When Rick St. Croix tells St. John's IceCaps netminders David Aebischer, Eddie Pasquale and Peter Mannino he knows what they're going through in a three-goalie rotation, it isn't a throwaway statement.
St. Croix, the IceCaps' goaltending coach, was part of such a triumvirate a few times during his 11-year pro career, beginning with the 1978-79 American Hockey League season, when he had to share crease time with Pete Peeters and Robbie Moore on the Maine Mariners, the farm team of the Philadelphia Flyers. He did it again in the NHL, this time with the 1983-84 Toronto Maple Leafs and as part of a trio that also included Allan Bester and Ken Wregget.
"So when I talk to them about it - and I do - I'm talking from experience. I've been in it and I know what that's about," said St. Croix.
"I think they've been doing very well, but it's not easy. The main thing is that they have to be mentally tough. It is what it is. I know that's a comment you often hear in sports, but that's because it so often applies. This is a situation that is not necessarily in their control and until decisions are made to change it, they have to make the best of it.
"If you want to use what's happening as a crutch, you're just going to slowly melt away and out of the situation."
Except for a two-week stretch when Mannino was on recall to Winnipeg, the IceCaps have carried three goalies since the start of the season, and St. John's head coach Keith McCambridge's attitude in utilizing them appears to be very simple: Whomever is the current starter will remain so as long as his performance is very good or better. Anything average or less means you get relegated to the bottom of the queue.
This week was a good example. Aebischer made his third straight start Tuesday at Mile One Centre against the Syracuse Crunch and gave up three goals on 28 shots. It was Aebischer's third straight win, but it wasn't enough to secure another start in Wednesday's rematch against the Crunch. That went instead to Pasquale, who had been the backup on Tuesday. He took the loss in a 5-3 setback to Syracuse. So on Friday night, against the visiting Worcester Sharks, it was Mannino who got the call, with a promotion from his backup role from Wednesday.
So it's a true rotation, or endless circle, depending how you look at it.
"You have to truly work to find positives about the situation, even that might not be easy. You might have to think hard about it, but you better do it," said St. Croix.
It certainly tests a goalie's ability to adapt, although Mannino and Pasquale have recently written that test, having been two of three goaltenders for a while last season with the AHL's Chicago Wolves. That changed when the third wheel, veteran netminder Drew McIntyre, was traded to the Montreal Canadiens' organization.
Aebischer, despite being older than the other two, doesn't have the same history, although he was part of a logjam, along with Cristobal Huet and Jaroslav Halak, on the Canadiens near the end of the 2006-07 NHL season. But that was about organizational pecking order rather than playing time, since Halak only arrived on the scene in Montreal after an injury to Huet.
While playing time may be an obvious measuring stick about where a goalie stands with a team - even when there are only two - St. Croix notes things really become convoluted when three goalies try to share two nets in practice.
"In practice, the starting goalie is just getting enough work to stay sharp," said St. Croix. "In a two-goalie system, the other guy has got the other net and all the rest of the work is his. With three, that (leftover) workload gets split in two.
"And when you're giving up ice time, whether it's practice or games, it affects your preparation. It comes down to managing your time properly. It's finding ways to adjust to the situation so that when it comes time to play, you don't have excuses, that you can't says 'I'm winded' or that "My legs weren't there.'"
St. Croix notes that the IceCaps' coaching staff has been working hard to keep all three goalies sharp.
"That's a real tough task," he said, "one that needs everyone contributing something to make it work.
"It's not just frustrating for the goalies. It's frustrating for the coaches, trying to figure out how to make it work.
"So far, I think everyone has done very well with it."