Cincinnati Cyclones goalie Robert Mayer made the most of his team's hectic schedule, traveling home from Idaho after the first two games of the Kelly Cup finals.
"I've never been out that far west," he said. "I'm enjoying seeing everything on the road. At the airport, we see mountains or whatever. It's nothing like back home."
The native of the Czech Republic is a lot more than a sightseeing passenger. He's lifting the Cyclones to the grandest heights himself.
The rookie has turned a small sample size into big results, becoming the hottest playoff goalie in the ECHL. He's played in just seven games, won four and pitched three shutouts.
The drama exceeds even the typical playoff fare. He was instrumental in helping Cincinnati to a historic comeback from a 3-0 series hole by turning in shutouts in Game 5 and Game 7 of that series.
"I think you have to believe. If we didn't believe, we didn't do it," he said of the rally. "We thought we could wear them down. The bounces started to go our way."
Mayer gave up just 2 goals in a 3-2 win against the Idaho Steelheads in the final series opener May 14 and then turned in another whitewash in Game 2 the next night. Overall, through seven playoff games he's posted a 1.55 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.
"For me, it's the same thing. It doesn't matter if it's the playoffs," he said. "So far, it's been pretty successful. You get excited -- nervous, too. I don't really think about it. I just think about winning the game."
Imagine how unbeatable Mayer might be if he actually was in a groove. He was recalled to AHL Hamilton on March 30, but between then and his return to Cincinnati on April 30 he got just 102 minutes of playing time. No matter. He jumped back into action in Game 3 of the Reading series, coming on in relief of Jeremy Smith to deny 14 of 15 shots.
"I felt pretty good. You have to be ready every game," he said. "If you get into the game, you don't worry if you are rusty or not. You try to stop the puck."
After carrying the Cyclones to this point in the playoffs, Mayer was also comfortable doing the same for his teammates through the airports. His hot streak didn't change his status as a rookie, nor did it absolve him of the chore of transporting the bags from the team bus to the check-in counter.
"There're no excuses," Mayer said. "It doesn't matter if you had a shutout last night. All the rookies have to do a little extra stuff. I carry their bags because they were helping me out back there (on the ice). It's a team game. A rookie has to do his job."
Not Tardy with a hit -- Weston Tardy's sense of timing made him a double-winner this season.
Tardy, 26, won the award as Idaho's best defenseman this season. It's not because of his offense -- he had just 1 goal and 19 points.
It's not because he pancakes opposing forwards along the boards. At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, he considers it a win if he fights those battles to a draw.
Tardy earned that honor in large part because of his ability to block shots, a knack that's as well tuned as any in the ECHL.
"It seems like I get hit with the puck quite a bit. I almost take it for granted. I don't see it as going out of my way, or anything special," he said. "That's part of my game I developed because of my size. It's always been effective. It's a little thing you can do to help the team."
Tardy's in a position to do that with the Steelheads because he decided that 2009-10 was the right time to return to North America. After playing his rookie season with Augusta in 2006-07, he spent the last two seasons in Sweden.
His team there wasn't very good, so he reversed course. Skating for the Steelheads made him a Brabham Cup winner as the ECHL's regular-season champion, at the very least.
"I wanted to win," he said. "Idaho had a great reputation for having a winning organization. No matter what profession you are in, if you are unsuccessful it eats at you a little bit. As far as (coming to Idaho) went, I couldn't ask for a better group of guys and be on such a great team. Some great players never have that chance. It's quite a turnaround."
Coaching showdown -- An interesting subplot of the Idaho-Cincinnati showdown is the unofficial competition between the coaches.
The finals mark the first time in the 22-year history of the ECHL that two coaches who previously have won league titles meet in the title series. Idaho's Derek Laxdal led the Steelheads to the 2007 title and Cincinnati's Chuck Weber took the Cyclones to the championship in 2008. The winner will join Mike Haviland, who was the head coach with Atlantic City in 2003 and with Trenton in 2005, as the only coach to win more than one Kelly Cup.
"You have to be ready every game. If you get into the game, you don't worry if you are rusty or not. You try to stop the puck." -- Robert Mayer
Additionally, if the Steelheads win they would tie the league record for championships held by Hampton Roads, which won in 1991, 1992 and 1998, and South Carolina, who won in 1997, 2001 and 2009. Idaho is making its third appearance in the finals, tying the record held by the Greensboro Monarchs (1990, 1991, 1995), the Hampton Roads Admirals (1991, 1992, 1998), the Wheeling Nailers (1989, 1990, 1993) and the South Carolina Stingrays (1997, 2001, 2009).
Cincinnati won the Kelly Cup in 2008 and is attempting to become the third team to win multiple Kelly Cups.
Around the ECHL -- Each of the first three games in the Kelly Cup finals was decided in the final minute of regulation or in overtime. … Cincinnati's 4-3 double-overtime loss to Idaho in Game 3 of the finals May 18 was the third-longest game in Cyclones history. … With a Game 2 win May 15, Weber won his 43rd career Kelly Cup playoff game. He passed former Alaska Aces coach Davis Payne for most postseason wins by a coach in any four-year period in ECHL history. Payne accomplished his 38-win run from 2004-07. … Idaho is 6-0 when scoring first in the playoffs. …The Cyclones have won four straight road games, outscoring their opposition 15-6. … Cincinnati is 8-2 in one-goal playoff games. … Heading into the finals, Cincinnati had played the maximum number of games in each of its first three series.