by Andrew J. Ferraro || AHL On The Beat Archive
Minutes after the Houston Aeros beat the Quad City Flames 4-1 in a Dec. 11 game at Toyota Center, goalie Barry Brust and enforcer John Scott should have been talking about their team’s big win.
But Brust’s 33-save performance and how Scott scored the game-winning goal didn’t come up – at first – in their initial comments to the local media.
Instead they were talking about hot wings.
Yeah, that’s right. Bayou City Wings, to be exact.
The Aeros have this promotion with a local restaurant that if the Aeros score a goal within a 60-second span after a pre-designated stoppage in play, all fans can redeem their ticket stubs for Buffalo wings.
Even though the Aeros won 4-1 behind another strong game from Brust, the team was delighted that Scott, who has just two goals this season, sent the home crowd home with five free hot wings.
And Brust, 25, appeared to be more excited about the feat than his teammate. But that is just the kind of player that Brust is: he is always happy for his teammates when they do well, and shows up to the rink to do his best to make them look good.
And lately, he has been doing just that more often than not.
After getting pulled in his first start, Oct. 18 against San Antonio, a game the Aeros eventually won 8-6, Brust has been one of the better goalies in the AHL, maybe the best.
In 16 games as of Christmas, Brust was third in the AHL in goals against average (1.91), had a record of 8-3-3, and had stopped 93.3 percent of the shots he has faced this season.
He has been especially stingy in December, allowing 10 goals in seven starts, good for a 1.38 GAA and a .952 save percentage.
Even though he allowed nine goals in his first six-plus periods back in October, Brust can’t be completely faulted for the slow start. He was just working his way into game shape at that point, and now the Aeros are reaping the benefits of a summer that Brust used to prepare fully for the 2008-09 season.
“It was tough at the beginning of the season because I really didn’t play at the start,” said Brust. “Not just here in Houston, but when I was in Minnesota during camp. I didn’t get into any of their preseason games. It’s tough when everyone else has played in games and you haven’t.
“But things have been coming together really nicely for me here lately.”
Last year, Nolan Schaefer, Brust’s friend and colleague between the pipes, got most of the work when he wasn’t injured on recall to the Minnesota Wild.
The two teamed up to form the AHL’s best goaltending tandem a year ago, but both got off to rough starts this year as the Aeros started slowly out of the gate defensively.
Brust would not say he was the team’s No. 1 goalie now, but his numbers are better and he has gotten the starting nod in eight of the Aeros’ last 11 games.
“I am not the guy to ask in regard to that question, but I can tell you that our relationship has not changed,” said Brust. “We are still the best of friends and we still room together on the road. Not only do we room together on the road, but we do everything together on the road.
“Things are fine and we still root for each other’s success when the other one is in goal. That is the way it should be and I think we have pushed each other a little bit, too, which is good.”
Before returning to the organization that made him a third round NHL draft pick in 2002, Brust played in the Los Angeles Kings’ organization and spent a majority of his time in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs.
In 2006-07, Brust played in 11 games for the Kings, but won just two of his seven decisions while in the show.
Last year, he won a career-high 24 games and could have been better save for what Aeros head coach Kevin Constantine called a lack of focus at times.
All Brust decided to do in the offseason was make himself better. So far, so good.
“I stayed in Minnesota during the summer and I lost a little bit of weight,” said Brust. “I worked with (Minnesota Wild goalie coach) Bob Mason at one of his goalie schools … I just basically worked out all summer and I worked with Kirk Olsen the strength coach (for the Wild), and I also worked out with a guy from back home, Shawn Murray, who is a goaltending coach for the Vancouver Giants.
“I have basically just worked on refining the technical side of my game, and that combined with the training I think has really helped.”
As for his teammates, when they are not taking about sending the home faithful home happy with visions of Buffalo wings in their heads, the Aeros appear to care about each other and about their collective success on the ice.
After winning their first four games of the season, the Aeros were wildly inconsistent and bottomed out with a 4-0 loss in front of a good home crowd and Wild general manager Doug Risebrough on Nov. 23. They were 8-9-0-1 at that point and seemed to lose that part of playing the game that makes it fun.
Since then, however, the team is 7-1-1-4, and Brust continues to be a big part of why the Aeros should contend for a playoff spot in the very competitive West Division.
“As far as that 4-0 loss to Hamilton, I think we just needed to come together as a team,” added Brust. “It made us realize that we all have to play together and it showed how important it is for us to be on the same page.”
“We have been in every game, we’ve had a chance to win every game, and if I wasn’t so bad in the shootout, we probably would have had a few more wins.”
Ah yes, there won’t be too many stories written about Brust this year that don’t include his eye-opening poor play during the shootout.
After giving up 10 goals on 12 shots in his first three shootouts, Brust was pulled by Constantine in favor of an ice-cold Nolan Schaefer in a Dec. 17 game at Milwaukee.
Schaefer played the shootout after Brust was great during regulation and the overtime period at the Bradley Center in the Aeros’ first game outside Texas in more than a month.
After Brust was torched in the shootout at home against Rochester on Dec. 10, Constantine said that he would probably have to switch goalies “just for the sake of Barry.”
Brust said he has always been pretty good in the shootout and said if he knew why he was so bad, he would have already fixed the problem.
In the meantime, he said, he is just going to keep plugging away.
“I just have to stop thinking out there,” said Brust. “We talked to a sports psychologist and he talked about noise in your head, and I think I have a little bit too much noise in my head during the shootout. It’s embarrassing … and I just have to get my emotion level and my passion level a little bit higher for those.”
The way Brust worked during the offseason, and how he has turned that hard work into success thus far, it’s hard to imagine him not working himself though this shootout funk.
Maybe he just needs to eat a Buffalo wing or five.