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Houser hoping to be next great netminder

October 18, 2017 GMT

Michael Houser’s debut as the Komets’ goaltender at Memorial Coliseum : a 25-save gem Saturday : might be considered a rebirth.

His professional career actually began in the building back in December 2012, when he was a rookie out of the Ontario Hockey League. He was terrific for the Cincinnati Cyclones, stopping 29 of 30 shots in a 4-1 victory, and it set him on to a path to becoming one of the most reliable goalies in Double-A hockey.

Now, though, he’s with a franchise that often makes the careers of great netminders. His performance in the 4-2 victory Saturday over the rival Toledo Walleye, foiling three odd-man rushes, could be the start of a whole new career : one that springboards him to the next level through the Komets’ new affiliation with the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.

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Houser stopped 25 of 27 shots against Toledo and was named ECHL Goaltender of the Week.

“It was a little bit weird, yeah,” Houser said of donning the fireball logo, after facing the Komets nine times as a starting goalie with the Cyclones. “I played my first pro game here six years ago, now. I’ve played them a bunch, but I don’t think I’d played here with the crowd like that (with 10,089 fans). It was weird looking down and seeing something other than Cincinnati, which is usually what I had on my jersey, but it’s fun to be here.”

The Komets, who are in their 66th season, are known for almost always having great goalies such as Robbie Irons, Pokey Reddick, Nick Boucher or Roman Will. That’s something of which Houser may not be keenly aware yet, but he undoubtedly will be soon.

“I heard that and kudos to them. That’s pretty cool,” said Houser, who was in training camp with the American Hockey League’s Tucson Roadrunners.

Houser, 25, has 72 games of AHL experience and, last season, was 22-14-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and two shutouts for Cincinnati. Even though the Komets parted ways with Pat Nagle, who is now with Toledo, they still had an established goalie in Garrett Bartus, 27, who last season was 21-7-0 with a 2.68 GAA, a .905 SP and four shutouts.

With the opening-night start and the Coyotes wanting him to play, it would seem Houser is poised for the most playing time, but coach Gary Graham has a lot of faith in Bartus. Houser, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, doesn’t know how the playing time will work out but, he said, having a tandem of good 6-foot-2 netminders can only be deemed a positive.

“That’s a good thing when coach has a two guys he can put in at any time and feel comfortable winning, and I think the guys feel the same way,” said Houser, whose Komets play host to Kansas City (1-0-0) on Friday and Saturday.

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Houser has faith in the defensemen playing in front of him: Jason Binkley, Daniel Maggio, Curtis Leonard, Bobby Shea, Cody Sol, Ryan Culkin and Ryan Lowney.

“I think it would be hard pressed to find a better (defensive) corps than we have,” Houser said. “We have six, maybe seven, guys who could be in the American Hockey League, seriously, and that makes it all the easier for me.”

And if the defensemen need Houser to bail them out, he’s got a solid history of proof at the Coliseum that he can do it.

“I think I’m better than (my first game here as a rookie), which is a good thing. Six years, I should be better,” Houser said. “Anytime you grow and play more, you’re going to get better and more mature. That’s mostly what it is.”

jcohn@jg.net

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