By: Jake Gittler
It’s been quite the few weeks for the Adirondack Flames organization. The Flames are currently riding an impressive eight game winning streak in addition to wins in 10 of their last 11. While the penalty kill has been nothing shy of sensational, and offensive contributions have come from all parts of the lineup, the Flames have also been the beneficiaries of very strong play from both Joni Ortio and Brad Thiessen between the pipes.
It’s no secret that it was a tough opening month for Adirondack, with 32 goals against over the season’s first nine contests. In recent days, though, the defense has tightened up significantly, and both Adirondack goaltenders have shut the door to the opposition. During their current eight game winning streak, the Flames have allowed a mere 13 goals and Ortio recorded the first shutout in franchise history during their 3-0 victory over the Chicago Wolves last Tuesday.
Ortio and Thiessen have split the workload throughout the run; Ortio has won five games, while Thiessen has taken three. In discussing the team’s recent stretch, Head Coach Ryan Huska attributed the strong play of his goaltenders to the growing confidence and success of his team.
“They [the players] know that if they make a mistake, no matter who’s in the net, they’re going to get bailed out,” Huska said. “That’s what we expected of them [Ortio and Thiessen] coming into this year, and now we’re seeing them kind of get themselves to the level of our expectations.”
Having two more-than capable starting goaltenders, however, is not a luxury that all teams are afforded. The Flames are lucky enough to have just that and it’s something that goaltending Coach Scott Gouthro, a native of North Sydney, Nova Scotia, pushes each netminder to be better on a day-in and day-out basis.
“It’s a great duo, and they get along really well. In practice, of course, they want to push each other to make the other better, and you know if one guy gets the start, we know the other one is going to be ready to play as well,” Gouthro said. “It’s a good problem to have for us to have two number one goalies here, and I know the players appreciate having a guy back there that’s going to make the save.”
Goaltending is also of utmost importance when killing penalties, and just as the duo of goalies has stood out for the Flames, the team’s penalty kill has followed suit.
When playing down a man, the Flames have killed off their last 26 minor penalties, and 37 of their last 39. While there is more to killing penalties than just goaltending, both Ortio and Thiessen have been integral to the Flames’ recent success on the penalty kill, especially late in games.
In Adirondack’s last game against the Rochester Americans, a game in which they won by a 2-1 final, the Flames found themselves shorthanded with under five minutes to go in regulation. Thiessen saved the day, though, as he stood tall and helped fend off the Americans in order to preserve the win for the Flames. When addressing the play of his goaltenders with regards to the penalty kill, Huska cited the waning minutes of that same game against Rochester.
“I mean, you saw the end of our last game,” said Huska. “Over this stretch of games, we’ve taken a few penalties late, and we’ve been able to win games, one-goal games, because our goaltending has bailed us out in situations.”
But as good as the men in net have been, when talking to reporters about their high quality play of late, Ortio, humble in nature, was quick to credit the team in front of him for the improvements that this Flames team has experienced.
“It might have been a struggle to start the year with such a young team, but the steps these guys have been making along the way has just been phenomenal,” Ortio said. “It’s so nice playing behind these guys right now.”
And as he put it simply, “It’s not rocket science, it’s just trying to see that little rubber thing out there.”