest whitewashing came on Wednesday evening, as Brust turned aside all 29 pucks the Lake Erie Monsters sent his way in a 2-0 victory at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
His personal shutout streak now stands at 231 minutes, 41 seconds – approaching an AHL record more than a half-century old. The existing mark is 249:51, established by Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower from Nov. 27 to Dec. 7, 1957 when he tended goal with the Cleveland Barons. So just one period separates Brust from the record.
“Barry’s on a bit of a roll right now, and he’s that type of goalie,” Heat head coach Troy Ward said. “When we were together in Houston (with the AHL’s Aeros, 2007-10), he oftentimes finds himself in these positions. I’m not shocked by Barry’s performance.
“He’s unorthodox, obviously – he’s out and plays the puck, so people feel he’s maybe a little vulnerable in some areas. But he’s very athletic, and he’s a very competitive man. I’m happy for him.”
Brust, for his part, said it feels nice to be on such a roll, but he felt he got “pretty lucky” in some respects on Wednesday.
“They hit three posts and missed an empty net,” noted Brust, who lowered his goals against average to 0.25 and boosted his save percentage to .991. “I’ve been fortunate, but I’ll take it, obviously.
“We were outshot there for a while, but I don’t think we gave up too much as far as chances go. It’s a pretty simple game when we’re playing defence the way that we are, and when we’re killing penalties the way we are.”
Wednesday’s win lifted the Heat into sole possession of first place overall in the AHL, with a 9-1-3 record for 21 points.
The Monsters carried the play in the first period, outshooting the Heat 11-5, and while they had some close calls, they were unable to put the puck in.
Early on, Lake Erie defenceman Stefan Elliott came barrelling down the right wing and ripped a wrist shot by Brust, but it clanged off the post.
Later, on a Monsters power play, Luke Walker took a cross-ice pass with Brust marooned at the far side of the cage. But Walker’s shot was directly at the Heat keeper, and it deflected off Brust, hit the crossbar and stayed out.
The visitors outshot the Heat 13-7 in the second period, but Abbotsford generated a couple of golden scoring chances of their own. Max Reinhart, on a goalmouth scramble, squeezed the puck past Monsters goalie Sami Aittokallio at left post. The puck sat tantalizingly in the crease, but no one wearing the white and red of the Heat was within range to poke it in, and Lake Erie cleared it out of harm’s way.
Abbotsford finally broke through at the 5:50 mark of the third period.
Carter Bancks got the play started, absorbing a cross-check at the top of the faceoff circle while still managing to ring the puck around the boards and into the corner. Ben Street tracked it down there, flicking a lovely touch pass on to Brett Olson, who was driving to the net and backhanded a shot over Aittokallio’s right pad.
Olson came into training camp on a tryout basis, but he earned an AHL contract and has quickly become an indispensable cog in the lineup. He’s posted two goals and five assists in 12 games while playing a strong two-way game.
“He’s been faced with those odds most of his life,” said Ward, who has known Olson since his junior hockey days with the Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks. “He plowed through juniors, he did a good job in four years of college, and now he’s doing a good job here. I’m real happy for Brett.”
Stay-at-home blueliner Chris Breen took an unlikely turn as a sniper to give the Heat some insurance. Krys Kolanos, from the corner in the offensive zone, threw the puck to the front of the net, but it went all the way through to Breen at the left point. The towering 6’7″ defenceman walked in and coolly picked the top corner to make it 2-0.
“He must have blacked out,” Brust cracked. “It was a beautiful shot. He did a great job.”
Breen, who was on the ice for both Heat goals, boasts a team-leading +12 rating, and he’s found a home on the left side of a defensive pairing with Steve McCarthy. Ward said he’s “playing like a real man right now,” and deserved to be rewarded with his first goal of the campaign.
“He toe-dragged the puck around somebody like a week ago, and we had to show that in the team meeting – that was a first,” Ward said with a chuckle. “Now he’s added a snipe in there. He’s kind of coming into his own.”
• Five of Olson’s seven points this season have come in four games against the Monsters.
• Heat captain Quintin Laing drew the short straw in the veteran equation on Wednesday, as defenceman Joe Callahan got back into the lineup at his expense. To balance things out position-wise, blueliner Zach McKelvie was also scratched, while centre Max Reinhart was back in.
• The Heat hit the road for their longest trip of the season to date – a five-game swing, beginning Friday at the Rochester Americans.
“We’ve got to take that next step … to become more cohesive,” noted Ward, whose team has played 10 of its first 13 games on home ice.
“I look forward to getting on the road with this group and kind of relaxing and getting in some good practices. I think you find out a lot about your team then.”