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

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Harding vs. Taffe, circa 2004


I did not really have time to dive/delve into it over the weekend, but the first thing that popped into my head when I got the news about Taffe joining the Wild was THE INCIDENT back in 2004.

It was the lockout year, the second season removed from the Calder Cup title, and I think it was Todd McLellan's last season in Houston. The Utah Grizzlies thrashed the Aeros in the first of a back-to-back, and the Aeros returned the favor and were five seconds away from a 5-2 win.

Josh Harding, just moments away from his first home pro win, went behind the net to play the puck. (Again, Aeros up 5-2 with five seconds left.) Taffe checked Harding into the boards, Harding fell face-first into the ice, and did not move.

He was taken to Memorial Hermann hospital on a stretcher, missed about two months with a Grade 3 concussion (his first and only from what I can tell) and allowed two goals on the first two shots he saw against the Chicago Wolves in his return to the ice.

Erik Reitz pummeled Taffe, the league later reviewed the incident, and Taffe got a four-game suspension for his actions. In charge of disciplinary issues at that time? You guessed it ... Current Aeros GM Jim Mill.

Here are some quotes that I posted after that game, one that featured 43 penalties, 212 penalty minutes and seven game misconducts.

First, from McLellan: "I just don't understand it. It's such a great league and there are so many great prospects. But with (five) seconds left in a 5-2 game, sure there was some emotion, but you have to have some respect for your opponent. I will be interested to hear about how (the incident) is handled by the league."

Here was a good one from Kyle Wanvig, one of the best quotes I ever worked with: "I have no problem with starting stuff after games and if you have to run somebody, you do what you've got to do ... But you do not run goalies. What happened tonight was bush league ... and there will be consequences."

And another from Reitz: "There is no place for that in this game ... That was just (expletive deleted) ridiculous.

On the Tuesday following the game, the league/Mill announced Taffe's suspension and added a one-gamer to Aeros defenseman John Erskine, who jumped Utah defender Rick Berry.

The Aeros GM at the time, Tom Lynn, told me he thought Taffe deserved more, but wasn't overly surprised by the AHL's decision.

"The league felt it was being consistent with prior disciplinary actions this season and the particular circumstances of this case," said Lynn. "We are hopeful that the message is received and that the AHL will continue to be a safe place for NHL teams to place their top prospects."

I think this story needs to be told because it remains quite vivid in the minds of many Aeros fans that were around back then. But, this was a very isolated incident. and it's not like Taffe just goes around running people for no reason.

Is it something that comes up in training camp this year? I am sure someone will bring it up. Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were on that team, even thought PMB was not in the lineup that night. There were eight legitmate NHLers on the ice for the Aeros in that game: Brent Burns, Zbynek Michalek, Koivu, Stephane Veilleux, Derek Boogaard (RIP), Harding, Mike Smith and Erskine.

Even thought it was a scary-looking moment that COULD have ended Harding's career, Aeros fans should not hold this against Taffe, whose name you will likely hear many times next season at Toyota Center.

In Harding's first game back after the injury, he said he was nervous, but more so because the building was filled with 10,000 fans (Boy Scout night). Harding said he had no recollection of the hit, but called it an accident

"It was an unfortunate accident, but I was able to get through it. It's just great to get back out there and be a part of the team."

Taffe is not a goon, he just did something really stupid very early in his career. Since then, in 25 games against the Aeros, he's scored four goals and added 16 assists. He's dead even and 15 of his 21 PIMs against the Aeros are from that single game.

As a member of the Grizzlies, San Antonio Rampage, Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Rockford IceHogs, Taffe is 13-9-1-2 against the Aeros. He is one of the most sought-after (NHL/AHL) free agents ever summer, and Aeros fans should be happy to have him in the green and white for 2011-12.

After the incident, the Aeros played Utah eight more times. They won six of them, losing twice in a shootout and outscored the Grizzlies 29-15. The Aeros continue to thrive as one of the top franchises in the AHL, and Utah is now a member of the ECHL.

Harding, despite many injury challenges over the years, is still in the NHL as a backup in Minnesota, one of the best places to play pro hockey in the world.

While part of Aeros history, the Taffe/Harding incident is exactly that -- history.

(Late addition from an observer from afar!) And it's not like Harding didn't get the last laugh that year. In his next game against Utah, Harding fought Jamie Storr and wasn't the goalie that ended up with a broken nose. Harding and Smith combined on a 31-save shutout at the E-Center.


WolfKeeper said...

Ah, good times.

Forecheck said...

Actually, I think Hards had a grade two concussion - at least that's what I remember. It would have been unusual to come back from a Grade 3 before the end of the year.

We'll just have to disagree on whether or not Taffe is a welcome addition to the Aeros or not. In my mind he's more welcome than Billy Tibbetts, but that's about it. This is about as bad as having Jimmy Roy show up in Houston as was rumored a number of years ago.

ICEVET said...

Thank you for revisiting this (8 years ago) AHL incident which occurred when THIS Hockey Fan did not have the opportunity to attend Aeros games.

While you did not say whether Taffe ever gave Harding an after-the-fact apology, this is one of those things which Taffe can never be proud of and will, undoubtedly, regret the rest of his career.

Regarding the broader subject of Hockey Violence, a recommended read for Aeros Fans is "The Code", compiled by Ross Bernstein (2006) during the last NHL lockout...which includes a zillion NHL player interviews and covers the topic ad nauseum.

In particular, Mr. Bernstein (a writer of >30 sports books) makes reference, in this book, to a 1995 Minnesota-sourced study by Lawrence Scanlan ("Grace Under Fire") which concludes that "overall, hockey is the most dangerous team sport in the world, with the highest injury rate: 37,000 injuries per 1 million participants, compared to football (18,000), .....etc, etc".

That said, I agree that "Aeros fans should be happy to have Taffe in the green and white for 2011-12".

Go Aeros!