Friday, February 17, 2012

Texas Brahmas goalie Mark Guggenberger enjoying stellar rookie season

As seen in Pro Hockey News

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS, Texas - Mark Guggenberger is taking his newfound success in stride. As the 6' 3", 208-pound native of Richfield, Minnesota makes his way through a group of fans outside the Texas Brahmas locker room, Guggenberger stops to sign autographs and shakes hands with some well wishers.

"It's unreal," Guggenberger said of the support he and his teammates get from the fans, both on and off the ice, noting in particular, the noise level in the 2,400 seat NYTEX Sports Centre. "It's nice to have a good atmosphere to play in every night."

That noise level was particularly high on Wednesday night, when Guggenberger had 27 saves in a 2-0 win over the visiting Dayton Gems. It was the rookie goaltender's second shutout in 27 hours after blanking the Brahmas' Metroplex rival, the Allen Americans, on Tuesday night (4-0).

Guggenberger became just the third Brahmas goalie to record consecutive shutouts, joining Rob Laurie and Steve Plouffe, who recorded the team's most recent back-to-back shutouts 13 years ago.

His current scoreless minute streak of 155:16 is the third longest in the CHL this season. The league record, which stands at 222:41 was set by Bossier-Shreveport’s John DeCaro during the 2007-08 season and while Guggenberger will have a shot at breaking it this weekend, it's the furthest thing from his mind.

"Goalies don't think about shutouts," he said. "It's a superstition. My focus is on trying to give the team a chance to win every night."

"Guggs" makes a save during a shootout against the Allen Americans on February 10th

Just a little over four months ago, Guggenberger was an unknown in North Texas, given little credence by Brahmas fans save for the recommendation by former assistant head coach Forbes MacPherson, who is the current head coach of the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers.

Guggenberger played just one season at UPEI and recorded an inauspicious 5-9-0 record with a 3.35 GAA and a .902 Save Percentage in 15 games played. He was named to the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) All-Rookie Team and

Prior to joining the Panthers, Guggenberger played three seasons in the Western Hockey League, beginning with the Swift Current Broncos in 2007-08. He was invited to the 2007 NHL combine where top prospects annually are put through the ringer, but never got picked.

On his 20th birthday, he was traded to Kelowna, where he came to be known as the "Guggenburglar", robbing many of their scoring chances against the Rockets.

Guggenberger was magnificent during the 2009 WHL Playoffs, helping his new team knock out others ranked above them, while posting a 16-5-1 record along with a 2.02 GAA and a .916 Save Percentage.

He helped lead the Rockets to the WHL title and into the championship game of the 2009 Memorial Cup tournament, only to lose 4-1 to the Taylor Hall-led Windsor Spitfires.

When he decided to turn pro last summer, MacPherson immediately recommended Guggenberger to his old friend, Brahmas head coach Dan Wildfong, referencing the young man's toughness, endurance and competitiveness.

"The obvious first thing about him is his size; he's a big kid who can cover a lot of net." MacPherson said in an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Mark Wright, last month. "The second thing about him is he's a warrior. He prepares to play a hockey game like it's the last game he's ever going to play. He's a gamer and always rises to the occasion."

Guggenberger and Kraymer Barnstable (now with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds) battled throughout training camp and the pre-season for the second spot behind veteran goalie Steve Silverthorn, who was brought in by head coach Dan Wildfong to lead the team to a fifth consecutive playoff appearance and hopefully, a second Ray Miron President's Cup Championship.

In the end, Guggenberger got the nod and Barnstable went back to school.

As Silverthorn struggled to adjust to the physical play of the CHL following three seasons in Germany, Guggenberger seemed to excel, winning his first three pro starts against Tulsa, Missouri and on the road against Arizona.

On December 29th, the CHL announced that Guggenberger had been selected as a reserve goaltender for the 2012 Central Hockey League All-Star Game. Played a day after his 23rd birthday, Guggenberger relieved the Fort Wayne Komets' Nick Boucher and earned a win, stopping 35 of 36 shots faced in the remaining 30:26 of the contest.

"I don't think I stopped the puck once in warmups, but I managed to save them for the game," Guggenberger said. "It was great. I had a chance to meet a lot of guys from different teams - It was a great environment and a lot of fun."

Guggenberger re-joined the Brahmas, who were on the road and during his first start after the All-Star Game, he was injured and would miss the next eight games. Meanwhile, Silverthorn had finally found his groove and went 5-2 before dropping an unexpected bombshell.

On January 28th, following a 2-1 victory over the Laredo Bucks, Silverthorn advised his teammates that he had played his last game as a member of the Brahmas, and was returning to Germany to finish out the season.

Silverthorn's decision couldn't come at a worse time for the team, with Guggenberger injured and Assistant Coach Ron Vogel serving as a backup.

Left in a lurch, the Brahmas brought in Adam Avramenko, a rookie out of Niagara University who had played with forward Chris Moran and defenseman Jim Burichin, but Avramenko's introduction to the Central Hockey League couldn't have gone worse.

On the road for two games against the Laredo Bucks, Avramenko allowed six goals playing all 60 minutes of a 6-0 loss. Two nights later, he allowed the only goal in a 1-0 loss, just 1:43 into the first frame. Guggenberger, perhaps not ready to return, was perfect nonetheless, stopping all 24 shots faced in the remaining 57:11.

The following night, on the road against the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, Guggenberger had 22 saves in a 5-4 shootout loss - the last time he has tasted defeat. In his last four starts, Guggenberger is undefeated and has stopped 95 of the last 99 shots faced.

Guggenberger is congratulated by his teammates after their win against the Dayton Gems on Wednesday

After 23 games, his record is 13-4-3 with a CHL-best 2.01 GAA and his .925 Save Percentage is tied for third.

"He's a pro," Brahmas Head Coach Dan Wildfong said. "He wants to win so bad and I think he can go to a higher level than this and I think he sees that he can as well. If he continues to do the little things and continues to do the work that it takes to get there, I think you won't see him at this level for very long."

Wildfong added that Guggenberger's fervor is contagious and his teammate feed off of his energy.

"Gugg's is a fun kid - the boys love him...I've never seen a goalie get a team up for a game like he does," Wildfong said. He's very enthusiastic."

Guggenberger is loathe to take any sort of individual credit for the team's success this season, pointing out matter-of-factly, the contributions of the other members of the tight-knit group.

"We've got a good group of guys who work hard every night and it really shows," Guggenberger explained. "We've had the lowest Goals Against average in the league. We owe a lot of that to our forwards blocking shots and backtracking and our D-men playing their hearts out for us every night."

Guggenberger and the Brahmas will host the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees for two games this weekend. Friday and Saturday night's contests are both set for a 7:30 pm CST start.

You can view a slideshow featuring images from Mark Guggenberger's 2011-12 season here.

Photo Credits: Robert Keith

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