I will be the first to admit that I thought the Aeros first round playoff series would last barely more than a week. In the paper, I picked Peoria to win in six. I was wrong. In the second round, I thought Milwaukee, having home ice and being the second best team in the AHL, would win in seven. I was wrong. Then, in round three, I thought the Aeros magic carpet ride would get them to a sixth game only to lose. I was right, but as they DON'T say, "One out of three ain't good ... "
The things that will stick out in my mind most about this team is A) they never quit and B) they did remarkably well not really knowing from one game (series) to the next who would be their starting goalie. A lot of you know the game well (in many cases better than me) and you know that good, solid goaltending in the playoffs is paramount. While I don't know the X's and O's of hockey as well as I should in some cases, I do know the Houston Aeros better than just about anyone on this planet.
I know they won two championships in 1999 and 2003, but those teams were great hockey teams built to win. But this team, the 2009 Aeros, had the greatest, most unexpected run of all because of how they did it, who they beat and how they got there along the way.
They were the ultimate team to cheer for as a fan because from one night to the next, you had no idea which team would show up, yet they gave Houston hockey fans so much night in and night out.
When Anton got that first shutout in Round 1, a 2-0 win over Peoria in Game 3, I think that was the springboard to bigger and better things. As you all know, the Aeros crashed horribly down the stretch and nearly lost out on the playoffs all together. That is just my opinion, but Aeros assistant coach Luke Strand agrees with me. Consider this quote from Luke:
"Maybe the biggest 'test' was to get Anton his first playoff 'W' and inclusive was his shut out game in round 1," said Strand. "I feel he gained the confidence of the players and staff after out-dueling (Manny) Legace.
"Anton's bumps in the road I feel came from too many opportunities. He played more minutes in a month than he had in the second 1/2 of ECHL season."
Maybe it is too bad he got hurt in Game 4, but maybe it was a blessing in disguise for Matt Climie too. I thought he was cool under pressure, and watching him in Game 6 just does not do him justice. I have talked to several folks in Manitoba that say he kept that game from being about 5-1 or 6-1 after 40 minutes.
No matter how you slice it, these Aeros need to be lauded for an incredible run that gave Aeros fans excitement, joy, several myocardial infarctions per game, disappointment and pride. I cover the games objectively for the Houston Chronicle, but I would absolutely be lying to you if I said I did not well up a tad when Beaudoin and Hrkac scored those overtime goals.
That is how I will remember these Aeros; shooting scoring, running into each other's arms and piling up in the corners after those two OT goals. It's how you should remember them, too.