For an up-and-coming hockey player to reach his goal of making it to the NHL, he first must prove himself at the minor-league or junior level.
For goaltenders, getting the opportunity to prove themselves is sometimes the biggest obstacle. While teams usually use 18 different skaters on a given night, they only dress two goaltenders. And unlike forwards and defensemen, goalies don’t take regularly-scheduled shifts during games, as more often than not, a team’s starting goalie plays the full 60 minutes.
Given the success of Dustin Tokarski which rightfully earned him the bulk of the playing time in the Norfolk Admirals’ crease this season, and a recent call up to the Lightning, his Norfolk counterpart, Jaroslav Janus
, has often found himself on the bench this season.
While Janus has been itching for a chance to prove himself on a nightly basis all season, it hasn’t been until Tokarski was recently called up to the Lightning that he’s been able to play on a regular basis for the Admirals. Although the waiting for an opportunity that Janus had to endure would be difficult for any goaltender to contend with, he’s currently seizing his long-awaited opportunity and helped Norfolk continue its historic winning streak which currently stands at 15 games.
“It’s hard for a goalie to get in a groove when they don’t play that often,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “But Janus has such exceptional work ethic that keeps him ready to play. He’s handled everything this season with a tremendous amount of professionalism and he’s recently been given the keys to the car. This is his chance to show that he can drive the car, and so far he has.”
Since Tokarski was called up to Tampa Bay last week, Janus has won all three games he’s started, while posting a 1.67 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. Additionally, Janus owns seven of the Admirals’ wins during their 15-game winning streak, to go along with a 1.69 goals-against average and .938 save percentage during that stretch.
“As a kid, I always dreamed about coming to Canada or America to play,” said the Slovakian-born Janus. “Hockey was born here and I’ve always wanted the chance to see if I could make it here. I’ve had to be really patient to get my chance to play and I’m just trying to make the most of my chance now that it’s here.”
While Janus’ goal is to make it to the NHL, having proven himself as a top-notch AHL goaltender could already be viewed as a major victory, given where his hockey career stood as recently as last season.
Last season, with the Admirals beginning the season with the duo of Tokarski and Cedrick Desjardins between the pipes, Janus started out with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades and battled longtime minor-league goalie Bobby Goepfert for playing time.
Lightning prospect Jaroslav Janus is making the most of extra playing time gained through Tokarski's recent call up.
It wasn’t until Desjardins suffered a season-ending injury last February that Janus was given a permanent spot on Norfolk’s roster, despite having already put together a winning record in limited time with the Admirals in 2009-10.
“Janus has never thrown in the towel and he’s worked very hard,” said Jon Cooper. “It wasn’t as if he just went down to the ECHL and was playing every game there. He went to the ECHL and had to battle for minutes there. But I think he’s learned from all of his experiences, and it has made him a better goalie.”
With Janus emerging as a bona fide AHL starting goalie and the Admirals steamrolling towards the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s top seed, it already poses the question as to what happens should Tokarski return to the Admirals for the team’s playoff run.
“Right now, I don’t even want to think about who’d I be starting at the beginning of the playoffs,” added Jon Cooper. “That being said, if my biggest problem this spring is which hot goalie I want to start, I think I’d be the envy of every coach in the league.”
Janus and the Admirals are next in action when they host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Wednesday night. A win over second-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would give Norfolk a 10-point lead in the East Division, while tying the Admirals with the 1983-84 Baltimore Skipjacks for the second-longest single-season win streak in AHL history.