Barry Brust is less than one period from ousting a Hall of Fame goaltender from the record books one season after his North American career stood at a crossroads.
The 29-year-old goaltender for the Abbotsford Heat has a shutout streak of 231 minutes, 41 seconds. If he can extend it another 18:11 -- the opportunity to do so could come Friday at Texas -- he will break the American Hockey League mark of Johnny Bower, who established the record with the Cleveland Barons in 1957.
"Everything has just kind of fallen into place," Brust told NHL.com during a lengthy layover in Chicago on Thursday night with his team flying to Rochester.
Before the season, it would've been difficult to find a goaltender less likely to take a run at Bower's mark.
Brust broke camp with Abbotsford as essentially the team's third goaltender, behind Leland Irving and Danny Taylor. Irving, 24, is considered a potential successor to Miikka Kiprusoff with the Calgary Flames, while Taylor, 26, won the starting job out of training camp and started seven of the team's first 11 games.
Meanwhile, Brust was having a hard time earning a start. He played well in his first game, stopping 25 of 26 shots in a 4-1 win against the Chicago Wolves on Oct. 20. But that performance didn't get him back on the ice until Nov. 1, when he blanked the Toronto Marlies 3-0 with a 22-save showing.
Twelve days later, Brust posted the first of back-to-back, 29-save shutouts against the Lake Erie Monsters on Tuesday and Wednesday. Now he's on the precipice of history -- and like any goaltender at any level, of course he's shining the spotlight on his teammates for helping him reach this point.
"To be quite honest, I haven't had that much work," Brust said. "There haven't been that many chances against us. Our team has been doing a great job of shutting the opposition down, clearing traffic, clearing rebounds, letting me see pucks. If the goalie makes the first save in this league, he's going to be pretty successful. That's what's happened so far.
"[Wednesday] night, it was just luck. A guy had an empty net and it just hit my skate and then the crossbar. It's pretty lucky. We haven't had any breakaways or anything like that. It's just been a shutdown, defensive game we've been playing. I've kind of been the benefactor."
It's been a long and circuitous route to this moment for Brust, who has played for eight teams since 2004, including a one-season stint with Straubing of the German league in 2011-12. Brust won the Calder Cup with Binghamton in 2011 and has played 64 ECHL games during stops with the Reading Royals and Florida Everblades.
The 73rd pick of the 2002 draft by the Minnesota Wild, who never signed Brust to a contract, has 11 NHL games to his credit, all with the Los Angeles Kings during the 2006-07 season. Brust went 2-4-1 with a 3.70 goals-against average and .878 save percentage during his brief stay in the NHL. His last appearance came on Jan. 18, 2007, when he allowed two goals on 10 shots and was pulled in favor of Yutaka Fukufuji.
Brust was one of five goaltenders used by the Kings that season, and he admits he wasn't ready for the opportunity.
"My first time in the NHL, I probably shouldn't have been there," Brust said. "I was young. I was 23, but I was a young 23. I got called up Nov. 30 and I had only started three games in the American League at that point. It was kind of a shock I got called up."
Brust left the Kings organization following the season and spent the next three with the Houston Aeros, the AHL affiliate of the Wild. In 2007-08, he posted a 2.27 GAA and .919 save percentage and along with teammate Nolan Schaefer, won the Harry "Hap" Holmes Memorial Award, the AHL equivalent to the William Jennings Trophy in the NHL.
Despite the AHL success, Brust packed his bags for Germany last season. Did he see that as the end of hockey career in North America, or was it more about the chance to play more regularly in Europe?
"It was a little bit of both," Brust said. "It was kind of the opportunity and circumstance. The way it works is, the European offers come in first for a guy like myself. They showed a lot of interest and made a commitment to me. It was just the timing and opportunity I couldn't turn down. I'm really happy I went. I had a great experience there and really enjoyed myself. It's a time I'll cherish for the rest of my life."
There was one thing, however, that made it easy for him to say farewell to the German league. With his team about to be eliminated from the semifinals of the playoffs, Brust helped seal his fate.
"I kind of cross checked a guy in the face," said the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Brust. "I got suspended for eight games over there, so that made it a little tougher to go back to the German league. I got a $2,500 Euro (about $3,000 U.S.) fine. It hit the pocket book pretty hard. It was just frustration built up and angst toward the refereeing over there. I don't know. It was dumb; I didn't think it was eight games dumb, but apparently it was."
Not long after that incident, the Heat came calling with a contract offer. It helped that Heat coach Troy Ward and assistant Luke Strand were familiar with Brust from their time together in Houston.
With just one more period of perfection, Brust will supplant Bower. If he keeps this up, perhaps Brust get have another shot at the NHL.
"I'd like to think so," Brust said. "Obviously some things have to break the right way. I think being in the American Hockey League, you're always a break or two away. You always want to hold out hope and dream, and all I can do is take care of the way I play. I've done a lot since the time I was in the NHL. I'd like to think I can play there (again) someday."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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