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

Monday, May 23, 2011

Notes, Quotes & Observations from Game Six and The Brink of History

Before you do anything else, or after, go read my story in the mothership. Please.

Heather handled the doom and gloom below. But I wanted to throw out some quotes from Yeo and DiSalvatore, and maybe offer up a little analysis. So...

I've had the pleasure, the past couple of years, of getting to know Tom Franklin. Tom's the radio voice of the Houston Cougars, and he's a mainstay of the Houston media -- he also did some PA work for the Aeros when they first started back up in the 1990s. But if Tom's best known for one thing, it's for being the radio voice of the Houston Oilers during their final stretch of glory in the early-90s.

Those Oilers, despite the gaudy stats, the good records, and the numerous playoff appearance, aren't necessarily viewed through of prism of fondness. And the reason for that is, despite an ability to run up the score and win big in the regular season, they just could not find a way to win games in the playoffs. And they didn't just lose games in the playoffs, they LOST games in the playoffs.

They would storm out to big leads over the likes of the Broncos or the Chiefs or the Bills, but despite the size of the lead, they would find a way to lose, a way that inevitably meant a last-minute drive led by a John Elway or a Joe Montana that the mighty Oilers defense suddenly couldn't stop.

I did a story in the mothership on Tom, and I asked him about the infamous Buffalo Bills playoff game of January 3, 1993. You know the one. The one they show over and over and over and over on the NFL Network. The one where the Oilers jumped off to the 28-3 halftime lead before increasing it to 35-3 early in the third. Yeah, that game, where the Bills were led not by Jim Kelly, but by his back-up, Frank Reich. Yeah, that one, the one the Oilers lost 41-38 in OT. The biggest come from behind victory in NFL playoff history.

And one of the things we discussed was when he knew the Oilers were going to lose that game. Read the answer here.

All of that's a long way around to getting to this point: the Aeros are on the verge of history, and it's not a good kind of history. Before yesterday, there had only been two occasions when a team, losing 3-0 in an AHL playoff series, had forced a game seven. Now there are three occasions. And on both previous occasions, that team coming from the 0-3 deficit won game seven.

So yeah, the Aeros jumping out to a 3-0 series lead and becoming only the third AHL team to find themselves having to then play in a game seven after having squandered the series lead are, roughly so to say, on the verge of joining the Houston Oilers in the epic annals of Houston sports misery.

1. You know, both Andrew and I predicted this would be a seven game series. And that the Aeros would win it in seven. But neither of us predicted it would get to game seven because the Aeros were choking away a 3-0 series lead.

2. I was in Milwaukee after game six, and I spoke to several of the Aeros, and to coach Yeo. I spoke to them again after yesterday's game. And though they're putting on the brave face and saying the right things, the tone in the voice was different. Game six in Milwaukee was also a loss in OT, but the team just seemed to feel that things would be fine and that of course, a series with Milwaukee was going to go seven.

But yesterday, there was just this despondent sound in the voices I didn't hear in Milwaukee. Perhaps it's just the nature of that game, and the crappy officiating, and finding a way to score two goals to send it to OT that just really deflated the team more than normal.

3. For instance, maybe I'm reading too much in this statement from Jon DiSalvatore, but I haven't heard him say something like this before. And while the players are unnamed, he just never goes about throwing guys under the bus. Until last night.

"Obviously this loss kind of stings," he said. "But there’s a lot of great things that happened in that game for our team tonight. We showed how resilient we are, being down two goals and bouncing back. Obviously out-shooting them, I think that we controlled and dictated most of the game. But obviously it just goes to show you, one play’s the difference. I’m not blaming anyone, but one play is the difference in situations like this." Emphasis mine.

4. But these one plays have been making the difference, yet game after game it seems that, at least two or three times, Hamilton has an odd-man rush on Matt Hackett because somebody's turned the puck over and there's no defense around to help out. And while it would be nice if Hackett were able to pull a Drew MacIntyre and stop 57 of 61 shots in one game, it's hard to put all of the blame on the goalie when he's dealing with breakaways and odd-man rushes time and time again because of poor puck handling.

5. The Aeros can win on Tuesday. But to do so, they have to come out and play a complete game. They played a good first period. They played a good second half of the third period. And it was during those stretches that they pressured MacIntyre with shot after shot after shot.

6. "Just keep doing it. That’s all you can do," Mike Yeo said about dealing with MacIntyre. "Obviously you look at video and you look for weaknesses. And certainly the more traffic you can get around him the more you’re going to make it difficult for him to see the puck and control his rebounds. Having said that, you can’t try to get too precise with your shots. When you do that, that’s when you start missing the net. That’s when you don’t get them off because you take that extra second, and that’s when – that opportunity when the puck gets to the net and we’re banging in the rebound, that opportunity’s lost. We have to make sure to just continue to shoot pucks and go to the net. Certainly, when you’re in tight you want to go in upstairs. We have to put pucks in places where he’s kicking out the rebounds. But otherwise, just keep shooting."

7. Dear Aeros, yes, the officiating sucks. It's beyond suck, if that's even possible. And putting both of the guys named Hebert on the same crew and having them work a playoff game was just beyond stupid. But damn it, you've got to forget about those bastards. I know they're missing obvious penalties that are happening right in front of them while inventing phantom calls to nail you with. But don't let that affect your play on the ice.

The game was lost for the Aeros during a five minute stretch at the end of the second period and the start of the third period. It began when Colton Gillies got called for doing something to the goaltender that nobody in the entire building not named Hebert could see. Then Jed Ortmeyer is somehow about to start up on a rush and he's interfered with, which is great because it would be 4x4 hockey. Instead, the Heberts don't see the interference, play goes on, and Hamilton gets a goal on the power play to tie it at 2-2.

And things just went downhill from there with Hamilton scoring shorties right before, and right after, the second intermission. Yes the Aeros got back into the game and sent it to OT, but it was the loss of composure at that time in the second that cost the Aeros this game.

8. Game seven can be won. DiSalvatore said afterwards that the team needs to wipe away the negatives, focus on the good things, and come out and play.

"We have to try to forget about the pain that we’re feeling right now, the sting of the loss right now," he said. "But we have to recognize and see what we did so well this game. I think, it’s just when we get away from the details of our game that we give them opportunities. And I don’t think that we made a tremendous amount of mistakes tonight, but they were just opportunistic. You give them credit, but I think we can feel really good about a lot of things that we did tonight, and we can build a lot of confidence off of what we did tonight heading into game seven for sure."

9. There's the word from DiSalvatore. Details. Focus on the details. When the Aeros execute, they score. When they execute for a complete game, they win. But when they get sloppy, when they make bad passes or lose composure or miss on a hit, they fall apart.

10. Yes this is only the AHL. There's no AHL Network to replay historic losses over and over again. The Aeros losing this series could never, to the populace of Houston, hurt the way the Oilers losing to the Bills did. But damn it, going in the history books for the wrong reason hurts, no matter how large or small the impact. The impact on the city will be small, but the impact on the team should they lose, well that's going to be huge.


Forecheck said...

Well said, John. A lot of my thoughts and feelings, exactly.

Fortunately, blowing the 3-0 series lead will only matter to the 1% (maybe) of the US population that actually follows the AHL. It won't be a topic of conversation on my next business trip to Louisiana.

Anonymous said...

Fat lady ain't sung yet folks. I believe this will be our finest moment. Get ready for a great game and start walking like a winner with a purpose. Go Aeros.