Cyclones lose, but don't pin blame on goalie

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Gilles Gratton believed in reincarnation. The New York Rangers' fabled goalie thought his previous life had been spent as a soldier during the Spanish Inquisition. He also was known for skating naked. He had a very simple explanation.

''You have to be crazy,'' he said, ''to be a goaltender.''

Hockey's last line of defense has long been known as a sanctuary for the unstable. Small wonder. The position involves so much pressure, so much solitude and so many point-blank pucks that a reasonable man might look for another line of work.

''We're really fortunate,'' Cincinnati Cyclones coach Ron Smith said Wednesday afternoon. ''We've got two of the more normal guys. They're as regular, straight-arrow, hard-working guys as I've ever been involved with.''

Frederic Chabot and Danny Lorenz led the Cyclones to the cusp of the Turner Cup Finals this month. The 'Clones lost the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night, dropping a 1-0, seventh-game decision to the Orlando Solar Bears, but you couldn't blame it on Cincinnati's netminding.

Two of the best

Chabot finished the regular season atop the International Hockey League's statistics with a goals-against average of 2.46 and a save percentage of .921. Lorenz completed the campaign as the winningest goalie in the history of the Cyclones franchise. Neither man, however, has been able to win a game when his team didn't score. The 'Clones ended their season by scoring one goal in their last two games - both of them losses.

''I thought we had a chance to win it all,'' Chabot said Wednesday. ''I think this was the best team I've played on yet.''

More often than in the other major sports, though, the best team does not always win in hockey. A goaltender at the top of his game can camouflage a multitude of mediocre companions, and lift an ordinary squad to an extraordinary summit. Happens all the time.

''That's why the playoffs are so great and so scary,'' Smith said. ''They're great in that they give everybody hope that you can ride a guy beyond your team's capabilities. They're scary because you know all it takes is another goalie getting hot to beat you.''

This is one of the reasons coaches indulge the peculiar people who play the position. The great Glenn Hall used to induce vomiting before each game, and no coach sought to cure him. Patrick Roy converses with his goal posts, and no one considers having him committed. A hot goalie commands more personal latitude than most opera singers. During his peak seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, Grant Fuhr habitually skipped game-day practices to play golf.

The IHL's scariest goalie this month turned out to be Orlando's Allan Bester, who has exceeded his regular-season total of one shutout with two in the last two weeks of the playoffs. Including one disputed non-goal by the Cyclones, Bester stopped all 30 shots sent his way Wednesday night. He enabled the Solar Bears to advance to the IHL Finals against the Utah Grizzlies.

''Every time we seemed to throw something at them, they seemed to come up with something to defend it,'' said Cyclones center Dave Tomlinson. ''Their goalie was in the right place at the right time two games in a row.''

That's playoff hockey

Wednesday's game was the sort of playoff action to make your palms perspire. The Cyclones and Solar Bears played 45 minutes and 22 seconds of scoreless hockey before Joe Frederick's one-handed shot eluded Chabot at 5:22 of the third period.

At the end of a seven-game series, this was all that separated the two teams: a single opportunity seized. Chabot stopped 22 of Orlando's 23 shots Wednesday, and it wasn't good enough.

''What fooled me was he (Frederick) didn't get the hard shot like I thought he would,'' Chabot said. ''He ended up just getting a piece of it, and it trickled past me. But it's not really the goal that's frustrating. It's frustrating to lose the game.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published May 30, 1996.