One Game To Win, Here Are The ECHL Goalies You Want

One Game To Win, Here Are The ECHL Goalies You Want

Hockey teams that hope to have success in the postseason know they need a reliable goalie, one who can steal a big game when the pressure is at its highest.

Jan 26, 2024 by Justin Cohn
One Game To Win, Here Are The ECHL Goalies You Want

Any hockey team that hopes to have success in the postseason knows it must have a reliable goalie, someone who can steal a big game when the pressure is at its highest.

The ECHL’s strength, when it comes to being a developmental circuit for the NHL and American Hockey League, long has been its netminding, and every team has at least one very good backstop this season. 

Even the league-worst Atlanta Gladiators can boast a solid trio with Gustavs Grigals, Tyler Harmon and Brad Barone, the latter of whom has impressed in playing eight of the last nine games.

So, I set out to answer this question: You’ve got one big game to win with an ECHL goalie, who are you picking?

Here are the 10 goalies I settled on …

10. Luke Cavallin, Newfoundland Growlers

The Growlers haven’t been very good defensively – they rank 25th with 3.73 goals against per game – but when Cavallin is in net, their chances of winning grow exponentially. 

Contracted to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Cavallin is 11-3-3 with a 3.00 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and two shutouts. 

He’s only 22, with a résumé of solid postseason play in the junior-level Ontario Hockey League, and he impressed in last year’s six-game playoff loss to the eventual champions, the Florida Everblades, going 2-2 with .950 save percentage. 

The Growlers haven’t had to totally rely on Cavallin in his two seasons – there’s been Dryden McKay and Vyacheslav Peksa, for example – but he’s showed an ability to come up big in the biggest spots.

9. Mitchell Gibson, South Carolina Stingrays

Gibson was a stellar collegiate goalie at Harvard – he was 47-25-6 with a 2.32 GAA, a .918 SP and four shutouts between 2019 and 2023. 

Now 24, and a prospect of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, Gibson has been steadily building on that college résumé with the Stingrays; he’s 10-6-1 with a 2.52 GAA, a .902 SP and one shutout. 

He’s in a timeshare with Garin Bjorklund and still needs to prove he can win playoff games as pro, but for a rookie in the league’s toughest division, he’s been very strong so far and showed he’s a strong candidate to move up to the AHL sooner than later.

8. Jonathan Lemieux, Kalamazoo Wings

While the Wings (18-16-2) aren’t in playoff position, they’re one of those teams no one wants to play because they’re a difficult out. 

Just ask the Central Division-leading Toledo Walleye, who have lost five of their seven games against the Wings. 

Lemieux has been a big part of Kalamazoo’s success, going 13-11-1 with a 2.83 GAA, a .912 SP and one shutout, as Kalamazoo ranks sixth on defense with 2.92 goals against per game, but it gives up the 14th-most shots (31.39 per game). However, Lemieux, who is contracted to the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks, has been a nice safety valve in an offensively charged division. 

Kalamazoo doesn’t score a lot of goals – only 2.89 per game, third-fewest in the league – so it’s come to rely upon Lemieux, and that’s going to continue. It seems he’s up to the task.

7. Colten Ellis, Orlando Solar Bears

Full disclosure: Ellis was called up Sunday to Springfield of the AHL, but with the presumption he’ll return, he deserves to be on this list because of what he’s done in the ECHL this season. His efforts include a 12-5-2 record, 2.45 GAA, sparkling .923 SP and one shutout for a strong Orlando team. 

It’s a vast improvement over what he’d done with the Worcester Railers and Tulsa Oilers the previous two seasons, so the jury is still out on whether Ellis, 23, is a guy you can put into a playoff game without hesitation. 

Furthering the questions is that Orlando’s Brandon Halverson has, at times, looked like the better goalie – stealing points for the Solar Bears when they probably didn’t deserve them, such as when he stopped 77 of 79 shots in two victories over the Wheeling Nailers on Jan. 5 and 8, or when he stopped 45 of 47 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss at the Greenville Swamp Rabbits Jan. 12. 

Assuming Ellis comes back, Orlando may have the best goalie tandem in the ECHL. 

Ellis, a St. Lous Blues prospect, need to work on his consistency – he’s given up four or more goals five times this season – but when he’s on, he’s a game-changer.

6. Jeremy Brodeur, Adirondack Thunder

It’s got to be a pressure-filled existence being a goaltender when your father, Martin, is one of the NHL’s all-time great netminders, but Jeremy Brodeur, 27, is making a name for himself all on his own with the best play of his seven-year pro career. 

Contracted to the AHL’s Utica Comets, Brodeur has been a huge part of the Thunder’s ascension to the top of the Eastern Conference standings; he’s 12-5-0 with a 2.43 GAA, .923 SP and one shutout. 

It helps to have a nice safety valve with rookie Vinnie Purpura – he’s 12-1-1 with a 2.46 GAA and a .917 SP – but Brodeur has been stingy and consistent. 

What remains to be seen is how he’d perform in a long stretch of games come the playoffs, since coach Pete MacArthur has regularly alternated goalies this season.

But Brodeur seems to have really turned a corner this season, for a guy who has a career .909 SP in 116 ECHL games.

5. John Muse, Worcester Railers

Not many goalies in the ECHL have the experience of Muse, who backstopped the Florida Everblades to the Kelly Cup way back in 2012, when he was selected Playoff MVP. 

He’s now 33 and on an ECHL contract, but he’s been showing that after four years overseas, he’s still reliable. 

Muse has a 6-2-0 record, 2.32 GAA, .928 SP and one shutout for a Railers team that ranks 13th defensively with 3.26 goals against per game. 

He didn’t sign with the Railers until Dec. 22, so he’s still getting into full game form, but early indications are he’s going to be a force down the stretch for a team hanging onto fourth place in the North Division. 

Muse has played 108 ECHL games in his career – he’s 59-35-14 with a 2.82 GAA, .909 SP and six shutouts – and his numbers are just as strong over 184 AHL games.

4. Trent Miner, Utah Grizzlies

A lesson as old as hockey was reinforced last year when Miner rejoined the Grizzlies late in the regular season: A good goalie can change everything. 

Miner had a 43-save road shutout in the playoff opener against the top-seeded Idaho Steelheads, then followed that with 29 saves in a 3-2 victory. 

The Grizzlies lost the series 4-2 – dropping four straight games in overtime – but Miner showed what he can do with the pressure on, finishing the postseason with a 2.76 GAA and .926 SP. 

The Colorado Avalanche prospect is only 22, but he also has 23 games of AHL experience, and his ceiling remains very high. 

For the Grizzlies this season, Miner is 5-5-0 with a 2.72 GAA and .914 SP, and that’s with a team six games below .500. 

There’s plenty of time for the Grizzlies to claw their way into playoff position, and if they do, Miner could be a huge factor in the postseason again.  

3. Taylor Gauthier, Wheeling Nailers

When I ran Gauthier’s name past my informal panel of experts – coaches, broadcasters, friends – some were less wild about the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect than I am, and that shocked me. 

Gauthier only leads the ECHL in save percentage (.923) and goals-against average (2.33) for a Wheeling team that is spotty defensively (3.05 goals against per game, 10th-best in league), and he’s played the third most minutes (1,389) in the league. 

OK, he’s 12-11-1, but I’d argue those are strong numbers for a team that’s 19-16-2 and barely in playoff position. 

At 22, he’s one of the real up-and-comers in the ECHL, has looked solid in 24 AHL games and showed in the Western Hockey League he can come up big in the playoffs – he was 7-4 with a 1.92 GAA, .937 SP and one shutout in 2022 for the Portland Winterhawks. 

2. Michael Houser, Jacksonville Icemen

From 2016 to 2021, Houser’s game was something to behold – particularly his run to Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals with Fort Wayne, in which the Komets fell to the eventual champions, the Colorado Eagles. 

Houser was a legend with Cincinnati, too, skating six seasons for the Cyclones between 2012 and 2022. 

For longtime ECHL fans, Houser’s ascension to the Buffalo Sabres’ net for six games between 2020 and 2022 was proof that this league has great netminders the average NHL fan doesn’t realize; Houser was 4-2-0 with a 2.98 GAA and .917 SP for Buffalo.

I’m not going to tell you his game is the best it’s ever been, not at age 31, but when he was assigned to the Icemen on Nov. 6 from Rochester of the AHL, I immediately felt better about Jacksonville’s chances of winning the Kelly Cup because it alleviated some pressure on rookie Matt Vernon and gave Jacksonville a proven big-game goalie. 

Houser has a career .913 SP in 248 ECHL regular-season games, which is impressive and trumped only by his .918 SP and three shutouts in 50 playoff games. This season, he’s 8-10-2 with a 2.68 GAA, .904 SP and one shutout.

1. Cam Johnson, Florida Everblades

When I think of the Johnson who won Playoff MVP each of the last two seasons in helping the Everblades to two Kelly Cups, I think of reliability. 

His save percentage is always over .900 when he’s at this level, he covers up for the Everblades defensive deficiencies – and they’ve had some this season – and he’s an absolute workhorse. 

Last season, Johnson played a league-high 3,182 minutes, and this season he’s already appeared in 23 of the Everblades’ 35 games. 

Contracted to the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers, Johnson has a 12-7-3 record this season for Florida with a 2.61 GAA, .909 SP, two shutouts and a fight at the end of Sunday’s 5-2 victory with Savannah netminder Michael McNiven

Johnson is 29 and still has plenty of good hockey left in him, and he still has a shot at moving up to the AHL full-time. But when it comes to ECHL hockey, no goalie in the league has the track record of being great in big games. He had four shutouts in each of the last two playoffs and, frankly, that’s impressive.

About Some Other Goalies …

Iowa Heartlanders

If there’s one netminder I feel uncomfortable about leaving off this list, it’s the Iowa Heartlanders’ Peyton Jones

With a lukewarm defense playing in front of him, he’s kept the 15-18-6 Heartlanders in so many games. 

He was called up to Iowa of the AHL on Saturday, but before that, he was 8-10-2 with a 3.11 GAA, .901 SP and one shutout, numbers that barely begin to tell his story.

Toledo Walleye

Coming into the season, I thought Toledo’s John Lethemon and Jan Bednar would be the ECHL’s best tandem, but Lethemon, the ECHL’s reigning Goaltender of the Year, has a .872 SP, and Bednar’s is at .890. In fairness, Toledo got off to such a good start – going 23-4-5 to begin the season – that the goalies didn’t need to be great. 

With losses in four of the last five games, though, Toledo is looking beatable again, and it’ll need the netminders to step up their games.

Fort Wayne Komets

The Fort Wayne Komets have two goalies I toyed with putting on this list: Ryan Fanti and Brett Brochu

Fanti was very good in the playoffs last season, but he’s only played one game since offseason hip surgery, and I need to see more from him in his sophomore season to truly analyze. 

Brochu, a rookie, has been one of the ECHL’s most exciting players – he’s got a .922 save percentage through 15 games – but I still think we need a larger sample size in big games.

Tulsa Oilers

Julian Junca has been one of the Tulsa Oilers’ biggest standouts with a 10-7-1 record, 2.47 GAA, .910 SP and one shutout. No other Oilers goalie has played more than eight games, and Junca, a 25-year-old rookie, has loads of potential for a team that’s on pace to make the postseason.

Maine Mariners

The Maine Mariners’ Brad Arvantis is no one to sneeze at, not with his 9-4-1 record with a 2.51 GAA and .925 SP over 16 games.

Indy Fuel

And where would the Indy Fuel be without Zach Driscoll? He’s stolen several games for them and has a 12-8-0 record with a 2.69 GAA and a .896 SP.