By Brian Compton
TRENTON, N.J. – On Tuesday morning, Martin Houle learned from Titans head coach Doug McKay that he would be receiving his first professional start the following night against the Victoria Salmon Kings.
Only a few hours prior to opening face-off, Houle learned he was the Titans’ new No. 1 netminder.
Due to a deal that sent Scott Stirling’s American Hockey League rights from Rochester to San Antonio, Houle has been thrown into a prominent role and will once again be in between the pipes Friday when the Titans host the Johnstown Chiefs at 7:30 at Sovereign Bank Arena.
If he performs the way he did in Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss to Victoria, the Titans will be in decent shape. But clearly, the effort from Trenton’s 16 skaters needs to be better.
“He sure got tested,” McKay said of Houle, who stopped 23 of 25 shots against the Salmon Kings. “He played very well. I’m very proud of him.”
It sure was a whirlwind 24 hours for Houle, who went from preparing for Wednesday night’s game to preparing for pretty much every game until McKay can find a capable partner for the rookie.
“He’s just out of junior (hockey),” McKay said. “There’s really no alternative. Philly signed him and they see a lot in him. They want him to develop. It’s the way it is. We’ve preached adversity is going to come our way, every which way.”
Houle admitted he had some jitters in his first start, but it sure didn’t seem that way based on his performance. The Flyers’ eighth-round pick in the 2004 draft actually benefited from Trenton’s poor effort as he faced 15 shots in the first period and stopped them all to keep his team in the game.
“I was a little nervous,” Houle said. “I got a few shots off the bat to get the stress away.”
The Titans had a chance to get Houle a victory in the third period, when they were handed four consecutive power plays. But they never came close to getting the equalizer as the power play had trouble just setting up in the offensive zone, never mind creating a quality scoring chance. The Titans enter tonight’s game with just three power play tallies in 25 chances (12 percent).
“Houlie was good,” said Scott Bertoli, who has no goals and two assists in Trenton’s first four games of this season. “To put forth that effort, not so much the effort, but it’s just not thinking and not playing smart. The power play, we’ve just got to get together out there. Obviously, we’ve struggled for four games. It’s a key to success and it’s a key to winning. We had our chances (on Wednesday) in the third period, and we’re not getting it done. When the game’s on the line, you’ve got to be able to create something.”
That’s only fair to Houle, who as a rookie is going to need help from his teammates up front if the now Stirling-less Titans are going to win games.
“I was impressed,” Bertoli said of Houle’s performance. “He knows it’s his show now, and he rose to the challenge. He’s not the reason we lost. We’ve got to be able to score more than one or two goals.”