By: Madison Hricik, Media Relations Intern
ROANOKE, VA – Donning some mismatched socks and a backwards hat, Roanoke goaltender Austyn Roudebush comes off as another typical “funny guy.” He cracks jokes, makes his teammates smile, and just wants to have fun.
But that doesn’t mean Roudebush is just a “funny guy.”
He’s at the rink practicing on the ice 45 minutes before the rest of the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs come out for practice. He works with assistant coach Ian Roberts in mini goalie sessions, fine-tuning elements of Roudebush’s game every single week. And coupled with a laser-focused mentality, the six-foot-three netminder has become one of the key players heading into the 2023 President’s Cup Playoffs.
“It’s the position I chose, and the position that I know best,” Roudebush said.
Almost out of spite, Roudebush became a goalie because he didn’t like to skate as a kid. His dad was his coach for most of his youth, and so Roudebush said by learning to become a goalie, he hoped he wouldn’t skate as much.
Well, that wasn’t the case. By the time he’d realized it, he was still skating, but with goalie pads on.
“I think after the years, I just kind of fell in love with it,” he said. “I just figured out that I ended up being pretty good at it, so I stuck with it.”
Roudebush first joined the Dawgs during the 2019-20 season, staying with the team for only a few months before COVID-19 shut down the SPHL. From there, Roudebush found ways to keep playing with other teams in the league throughout the 2020-21 season, and cruised through the season with the Knoxville Ice Bears, with a .943 save percentage, four shutouts, and an All-SPHL Second-Team selection in 18 games.
Roudebush’s major opportunity came during the 2021-22 season with Roanoke, when he played the third-most minutes among all of the league’s goaltenders and earned a 13-13-6 record during the regular season. However, it was former Dawg Sammy Bernard that got hot late in the year and earned the starting gig heading into the 2022 President’s Cup Playoffs, and Roudebush found himself supporting his team from the bench.
“It was just the timing of everything,” said Roanoke head coach Dan Bremner. “I think with the up-and-down year that we had, so much of the team playing well was having confidence in their goalie.”
That was until Bernard was injured in Game One of the President’s Cup semifinals against the second-seeded Huntsville Havoc, tossing Roudebush between the pipes to begin the second period of one of the biggest games in franchise history — a tough ask for any goaltender.
But Roudebush stole the show during that series, saving 18-of-20 shots faced in the 5-3 Game One win before dominating the Havoc with a 36-save shutout in Roanoke’s 2-0 Game Two victory. Roudebush and the Dawgs had swept the series, and eighth-seeded Roanoke was off to the President’s Cup Final for the first time in franchise history.
Things didn’t end with a President’s Cup Trophy and a championship ring, but the playoff run showed what Roudebush could do in the net when the Dawgs needed it most.
There wasn’t a movie montage when it came to Roudebush’s training. Instead, Roudebush spent countless hours getting better — on and off the ice — because for him, there was one goal: help get the Dawgs back to the championship series.
“I knew he had something to prove,” said forward Josh Nenadal. “That’s where the summer training came in, and you could just tell there was a different mindset. When he got to camp, he wasn’t just at camp to be at camp. He was there for a purpose.”
Roudebush worked nearly every day in the offseason with DK Mobility, he said, an organization led by Roudebush’s longtime friend and fellow pro goaltender, Dillon Kelly. The two worked together throughout the summer, often training with ECHL, AHL and a few NHL players. He focused on injury prevention workouts, did yoga, and more stretching on top of goalie sessions and gym workouts.
“I think the training as a whole was a big change for me,” Roudebush said. “Just having trainers and being in a hockey-based gym was probably the biggest change for me.”
It didn’t take long for the Dawgs to rely on Roudebush as “the guy” for this season. And while Roudebush continued honing in on small details, his confidence grew.
Since the season began, Roudebush has worked his way to a 2.41 goals against average (GAA) and two shutouts this season, with flashy glove saves and post-to-post glides here and there. Roudebush’s goals against average has been among the SPHL’s best all season long, a feat made even more impressive with him playing 200 more minutes than any other goalie in the league while placing him well on his way to starting in more than 40 of the Dawgs’ 56 regular season games. He’s the team’s final man — literally. But that’s what makes his job so exciting.
“I kind of like having the pressure on me where it’s up to you as that last line of defense,” Roudebush said. “If you’re off, there’s a good chance your team could lose and if you’re on there’s a good chance your team could win. So it solely relies on you.”
And leading up to those 60 minutes in net, Roudebush spends time in a personalized goalie skate before practices. Working with Roberts, the Dawgs’ assistant and goalie specialist, the two go over film and work through different drills to fine tune elements of Roudebush’s game.
Then of course, there’s the off-the-ice work Roudebush spends his time on. The team likes to joke about “fast food after practice,” said defenseman Matt O’Dea, but it stays a joke for Roudebush.
“That’s the biggest thing I noticed,” O’Dea said. “His body was really healthy when he came in here … And it’s because he’s taking such good care of his body.”
It’s all pieces of a puzzle that Roudebush has put together throughout this season, culminating in him leading the SPHL with more than 2,000 minutes played, 22 wins and 37 games played.
“I know he had a huge emphasis on just wanting to take his game to another level, and I think he’s done that,” Roberts said. “He has the ability to give us a chance to win every night, and I think that all just comes down to his preparation leading up to this season.”
When Roudebush rejoined the Dawgs in the fall of 2021, he became roommates with Nenadal. It was a near-perfect fit from the start.
“I just heard that he was coming back from the Toledo Walleye’s camp and needed a place to stay, and we had an open bedroom,” Nenadal said. “We’re coming back from a year off, so we never really knew each other all that well [from the 19-20 season], and we just hit it off the minute he walked in the door.”
Roudebush has always been considered “unapologetically himself,” as O’Dea described it. The energetic and humorous attitude that Roudebush has attached to him always lingers — holding up a “pucks hurt” sign for media day, singing louder than most teammates in the team’s parody of “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and countless other stories that find Roudebush keeping things light. But that wasn’t what Nenadal said stuck out about him.
“He’s way more serious than people give him credit for, and he’s extremely focused in what he does,” Nenadal said.
There’s a balance of maturity, professionalism, and determination Roudebush has that his teammates respect. He’s proven that they can trust him, he’s putting in the extra work, and that it’s paying off.
“He’s just dedicated to his craft,” said Roanoke captain Mac Jansen. “I think that brought a lot more consistency into his game. I mean, every day he’s one of the first guys to the rink.”
O’Dea said Roudebush wasn’t afraid to play physical hockey, an abnormal characteristic for a goalie, but one that’s led to some laughable moments on the ice. Roudebush isn’t afraid to shove players out of the way or take on a one-on-one attempt.
Or a goalie fight.
When Roudebush and former Knoxville Ice Bear Trevor Babin dropped the gloves at center ice on Dec. 1, 2022, it showed off another aspect of Roudebush’s game: his strength.
“When they started fighting, I didn’t think it was going to go that great for the other goalie,” O’Dea chuckled. “And the results showed … but he’s such a strong guy.”
With five games left before the start of the 2023 President’s Cup Playoffs, the expectations surrounding who many would call the league’s best goaltender have grown. The team is more than willing to rely on Roudebush as a backbone player, and that this newly trained, still true to himself, goaltender can do it all.
“We are very fortunate to have a guy back there who we can trust in any situation,” Nenadal said. “And playing in front of him, we love that because we know we’re never out of it — no matter what.”
Featured Image Credit: Brian Collett // BC Captures