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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ortmeyer Factor

The Aeros don't play again until Thursday, and they only have four games left in this, what has become a most fun and enjoyable regular season. Unlike the teams from 1999 and 2003 that won it all (and were built to win and win big), nothing this team does for the rest of the time they are together will disappoint me.

They have achieved more than I, or anyone else in the AHL media world thought was possible. Some experts had them finishing dead last in the West, while some others saw enough talent to get them into the playoffs. I could be lumped into the latter of those two. I thought the runaway "favorites" in the West this year would be Peoria and San Antonio.

Milwaukee is always good, and I thought Chicago had just enough offensive firepower to make it work. The rest of the division, I thought would be battling it out with Chicago and Milwaukee to get the last two or three spots.

Now just look at the standings.

Milwaukee can't lose on the road, the Aeros can't lose at home and the Texas Stars, despite all the call-ups to Dallas, have somehow remained near the top with no superstars. The race for the last one or two spots will be epic, and I am not even going to begin to predict that outcome.

We'll provide a playoff primer after the regular season, but I did want to take the time to talk about one ... huge ... x-factor in Jed Ortmeyer (pictured above in a shot by Chris Jerina).

After the loss at Rockford on Dec. 30, the Aeros were 18-17-1-2. They blew a 1-0 third period lead, and I remember thinking to myself that the Aeros just didn't have enough firepower to get into the playoffs. Their leadership group was decent, but they didn't have that emotional guy to make them hate losing enough. Then, the Rampage release Jed Ortmeyer from his AHL deal. The Wild saw value in him for a two-way deal.

He has been with the Aeros since (including one call-up to Minny) and since then, the Aeros are 26-9-0-3. Now consider the other side. When San Antonio released Ortmeyer, they were rolling along at 23-10-1-0. Since his departure the team has lost its best players to Phoenix and has spiraled down to seventh place. Their record since Ortmeyer left? 15-20-2-2. That is fifteen wins and 24 losses.

I am not saying Ortmeyer's departure is the reason San Antonio might not make the playoffs, but I am saying that he is one of the reasons the Aeros are now a virtual lock. His fiery personality coupled with the addition of Patrick O'Sullivan and his amazing offensive skill set have been a can't miss if you are handicapping the teams that are likely to do well in the postseason.

Ortmeyer, I believe, has done wonders for players like Carson McMillan and Colton Gillies. I firmly believe that any of those guys could go to the Wild right now and make them better. O'Sullivan, I believe, is living proof that AHL teams need to spend money on at least one bona fide money scorer to take their teams to the next level.

O'Sullivan has made Jon DiSalvatore play way better; he makes Chad Rau look better. That took the pressure off Robbie Earl somewhat, and now even HE has a career-high 21 goals. Speaking of guys that hate losing? Welcome back Warren Peters.

Not all the news is rosy.

There are some players grumbling about playing time. Not complaining-grumbing mind you, but this is the time of year where these things come up because of past injuries. OF COURSE you want to be playing ...When things are going as good as they are, of course you want more time. I think it would be far worse if the opposite were true. Also, the defense took a hit when both Scandella and Cuma went down with long-term injuries. The PK really, really struggled against OKC, but when those three things are all you can really complain about at the moment ... things are pretty OK in Aeroland.

The last four games are about getting home ice locked up for the first round against Texas. This matchup is going to happen, and that's a little bit scary considering the Dallas Stars won't be going to the playoffs this year. Richard Bachman has been a very pleasant surprise for them this year, and even though the Aeros went 9-3 against them this year, they are still very dangerous.

Texas will close the regular season with seven games in 10 days. The Aeros have just three in that span and will be well rested entering the playoffs. They have achieved more than anyone could have guessed to this point. Here's to what we all hope is another three months of hockey.


ICEVET said...

An EXCELLENT POST on the Aeros rise to the Top over the last 3 months!

While Mike Yeo would get my vote for Coach-of-the-Year, Glen Gulutzan (Stars) would certainly be the runner-up, given what he has done with his (now-depleted) 2010 Calder Cup Final team (which, then, included the talented Jamie Benn with ~30 playoff points).

That 2010 Calder team also included talented players such as Matt Beaudoin, Garrett Stafford (now with SA), and Petru Lingren, Andrew Hutchison, Scott McCullough (still injured), Dan Jancevski, and, of course, the Aeros Warren Peters, all of which made very significant contributions.

The Stars (March 8) Clear Day Roster does include 4 players, currently on recall to Dallas (Thomas Vincour, Brandon Segal, Brad Luckowich, and Phil Larsen) and 10 others from the 2010 Calder team. While "newcomers" have fit well into Gulutzan's System, reassignment of the Dallas players (not part of the 2010 team and should not be a significant addition to the current squad.

The Stars play every other West Division team once (OKC-twice) as should finish the season with momentum. A first-rounder with the Stars could be one of the "very best" series in this year's CUP and would probably go 7 games; however, a slight advantage to the Aeros with home-ice and special teams.....coupled with Richard Bachman's difficulties with the Aeros offensive system..... should favor the Aeros to move on to a second-round berth.

Go Aeros!!!

Andrew J. Ferraro said...

I agree on all but one point ... I think the seven games in 10 days will prove to be a hindrance. Five of their last seven games - again, all in 10 days - are against teams that have to win to get in. The last two playoff spots probably won't get wrapped up until the last weekend.

That is going to wear on the Stars, and if I am the Aeros, I go for the kill and try to get Game 1 on Wednesday after the last game. Obviously, this all comes down to arena availability, but it will be an advantage.

The Milwaukee Admirals did not take advantage of this when they had the Aeros in Round 1 of the 2009 playoffs. The Aeros stole game 1 in MKE and won the series in 7.

Home ice will be huge in the first round, but unlike the 2009 playoffs, this round will be in the much more manageable 2-2-1-1-1 format. MUCH better for the higher seeded team for one main reason -- you don't HAVE to win two of three on the road to win the series.

Anonymous said...

Nice post Andrew. +1 on the Ortmeyer Factor. The guy has his heart all over the ice.

Forecheck said...

Well, as the statisticians will say, “correlation does not necessarily imply causation”. I think the pre-Sully turnaround was already in progress when Jed joined the team, though slow in incomplete (hey, they finally won a game they didn’t score in first sometime in mid-December). I do think it’s arguably correct that Jed got them over the hump.

I’d love to see him back in prop gear next season , wearing a letter too, but I’m afraid he will get a better offer across the pond.

ICEVET said...

@ Forecheck:

"Statisticians" can always rationalize past outcomes, but fall short when attempting to predict future outcomes.

Recommend "The Black Swan" (Nassim Nicholas Taleb-2007) in case you haven't read it.

Given the WILD imminent failure to reach the playoffs (AGAIN), a strong case must be made for doing what it takes to retain Mr. Ortmeyer in the WILD-Aeros development organization, next year.

Go Aeros!!!

Forecheck said...

Thanks to Lethonen's weak goal in the shoot-out, the Stars are unlikely to make the playoffs as well.

Vincour, Segal, Lukowich, and Larsen will make the Texas stars a much more powerfull team.....maybe we should try to finish fourth???