By Chadd Cripe
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – The only two Idaho Steelheads who are never on the ice together usually can be found together off the ice.
Goalies Frank Doyle and Colin Zulianello became fast friends this season — exploring cities like Victoria, British Columbia; San Diego; Fresno, Calif.; and Lafayette, La.
They room with each other on the road and like to walk the city streets.
Doyle and Zulianello are checking out Beaumont, Texas, this weekend as part of a two-week, eight-game road trip.
“We like to experience the city a little rather than sleep all day,” Zulianello said, referring to the hockey habit of napping in the afternoon.
Both say their relationship makes easier the fact that Doyle, a rookie, is the starter and Zulianello, a fourth-year pro who averaged 32 games per season the past three years in the ECHL, is the backup.
On the road, they eat meals together, watch movies and discuss their performances. At home, they schedule “goalie time” when Doyle’s girlfriend is out of town.
Doyle says he always has been friendly with his goaltending partner, but never like this.
“It’s a lot different,” he said. “We’re really good friends. I can’t say enough about how much that means to both of us.”
Earlier in the season, the chatty Zulianello got a glimpse of the shy Doyle that most of his teammates did not.
“He’s actually really funny, and witty as well,” Zulianello said. “Now you hear him making comments in the locker room and guys are surprised, but I’m not because I room with him on the road and I know how he really is.”
Doyle, who came from the intense setting of college hockey at Maine, learned to enjoy himself more during the six-month Steelheads season.
He has heard teammates mention his change in demeanor in the locker room.
“I’m just trying to have a lot more fun,” he said. “Hopefully we can come even closer together as a team.”
Doyle and Zulianello could be the model.
The two walked into what easily could have been a contentious situation.
The Steelheads used their affiliation with the Utah Grizzlies of the American Hockey League to sign Doyle to a two-way contract with Idaho and Utah. He was immediately anointed the successor to Dan Ellis, who won the Kelly Cup MVP award as a rookie with Idaho last year.
Zulianello, who was 18-11-1 as a rookie with Mississippi in 2001-02, was signed as the backup.Doyle is 26-12-4 this season, and Zulianello is 8-9-2.
“I kind of gathered he’d play more games than I would,” Zulianello said. “We anticipated he would be called up more than he has this year. From that respect, it’s probably disappointing for me not to get the games I wanted. I’ve kind of taken the approach that I’m the whenever-they-need-me guy.”
His friendship with Doyle makes it easier to handle the reduced role. Zulianello said he was “miserable” the couple times during his career when he didn’t get along with his goalie partner.
Steelheads assistant coach and former goaltender Blair Allison said there’s only one drawback to a tight-knit goalie tandem.
“The only negative that can come from that is perhaps they don’t compete as hard, but I don’t think we’ve had that,” Allison said. “… They are both very eager to improve, so it’s fun seeing that kind of relationship. It makes things a lot easier.
“They don’t complain (about playing time) so much.”
Head coach John Olver says Doyle and Zulianello break the stereotype of goalies who are “different ducks.”
“I would say these two guys are two of the most normal goaltenders I’ve ever met,” Olver said. “… Both of them are tremendous people. If anyone got to know either one of them individually, they would see why they get along so well, because they’re very good guys.”
Each has faced problems this season.
Zulianello, unaccustomed to spotty playing time, has been inconsistent.
Doyle, the ECHL All-Star Game MVP, hasn’t been as sharp late in the season as he was early.
Both are typical problems for players in their situations.
They rely on each other for support.
“He’s been really helpful, especially early on,” Doyle said of Zulianello. “I was kind of hard on myself about some of the goals I let in. He told me not to worry about games like that.”
Zulianello also is breaking Doyle in off the ice.
The Guelph, Ontario, native hasn’t seen many movies, so Zulianello makes the DVD selections.
“Basically anything I say is good, he’ll watch, which is obviously good for me,” Zulianello said.
Doyle gets a nice perk out of the friendship, too. Zulianello is known for his cooking skills, and a couple of recent goalie get-togethers included homemade steak dinners.
“It’s one of the great things about hockey,” Zulianello said, “you make friends you’ll keep forever, and I think he’s one of them.”