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Steelies goalies share the net, remote

Idaho Steelheads goaltenders (and roommates on road trips) Steve Silverthorn and Matthew Yeats have worked out a deal in their hotel room — the next day's starter is in command.

"Whoever is playing basically gets control of the remote. They become the boss for that day," Yeats said.

The only problem with the arrangement is figuring out which goaltender is going to be between the pipes the next day.

Under the two-goalie system employed by Idaho coach Derek Laxdal, neither has gotten to monopolize the television.

Silverthorn played in his 32nd game Friday night in the Steelheads' 1-0 victory against Phoenix. Yeats will get the start tonight, marking his 28th appearance, in the final game of the three-game series with the RoadRunners.

"You want to be playing every game. If you don't want to do that, then you clearly shouldn't be playing," said Silverthorn, who posted his second shutout of the season Friday night. "But everyone's got to get a chance and you've got to take care of what you can handle and not worry about how everything else works."

Laxdal used a similar arrangement successfully last season with Wichita. His two goalies each won at least 19 games, and the Thunder reached the division finals in the Central Hockey League.

A repeat seems in order. Silverthorn earned his 16th victory Friday. Yeats has 15 wins. And the Steelheads are virtually assured of a playoff berth.

"It makes it easier if you can play both guys. If you get a guy hurt or especially if you get one called up, you know you can stick with a guy for four or five games," Laxdal said. "Right now, we're just trying to make sure both guys are competing down the stretch."

The system — "If you win, you play. If you lose, the other guy plays," Silverthorn said — is slightly more complicated than that. Laxdal tries to balance the schedule, which often involves three games in four nights, and workloads to keep both fresh and engaged.

After a rough stretch in late January and early February when the Steelheads allowed more than three goals in seven of eight games, both have been better. Idaho has allowed three goals or fewer in nine of its last 11 games, including Friday night.

"I said to both guys, 'You've got to pick it up,' " Laxdal said. "I think the goaltending has been very solid the last month. You have to get goaltending to win in this league."

Alaska and Las Vegas, the top two teams in the ECHL and the West Division, rank 1-2 in the league in goals allowed per game, at 2.15 and 2.56, respectively. The Steelheads rank 15th in the 25-team ECHL in goals allowed per game at 3.33 entering Friday's games.

Silverthorn, a 6-foot-2 rookie from Colgate, plays a more technical style, cutting down on angles and often dropping to his knees to stop shots. Silverthorn, who is on a two-way contract with Iowa of the American Hockey League and has twice been called up, is 16-12-3 with a 3.00 goals against average.

The 25-year-old is maturing as a goaltender and becoming more comfortable with the professional game, as evidenced by his 5-2 record in his last seven starts. Friday night, he was tested several times early, but faced just 21 shots.

Silverthorn is on his way up in the hockey world. Yeats is trying to get back to the top.

The 6-foot Yeats, who turns 27 next month, played in five games with the Washington Capitals during the 2003-04 season. A smaller and more instinctive goalie, Yates is 15-6-4 with a 3.17 goals against average. The veteran also has played the role of mentor to Silverthorn.

"He's been nothing but a great help for me personally. He makes it a lot easier," Silverthorn said.

Said Yeats: "It's always good as an older guy to help the younger guy out and give him some confidence. Obviously, he can play at this level."

Such a friendly relationship is vital to the team, especially given the back-and-forth nature of the job-sharing arrangement.

"You want your goaltenders to be good friends and want to work for each other and pull for each other. Competition is very good within a team, but it has to be the right competition," Laxdal said. "If two guys are battling and they don't want each other to do well, then it's not healthy for your hockey club."

But will the two-goalie system be healthy for the hockey club in the postseason, where one hot goaltender can often be the difference in a short stay or a long run?

Laxdal isn't showing his hand.

"You never know in the playoffs. You may have to pull one guy and put the other guy in," Laxdal said. "And if the team knows it can play well in front of both guys, it's a great situation."

Sounds like another month or two of sharing the remote on the road.