When the CHL playoffs started, there was no guarantee that Adam Russo would see the majority of the time at goalie for the Thunder.
Wichita has the luxury of two standouts at the position, and though Russo was the starter at the beginning of the postseason, any inconsitency could have prompted coach Kevin McClelland to go with backup Bryan Hogan.
Russo has deemed Hogan’s services unnecessary to date. Russo has started all six playoff games so far, winning five and boasting a 2.06 goals against average that ranks third among CHL goalies with at least three playoff games.
Friday, Russo stopped 31 shots, his postseason high, and didn’t allow a goal for the final 53:04 in the Thunder’s 3-1 win over Texas in Game 1 of the Berry Conference Finals.
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"He made some huge saves," McClelland said. "He made some good saves when it was 2-1 and kept it 2-1. He made a couple big saves at 1-0 and kept it 1-0. That’s what we expect out of Roos, and we also have a quality guy in Hogan that’s just waiting in the wings."
Among playoff goalies, Russo’s 320 minutes, 12 seconds ranks second. For many of those minutes during the opening-round series against Rio Grande Valley, Russo was rarely coaxed from a standstill.
After an aggressive Game 1, Rio Grande Valley’s shot total slid in each of the subsequent games, falling to 15 in Wichita’s series-clinching Game 5 win. Russo had a relatively easy job description in that series, which included staying awake between Killer Bees shots, but Texas didn’t make it so simple on Russo in Friday’s series opener.
The Brahmas, who have 11 players with multiple points in the playoffs, peppered Russo throughout the night, totaling 32 shots and outshooting the Thunder by three. After a nifty pass led to a Texas first-period goal by Sy Nutkevitch, Russo shut down Texas, stopping shots from all angles and positions.
"It definitely helps the focus to get shots continuously," Russo said. "We’re not a team that gives up a lot of shots, and we want to keep their shots down to a minimum, but for me personally as a goalie, the more shots I get the more feeling I have, the more focused I feel. I have a job to do. I can’t score goals, so I’ve got to make saves."
Russo was pulled early in the second period of Wichita’s Game 4 loss to Rio Grande Valley after allowing three goals, but before and since then he’s spent every minute of every game in goal.
He hasn’t allowed more than two goals in any other game, and he’s been the anchor of a defense that hasn’t had many breakdowns, an intimidating presence among many.
"We’re in a situation where we don’t want to give shots," Russo said. "(Friday), we gave a few shots (but) we won. That’s all that matters, honestly."