"People say I'm not your typical goalie," said Barry Brust.
The Abbotsford Heat goaltender explains his decision to go for brown by saying: "I'm kind of a throw-back."
The Abbotsford Heat goaltender's synthetic-covered foam pads are modern - custom-made for him this year, in fact. But they're coloured like the leather-covered, horse-hair versions that Johnny Bower wore in the 1950s.
Which is fitting, because this season Brust sported the pads, and similarly-coloured modern gloves, as he broke an AHL shutout streak that the Toronto Maple Leafs legend set back in 1957 while toiling in the minors with the Cleveland Barons.
Brust set the record for consecutive scoreless minutes (268 minutes and 17 seconds) in November en route to his three shutouts this season.
"It's something that hasn't been done in 55 years," said Brust, who was chosen this week as one of the AHL's three stars for November. "It's pretty remarkable.
"It's a nice accomplishment. I was pretty emotional when it happened and thankful for the people who gave me the opportunity and allowed me to be here. It's not every day that a team will keep a guy like me around. I'm just thankful that they have, and I'm trying to reward them with stellar play."
Heading into Sunday's game in Toronto against the Marlies, Brust sports a sparkling 0.99 goals-against average and 6-1 record along with a .958 save percentage. His average and save percentage led the league prior to Friday's games.
Meanwhile, the Heat (13-4-5) top the league in points with 31 and their first-overall placing can't be changed by Friday's results.
Abbotsford is the latest waystop on the 29-year-old Swan River, Man., native's journeyman career. The Heat are the ninth team in four pro leagues for Brust, who is playing this season on a minor-league contract.
After being drafted in the third round (73rd overall) by the Minnesota Wild in 2002, he turned pro in 2004-05 with the ECHL's Reading Royals. He has also played for the ECHL's Florida Everblades, Binghamton Senators and the NHL's Los Angeles Kings for just 11 games in 2006-07, and Germany's Straubing Tigers.
After playing in Germany last season, he decided to return to North America — but not exactly by choice. After allowing the goal that ended his team's season, he cross-checked the scorer in the face and earned an eight-game suspension that would have been applied this season.
"I would have missed 20 per cent of the season. It would have been hard. I didn't want to sit out for that long, miss eight games of the schedule," he said, adding an accompanying 2,500-euro fine hurt the most.
Brust, who played four season of junior in the WHL with the Spokane Chiefs and Calgary Hitmen, indicated he had other offers heading into this season. But he signed with Abbotsford on the basis of relationships with head coach Troy Ward, assistant Luke Strand and goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet.
While playing against each other in the AHL, Brust and Sigalet talked about minding the same team's net. But Sigalet is now his mentor instead.
"Last year, they contacted me, I think it was, a day after I had signed to play in Germany," he said. "There was an interest because of Troy and Luke and Jordan. I'd known them before in various capacities. There's always been kind of a mutual interest. So this summer, I waited a little bit longer, and the opportunity came up, so I jumped at it."
Last season, Brust racked up 109 penalty minutes with his German club. But this season, he has kept his infractions and his goals-against average down. He has incurred just two penalty minutes to date. Not bad considering that he has hit double or triple digits in two of the past three seasons.
Sigalet said Brust's shutout record is a tribute to his character, because he did not play in consecutive games due to Abbotsford's three-goalie system that includes Danny Taylor, who is also playing on a minor-league contract, and Leland Irving, who signed a professional tryout offer with Abbotsford so that the Calgary Flames could avoid putting him on unrecallable waivers. If he had gone through the usual process of being demoted and been claimed by another NHL club, the Flames would have received nothing in return.
Irving figures prominently in Calgary's plans as he waits for the lockout to run its course. While he and many others on two-way contracts have a chance to move up to the NHL once the labour dispute is settled, Brust is destined to remain in the AHL for the duration of the season — barring an unexpected turn of events.
His age, brief NHL experience and limited on-ice success prior to this season work against him. But he still dreams of playing under the bright TV lights on a regular basis.
"It's always in the back of your mind that you want to get to the highest level," he said. "It's just like anything. You want to be the best at what you do. That's always the goal.
"Obviously, it's a little bit tougher for me. But, that being said, if things break right, you never know. Guys that were later in their careers kind of figured it out and got the right opportunity. I'm hoping that's what's going to happen for me, and this is a great place to start."
For role models, he need look no further than Bower, who did not play regularly in the NHL until he was in his mid-30s and always tried to keep his age a mystery.
If Brust does manage to get regular NHL duty, he and Bower, whose pro career spanned from 1945-1970, will have something more in common than just the shutout string and brown pads.