Houston Aeros 1994-2013: Thank you for all the great memories and two decades of great hockey and entertainment.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dear Anton...

Dear Anton,

Look kid: You and I both know you can play in the NHL. But so can a lot of guys in the AHL. You're not remotely alone in feeling kinda screwed that you've been clawing your way up in an organization for 4 years only to hit the ceiling in the AHL.

It must have really stung to see the Wild sign Dennis Endras last summer to essentially be Backstrom's backup next season. Personally, I would have said "FU" to the Wild and gone to the KHL and made some coin. That was as clear as sign as any that they didn't see you fitting into the plans here long term.

But maybe you chose the more positive perspective of wanting to prove to them that they don't need Endras. Or maybe you were banking on an injury to catapult you to the show.

And then, lucky you, the injury came! Harding blows a knee and suddenly it looks like your time has come!

But then the Wild show a lot of nothing in pre-season and management gets nervous that they can't afford a little rookie goalie who's demonstrated a lack of consistency throughout his career as Backstrom's partner. So they sign Theodore.

BAM. Stuck in Houston again.

My sense is you've gotten a sniff of the super high adrenaline rush of tending in the NHL and the acclaim that comes with success at that level, and now the pace of the AHL is a little less thrilling and engaging. The reward for success is less appealing. In fact, because of the Endras signing, there is almost no reward for success in the AHL other than your next contract (for your sake, I hope it's with another team) and pride.

And because of that, maybe you're less attentive, less inspired, less hungry.

I don't think it's a conscious thing, right? I mean, you're a proud guy. Hell, if you weren't, you wouldn't be so bent (even if it's all deep down) about this unfortunate turn in your career path. You feel like you've earned better than this, and that's understandable. You've created lots of memorable moments in all 3 levels you've played, and you've saved a lot of bacon behind teams that haven't always been money in front of you.

But so have lots of guys in the AHL. Even guys who have dominated the AHL have had to wait their turn and have found a way to play their sacks off instead of marking time. Heck, plenty of guys who have been basically written off as minor league journeymen find a way to play lights out just for pride and love of the game and in support of their teammates and, well, their next contract.

Here's the bottom line, kiddo: There's still half a season left and you've got a team in front of you that's improving all the time and are fully invested in each other and making a good playoff push. None of it has come easily, nor will it ever start coming easily. It's a grind to the finish and you have GOT to find a way to get yourself invested in HOUSTON.

Stop just going through the motions until the game gets "interesting" enough to inspire some focused effort. Your team has your back for now, but they'd have your back, front, and sides if you'd stop letting in these softies and forcing them to battle a deficit because you zoned out.

And I don't just write this as an armchair goalie critic. I've given this same speech to myself many MANY times as I stand there in the crease after letting in a soft one. Or two. Or three.

But unlike me, you're in the fortunate position of having the resources, experience, and talent to turn it around and salvage a season where your stock is dropping. If you want to be a blue chip, you've gotta start playing like one.

I'm 100% confident you have the stuff to be the hero in net that this team needs to dominate the West. But you have to dig deep and get your head right. The fix isn't going to come from better defensemen or more goals or more opportunity or more competition. It's gotta come from that spot that hurts like hell when you look over your shoulder and watch that puck drift across the goal line.

Stick on the ice, peanut...




Chris Jerina said...

Clap, clap, clap.

Well said, and go get 'em Anton!

Anonymous said...

Sure Anton has had bad games, let a few goals in but some is also due to other players on the team not playing as well as they should.

I'm sure if Anton feels like the Wilds have dumped on him I can agree with him, I think they have too.

Almost a half season left Anton may get better who knows, I'll stick with him. A goalie may be the last defense but when your own people out front are not holding up their end blame them as well. There have been times this season when I found it hard to watch the team because of their lack of play.

I hope Anton does get better but I still appreciate him and like him as a goalie. It would be nice if the Wilds seem to care about the Aeros and the fans but I don't see that in what they do.

Criticize him if you must but be sure to give equal time to the other players who deserve it just as much.

I wonder if we would have had a better season if it had been Anton and Tordjman as the goalies?

Ms. Conduct said...

I DO believe in Anton and I'm only throwing this out because I know he's not playing to the level he's capable of. The entire organization knows this.

And yeah, other guys have off games (sometimes lots of them), but a) goalies are my thing and I feel more qualified to break his game down and b) goalies are more important, their mistakes and inattention matter more. That's just a responsibility you take on as a goalie.

A lot of, nay MOST, goals aren't his fault, but this trend of being able to set your watch to his bad goals is an awful trend for a professional at this level. When he's got a clear view and time to get into position on a shot, he's gotta stop those.

And it's not just shots that go in. Too often I saw him just not have any clue where the puck was around his net. And my point is, it's uncharacteristic for what I've seen him be able to do in the past.

As much as I enjoy watching Tordjman, talking to San Antonio fans, he's even more inconsistent and risky (without reward) than Anton. Hackett's made fantastic strides and is still very young with many lessons to learn, but he's learning them. I've seen growth both mentally and in his game all season. That's what you want from a rookie. He's earned his spot here. His inconsistency hasn't been a result of lack of focus.

Unsportsmanlike said...

I used to relax when I saw Anton in net, and outright grin when it came down to a shoot-out, despite his constant inconsistency. Seeing Hackett out there instead sets me on edge and makes me hope the puck never makes it to our net at all, despite his moments of brilliance. All I can do is work backward from that bias and try to explain it.

Hackett seems to rely on a better-defined set of techniques and specific positions. But his attention seems to be on those things, not on the game, and often as not, not on the puck either. Khudobin, on the other hand, is often as not sprawled out on the ice five feet from where he needs to be but manages to get back over there anyway, because he seems to run on pure determination bordering on desperation to keep the puck out of his net.

So I've preferred Khudobin to Hackett because I know Anton cares. I've seen goals get under his skin. I've seen him shake that off to save the next shot he couldn't possibly get to, but did. And while coaching might help Anton calm down in net a bit and learn some of the techniques and positioning he lacks, I don't think it's nearly as likely that coaching or training is going to give Hackett the fire that drives Khudobin to scramble for it over and over. (But oh, do prove me wrong, please!)

That's what made the first two periods last night so heartbreaking. Anton without technique OR passion is just dead on the ice, and Anton not bothering to track the puck defies every opinion I've formed of him.

(Though Anonymous has a point -- Khudobin was already looking bored and sleepy, but when both Fredheim and Noreau nearly scored on their own net in the first ten minutes, it really seemed to send Khudobin mentally downhill. Feeling let down by his teammates has always sent him sulking, though, and he still needs to learn to get over that and play his own game.)

Forecheck said...

Well said, Ms. I guess it takes another goalie to tell a goalie the way things are. Much my same sentiments but said much better than I could have.

Anton certainly has the tools to be an NHL goalie. The thing that seems to be lacking now is FOCUS.

Hack seems to be more of a "technique" goalie, but he is young amd inexperienced. He needs to acquire that experience at an appropriate rate so he doesn't feel burdened by failure - since one generally gains experience through failure.

artandhockey said...

Ah it is sooo tempting to chime in with a "told ya".. but the signing of a) Endras then b) Tordjman and c)Theodore by the Wild - I've felt all along, must have been a slap in the face to AK.
But then so much what the Wild have done, strikes me that way. But then who am I, neither coach, nor skater, nor goalie!
Just perhaps someone with a bit of horse sense and a penchant for fairness!
Which as some of the T3I crew so eloquently stated a while ago: 'nothing's fair in hockey/sports so forget about it'!

ICEVET said...

THE TRUTH HURTS: Anton has always been an "outlier" within the Wild and Aeros organization.

Today, he is the only Central Asian (Kazakhan/Russian) player on the WILD or the Aeros roster and, for that matter, on any WILD/Aeros affiliate clear roster during his 4-year development.

The "loneliness factor" created by cultural and language differences (particulary during stressful periods) are sometimes difficult for "us Americans" to understand. To be sure, many other AHL teams and their parents have had no problem assimilating Kazak/Russian talent into their core.

The bias of the WILD coaching staff and goalie coaches against Anton has been palpable, as you point out. Notably, after Anton's recent shutout with the WILD, T. Richards gave "the goaltender" large credit for the win over Edmonton, but failed to address Anton, by name.

No doubt, these factors will prevent Anton from remaining with the WILD after this season. However, the fan takeaway from your post is whether Anton can "re-elevate" his game enough to backstop the Aeros quest to earn a playoff spot and become the "cinderella team" of the Calder Playoffs.

Go Aeros!

Andrew J. Ferraro said...

Wow, Mrs. C, really good post and letter to Anton.
Lot's of good feedback, including unsubstantiated accusations of a biggot-filled Wild organization!

Anton may or may not be getting a fair shake, but I seriously doubt it has anything to do with being Russian. And as for why the team has missed the boat on any good Russian prospects, well, it's not like they have drafted any home runs of any other nationality.

All you have to do is look at the success of the Aeros thus far. While most of their top 10 forwards are capable of filling in nicely in the NHL, how many of them do you see contributing for the Wild on a regular basis in the next 1-3 years?

Good comment, ICEVET, I just don't agree with your angle.

Forecheck said...

@Ice - Well, Anton played juniors in Canada for a season and was sent back (to Russia actually, but east of the Urals, I believe). Then after one season "home" he gets plopped into - - - Beaumont!!! Talk about culture shock!

It would seem to me that cultural/assimilation issues are probably minimal by now, otherwise he would have gone to the KHL (other than parts of Russia can be a rather crappy place to be right now).

ICEVET said...

RE: Andrew Ferraro's comment on "unsubstantiated accusations of a biggot-filled WILD organization":

WOW...with all due respect, you have misunderstood my point, which simply stated that Anton is the only Russian / Kazak within the WILD organization (a fact).

Please do NOT "put words in my mouth" and link my initial point with the second point (i.e. lack of confidence in Anton) by the WILD coaching staff with regard to a permanent NHL role.

To be sure, Anton "doesn't fit the mold" of modern goalies and has his own unique style, which, at best, brings great excitement.

That Ms. C got so many comments (probably should have gotten more) is because most people love Anton for what he is and want him to succeed.

Go Aeros!

Andrew J. Ferraro said...

I never mean to put words into anyone's mouth. That is exactly how I took your comment, though. Maybe it was how it was worded, so forgive if I am still way out of line. I re-read the comment you posted initially, and the problem I have with it is the words about how no other franchise had has problems working in/drafting other players from Russia.

Maybe I did read into that too much. While true, literally, it was really hard not to try to take that somewhere.

Anton is borderline celebrity when he is recalled to the NHL because of the attention he gets, and I feel I have to defend the Wild coaches in their reference to giving "the goaltender" credit for the wins when he was with the team earlier this month.

Coaches say that kind of crap all the time.

Again, sorry for the disconnect on my part...in reading through this entire thread, again, I did get a pretty good story idea. Here's to hoping I can make that happen before the middle of next month.