From training camp all the way to postseason, the Topeka RoadRunners haven’t had a goalie emerge as their clearcut No. 1 netminder.
That hasn’t proven to be a terrible thing.
With Rasmus Tirronen and Eric Rohrkemper both playing solidly, RoadRunners coach Scott Langer has allowed the goaltenders to share the load.
And while both goalies are still vying to be the feature guy, both will admit the two-goalie system has its advantages for the RoadRunners, who will host the Amarillo Bulls in Game 1 of the South Division finals at 7:05 p.m. Friday night in Landon Arena.
“It really helps a lot because when one of us is struggling, the other one can pick him up,” Rohrkemper said. “In practice, if one of us needs to work on something we always have someone to lean on and get help from, and that carries over to the games.
“We push each other in practice and the coaches like that. They want one of us to take over and try to gain the No. 1 spot, but at the same time they love having both of us ready to go.”
Tirronen said having two capable goaltenders gives the team confidence.
“We always have someone that the coaches feel confident with in the net,” he said. “If one of us got sick before a playoff game or something, the coaches can feel confident about putting the other goalie in there.”
Tirronen, a native of Espoo, Finland, posted a record of 24-9-0 in the regular season, while Rohrkemper, a Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. native, was 19-3-3. Typically, the goalies would alternate every other game, with Tirronen usually starting the first game of the series and Rohrkemper the second.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of giving both goalies significant time is keeping the netminders fresh for the playoffs.
“It certainly helped throughout the season not having one goaltender just take the entire load and get beat down,” Langer said. “I mean, that’s an exhausting schedule. A lot of teams ride one guy and that’s not easy on a kid.
“(Tirronen and Rohrkemper) have had some ups and downs and they’ve helped each other get through it. They’ve both been successful.”
The fact that both Tirronen and Rohrkemper had plenty of time to shine in the regular season helped make sharing the spotlight easier, Tirronen said.
“Every goalie goes into the season just hoping to get the opportunity to show what he is made of,” he said. “Knowing that we were going to switch off pretty much every other game, it gave us that opportunity.”
Tirronen started Games 1, 3 and 5 in the South semifinals against Wichita Falls, while Rohrkemper got the nod in Games 2 and 4.
Both goalies gave the Runners a lift in the Wichita Falls series. Tirronen picked up all three wins in net during the series, while Rohrkemper had a shutout through regulation in Game 2 and also stood out in Game 4.
Langer said he hasn’t decided whether he will alternate goalies in the Amarillo series.
“Now, it’s about winning,” he said. “Guys have to understand that winning is the most important thing. We’re going to take it game by game in this series. I can’t promise you’ll see a rotation, I can’t promise you that you won’t.”
Whatever Langer decides, both goalies are sure to accept it.
“Our goalie coach (Steve Briere) told us that we have to be the most selfish guys on the team but still be the best teammates,” Rohrkemper said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword and sometimes it’s hard to do, but I think we do it well.”
“All the goalies want to be No. 1 and start as many games as possible, especially in the playoffs. But, it’s still about the team,” he said. “We’ve been together since August so it’s kind of like a family for both of us. Whoever has to sit back and be the backup goalie is still going to be there to support the team at the fullest.”