DULUTH — When Chris Carrozzi was sent back down from the AHL on Saturday, Gwinnett Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle told the goaltender he was going to be the No. 1 guy from here on out.
Carrozzi played like it this weekend and the ECHL took notice.
The 21-year-old rookie was named the league’s goalie of the week Tuesday — just the second time this season a Gwinnett netminder was so honored and first time since Billy Sauer earned the award in November.
Carrozzi won back-to-back games, critical victories that kept the Gladiators in a tight playoff race. The Atlanta Thrashers’ sixth-round draft pick in 2008, he posted a 1.50 goals against average and a .953 save percentage as Gwinnett pushed its winning streak to six games.
“Rozzi made some phenomenal saves — and at the right time,” Pyle said. “With him coming down, I told him, you’re going to be playing just about every game now. Right now you’re running with the ball. I’m just happy for him.”
He made 27 saves in a 3-0 win over Trenton on Saturday night, just hours after arriving from Chicago, for his second shutout of the season.
Carrozzi kept the Gladiators in the game early when they spent a fair amount of time on the penalty kill.
“Yeah, I just had to make a couple big saves in the first period then the guys really shut it off after that and made it really easy for me,” Carrozzi said. “So after the first period, the guys really turned it on and popped two goals in and that’s all we needed.”
He followed that up with a 34-save performance on Sunday in a 4-3 win over the Devils.
The two biggest stops came not long after Gwinnett grabbed leads in the first and third periods.
Carrozzi was mano a mano with Matt Vokes for a frozen moment at the top of the crease late in the first period. Vokes held the puck for some time, but couldn’t get Carrozzi to overcommit and the goalie batted the shot away.
The Gladiators were tied headed into the third, but Akim Aliu scored on a short-handed breakaway at 1:18.
Carrozzi made it stand up with 10 saves in the final period, none more impressive than when he robbed Ryan Hayes with more than 12 minutes to go. The Ontario native ripped a shot labeled for the near top corner out of the air and denied Hayes his 21st goal of the season.
Pyle said Carrozzi was the difference in a game where Gwinnett gave up leads in the first and second periods before prevailing in the third.
“(He) saved the game for us,” Pyle said.
Before turning pro, Carrozzi appeared in 156 Ontario Hockey League games with Toronto and Mississauga from 2006-2010. He had a record of 77-49-12 with 11 shutouts, a 2.92 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.
Carrozzi is 15-13-1-4 with Gwinnett this season and appeared in one AHL game, an overtime loss, with Chicago during his first brief call-up last week.