Crashing the Crease: Unsung Heroes Part 1, Roman Cechmanek

Between 2000 and 2010, the Flyers have been notorious for losing control of the so-called “goaltending carousel” and sending it spinning out of control in an endless search for a sure hand between the pipes. However, during that period the Orange and Black have gotten admirable goaltending that, in retrospect, may have gone under-appreciated at the time. Over the next few weeks, Crashing the Crease will take a look at these unsung heroes.

In retrospect, Roman Cechmanek was actually pretty good.

First up: Roman Cechmanek. Often lambasted for being a product of system or locker room cancer, the fact of the matter is that when he was the starter in Philly, he put up outright gaudy numbers.

The first go-to argument against him was that he benefited from Ken Hitchcock’s system, one which preaches an almost religious attention to the defensive zone. However, while his lone season under Hitch was his best in Philly, his regular season performances were still terrific in the two seasons prior. Between ’00-’01 and ’02-’03 he appeared in 163 contests and amassed a 92-43 record with a whopping 20 shutouts while posting a .922 save percentage and 1.87 goals-against average.

Broken down into pre-and post-Hitch, his first two years saw him go 59-28 with a .921 SV% and 1.94 GAA while his one year under Hitch saw an increase to 33-15, .925 and 1.83. So while Hitchcock may have helped boost his three-year sample, his numbers were top notch no matter what.

The other major protest against Cechmanek comes from his playoff record in Philadelphia. His combined 8-14 record in three postseasons with a .909 SV% and 2.33 GAA falls well short of his shining regular-season numbers, but the teams in front of him were downright terrible at times. One glaring example was Game 6 of the 2001 Eastern semis in Buffalo, when he was pulled after allowing five goals on nine shots in an eventual 8-0 series-ending defeat. Another was the entirety of the 2002 first-round series against Ottawa, when the Philly offense amassed two goals in five games.

By no means was Cechmanek an affable personality to have around, and some of his issues in the locker room or media cannot easily be explained away. However, like many European players with a cultural gap separating them from their teammates and the media, it’s difficult to say for sure how much of his personality was a real problem and how much was just a lack of understanding on behalf of outsiders.

His tenure ended when he was shipped off to Los Angeles prior to the 2003-04 campaign, where he played one year and tallied a .906 SV% and 2.51 GAA, still decent numbers on an awful team at the end of a down era for overall offense. He did get a measure of revenge, shutting out Philadelphia in his first start against his former club. After that, he would field more NHL offers but ultimately decided to head back to Europe for the remainder his career.

Cechmanek’s technique was awful to watch, and his inconsistency and tendency to give up the occasional bad goal are undeniable. However, most goaltenders outside of an elite few are prone to giving up bad goals from time to time or going through slumps, and when Cechmanek was on he was incredibly effective.

Even considering his shortcomings, Cechmanek’s play was well above average for the Flyers. He still ranks second in franchise history with 20 shutouts, tied for fourth in total wins with 92, and is one of only two goaltenders to have played more than a handful of games and record a GAA under two-per-game. And considering that the Flyers have employed nearly enough goaltenders since his departure to fill a full roster, he deserves to be appreciated for what he was: imperfect, but nonetheless one of the best the Flyers have had in the past 12 years.