Before we go further, one thing needs to be said. We've said a lot of very good and well deserved things for Mike Yeo and the Aeros coaching staff for what the team has done this season. But I think we really need to give a shout out to GM Jim Mill for his work in assembling the pieces on this team. Jon DiSalvatore, Drew Bagnall, Warren Peters, Jed Ortmeyer and on and on, these were guys that Mill brought onto this team, and they've all played very, very key roles.
That said, as Yeo and Mill said after the game, this is only round one, there is still a lot that needs to get done. But the team has this confidence about itself. They know they're deep with four lines that can score goals. And they have brought in to what Mike Yeo is preaching about the system and the process.
Peoria dished out some punishment in this series, and they especially dished out some punishment in Game Four. The recipients of that punishment were Jon DiSalvatore, Patrick O'Sullivan, Robbie Earl, and Casey Wellman. The four guys who have that special on-ice talent. The goal was simple: to get the guys to feel the punishment so that they wouldn't finish their plays, or else would try and retaliate and end up in the penalty box. And that didn't happen.
"They really stepped up the physical play in the third period, and I’m really proud of the guys the way that they continued to go out and execute," Yeo said after the game. "They were getting hit, and they were getting hit hard. But that’s character. To me, that’s the ultimate hard player. The ultimate warrior. It’s easy to go out there and hit people and be tough like that, but to me a real tough player is a guy who will go out and make a play knowing that he’s going to take a hit and do the right thing for his teammates."
And that's the thing about this team. These aren't selfish guys. They're about winning games and not letting down their teammates. I think Drew Bagnall summed it up pretty well:
"I think – [Peoria's] a good team. They have some guys that can really bang," he said. "They tried to go after O’Sullivan and Robbie Earl and Jon DiSalvatore, our high end guys. I just have to give them credit because they didn’t take penalties. They sucked it up. And I think we were just very unselfish. We just knew that we were going to have to take stuff from them. And we knew that we would get them back by shaking hands with them at the end of the series.
"Our third line, Gillies, Ortmeyer, and Peters, they didn’t score a whole lot for us during the season, but in this playoff series, they were great, and they really shut down [Peoria’s T.J. Hensick]. It was great for us."
But this is only one series. The team is not done, and they're not satisfied, especially Mike Yeo.
"It feels great, but I can’t say that I feel satisfied right now," Yeo said. "It’s a step in the right direction. We’re a quarter of the way to our goal, and I’m very pleased with the way our team responded to a very tough team to play against. They came at us hard, and for the guys to keep their focus, and for the guys to fight through some adversity, some deficits we had to fight back on. For us, the ultimate picture, the ultimate goal, is to keep getting better. And I think that we did that these four games.'
I think it's good that the Aeros aren't satisfied. How often do we hear about teams that are just happy to make the playoffs? But not this team. And I'm looking forward to where they might end up.
A real quick trivial matter: Peoria scored the first goal in every game. And they lost all four games. And in none of the games did the Aeros ever look panicked. These guys just seemed to have the attitude that if they just went out and did their thing, then the other team would break. And break Peoria did.
And here's a special shout out to Darryl Sydor. Bagnall and Yeo said the team was aware of Ben Bishop's tendency to go out and play the puck. But it was Sydor who kept on the guys about it, reminding them to take a chance if the opportunity came. And Drew Bagnall took that opportunity.
"Just the way it happened – we had talked a lot about him playing the puck, and we talked that maybe, if you get that chance – this is something Darryl has talked to the defense about a lot, you fake like you’re going hard around and then you put it on net and maybe you can catch him cheating a little bit," Yeo said after the game.
And how about Drew Bagnall? Just think what it does to a team to have a guy who hasn't scored a goal the entire season be the guy who makes the tying goal in the most important game of the season?
"Certainly, you get a goal like that, it puts doubt in their minds, and the momentum that it brings to your team is huge," Yeo said. And Peoria never looked the same after that goal. Sure, they hit and played head hunter, and the game was tight and one of those things where you chew your fingernails up to your knuckles, but you just had to sense that things were going to go the right way for the Aeros after that.
Next stop? Who knows? The Stars are up 2-1 on Milwaukee, and the Aeros will get the winner of that series.
As always, thanks for sticking with us at T3I.