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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Fact Checking Can Be Your Friend

There's this blog called The Victory Formation. I don't really know much about it. I've never even heard of it until today. But today they decided to write about Houston, the Aeros, and why it's an awful idea to move a NHL team to Houston.

I should probably just leave it alone, but they got a few facts wrong. A few facts that are easy to check wrong, so I just can't let it go. So...

The Aeros play in the AHL, not the IHL. That's a pretty easy thing to check. It's called Google. Then they state the Aeros average around 5300 a game. Once again, that figure is wrong. The Aeros actually average 6131 a game, one of the best average attendance figures in the league. And once again, this is a pretty easy number to check. Go to ahl.com, go to the stats page, and check the attendance box for 2010-2011. Then again, to do that, one actually has to know what league the team you're talking about is playing in.

Then the guy mentions that the Aeros record attendance number is just a little over 13,000 people. Once again, as you probably guessed, this is wrong. The team's record attendance number is, the best I can find, 15,552 at Dr. Joel's House of Love, a.k.a. The Summit/Compaq Center.

So if you're going to blog about something and act like an expert while doing it, try to get the basic facts, the ones that can be easily checked at least, right. Because the guy's basic premise may be right and the NHL could fail in Houston. I think he's wrong, and I think this based on the fact that the team draws as well as it does playing in a minor league and with a minimal advertising budget. But while his premise might be right, I just can't believe in it since he got the facts supporting his premise wrong.

But there's also this: if the guy got all of this little, easy, stuff wrong about the Aeros and Houston, then what all did he get wrong about every other team and location he discussed. So excuse the rant, I just hate it when people get easy, verifiable facts wrong.

The Aeros Are Having Fun

My latest post on the team is up over at the Houston Press, so I hope you'll give it a read, though, I've got to admit, there's nothing over there that remotely touches on anything that could be seen as saying the Wild organization is racist or biased against Anton Khudobin. There are some comments from Mike Yeo on dealing with the break, and a statement from Chad Rau about why the team has been playing so good -- they're having fun.

Also, I know most of you probably don't care about college basketball, but I've also got a post over there today dealing with Rice basketball and the challenge that freshman center Omar Oraby is currently dealing with -- a challenge that has nothing to do with basketball as he's a native of Cairo and his family is still over there.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And Going Into the All Star Break

All of today's action is over, and there will be no more games until next week. Milwaukee got the win over Rockford in OT tonight, but Peoria lost to Grand Rapids, so...

The Aeros, Rampage, and Admirals are all tied for first place with 60 points -- the Aeros are in third place by a matter of percentage points, however. Peoria and Oklahoma City are tied for fourth with 59 points each, then there's Texas with 58 points and Chicago with 55. Yeah, it's close.

And for those of you really curious, Chicago has now played 52 games as opposed to Houston's 51, and Oklahoma City has played 50 while San Antonio has played 49 games. So some of the other teams have caught up or are finally catching up with the Aeros in terms of games played.

Brief update on Meyers

John checked in with Joe O'Donnell for an update on Abbotsford's Josh Meyers, who collided with a teammate and had to leave the ice on a stretcher last night.

According to Abbotsford and Meyers' family he is OK and responsive. We don't know if he's still in hospital, but best guess is yes.

Hopefully he can get home soon.

Thanks to our Anonymous commenter for notifying us that, per the Abby Facebook page, Meyers is with the team in Cedar Park and doing well.

Still, helluva way to spend his all star break...

A NOTE FROM JOHN: My apologies for not following a damn Facebook page instead of going through channels and trying to do things properly.

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...



1/28/11 -- Aeros v. Abbotsford -- Aeros Ice the Heat

Cody Almond brings the pain in the first period.

The night was a struggle for the Aeros. They probably should have won this game easily, but instead found themselves having to get into the shootout to pull out the win and get the two points with the 4-3 win.

The Aeros took the early lead, had to hold on through an end of first period that was rather bizarre and disjointed due to a very serious injury to an Abbotsford player. They gave up leads in the second and third periods. They had some excellent play from those guys they've been getting excellent play from, and they had some disappointing and sloppy play from some others.

In the end, all that matters is the Aeros got the win and they're going into the All Star break on a very high note.

1. As of right now, the Aeros are tied, points wise, with the San Antonio Rampage for first place in the AHL West. The Aeros are 28-19-1-3 with 60 points. They're one point ahead of Peoria, two points ahead of Milwaukee, three points ahead of Texas and Oklahoma City and five points up on Chicago.

2. The Aeros do not play again this weekend. So they best they can come out of the weekend with is a tie for first place. However, Peoria plays Grand Rapids tomorrow, so with a win, the Rivermen jump into first place, or can move into a tie for first if they should get into overtime. Milwaukee, meanwhile, plays in Rockford on Saturday, so a win moves the Admirals into a tie with Houston and San Antonio.

3. Another fantastic night from Max Noreau -- two assists to give him 30 points for the season (7-23=30). And he has been ratcheting up the physical play.

4. Robbie Earl didn't score tonight, but he seemed to be around the action often, and he did great work drawing a penalty in overtime and putting the Aeros on the power play.

5. The officiating was awful. Beyond awful, if that's possible. I'm still trying to understand how it was that Tyler Cuma was sent to the box of interference on what was, instead, a fantastic and legal hip check. As it was, the game was rough and chippy from the start, and the guys in the stripes made little effort to get under control.

6. Mike Yeo sensed that Abbotsford might try to go physical and force the Aeros out of their game. And he and the staff warned the team beforehand, and throughout the game, to not let Abbotsford get them out of their game.

I didn't recognize this at the time, but Carson McMillan was pummeled at one point in the first period, and instead of getting into a big fight, backed down. He was following the game plan. And Warren Peters was mugged in the first period, yet it was Peters who wound up with all of the penalty minutes.

"I believe that we were really controlling the play," Yeo said. "That was part of their focus, the stuff after the whistles. We tried to talk about that, not getting involved in that, making sure our play, we were playing between the whistles. I felt that that kind of slowed the game down a little bit. Give them credit, it did take us off our game a little bit. But that’s something we have to make sure – it’s always about whatever the situation calls for. If the situation calls for you to get in there and stick up for your teammate at that time or maybe it calls for a momentum shift and you need to bring some energy and some life, then you do it. But there’s also a time to skate away and get out of that stuff and keep the flow of the game going our way."

7. And I think that's a bit of what Drew Bagnall was doing later in the game -- going in and sticking up for teammates. Bagnall was iffy for the game, but he surely made his presence felt throughout the game.

8. Bizarre end to the first period. With about 3.5 seconds left, the Aeros were off on what appeared to be a breakaway. Then two guys from the Heat collided around mid-ice and collapsed to the ice. The whistle blew to stop play and nothing much happened for about 15 minutes. The teams were eventually sent to the locker rooms while the medical staff handled things during what turned out to be the first part of intermission.

Play resumed after intermission with 3.5 seconds on the ice in which the first period was ended. Then the horn sounded to end the period, and then the second period was started. Bizarre.

"I’ve seen it affect both teams," Yeo said. "It’s tough, but it just depends on your group. It’s just our job as coaches to make sure that we’re saying the right things, to make sure that you don’t lose your focus. Quite often, when a player does get hurt like that, I’ve seen many times where the game changes one way or the other. It’s got to be about the next play, the next shift mentality."

9. You might not have noticed, but Nathan Smith was in uniform for the Aeros tonight. Well, not really, but for two minutes there in the second period, the scoreboard showed that it was "8," Smith's number last season, sitting in the penalty box and not "18," Colton Gillies. That wasn't as bad, however, as the PA guy who had trouble spitting out Abbotsford and Heat on numerous occasions.

10. Strange night for Anton Khudobin. He had a very poor second period in which he gave up two very soft goals. He appeared to get his act together in the third -- that third goal from Matt Keith appeared to be more the result of poor defensive play on part of Justin Falk than anything Khudobin did, and he was very solid in the OT. The one goal that Abbotsford got in the shootout was the result of a spectacular Corey Locke-esque shot than anything that Khudobin did wrong.

11. In some ways it's a shame that the All Star break is coming because the Aeros have been one of the hottest teams in the league. They were 10-2-0-1 in January and they're 12-4-0-1 since Christmas. When you're on a streak like this, you kind of want to keep going, especially when one thinks of where the team was when they headed into the Christmas break.

12. For those of you who are wondering, the Aeros will have an optional skate on Tuesday then return to practice on Wednesday before hosting Texas on Friday night. And despite the team's hot streak, the Aeros can use the break to rest up, mentally and physically.

13. The Aeros are in a tight playoff race with seven teams within five points of each other in the standings. Yeo compares the Aeros current situation to the one the Penguins were in the year they won the Stanley Cup.

"I think that our schedule is going to be better for us," he said. "Where before we were dealing with that stuff, we felt like we were always chasing everybody, at the same time we were physically getting tired. Where I think we have a little more rest now coming out of this break. But the flip side of it is, and it happened to us in Pittsburgh, we had to make a run that year. We were phenomenal after the coaching change. And every game was so important. And we were in full stride when playoffs began. I think that, usually, if you look at teams that do something in the playoffs, they found a way to elevate their game and bring their game up to a new level, and once the playoffs begin, you don’t have to try to find that next gear. "

14. Just a few quick notes. Jon DiSalvatore has a point in eight of his last nine games (4-5=9). Anton Khudobin has won four of his last five starts. Jean-Micheal Daoust's first period goal was his 300th career goal.

15. The Aeros are now 23-7-0-2 when they score the first goal.

16. Chad Rau, who hit the game-winning shot in the shootout, was not entirely happy with his shot, and after the game, he was talking about how he would have liked to take it back and try it again. He thinks he got lucky because he didn't exactly do what he wanted to do and as such, the goalie was able to get his glove on the puck.

17. On a personal note, it was nice to see Abbotsford assistant coach Troy Ward tonight. I dealt with Troy a lot in his three years as Kevin Constantine's assistant here with the Aeros, and he was always easy to deal with.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Aeros v. Abbotsford Game Photos

The Aeros got the big 4-3 win over Abbotsford in the shootout tonight. The game probably shouldn't have gone to the shootout, but there were a few guys who didn't have a very good game when it came to stopping the puck, or helping to stop the puck, for Houston.

More important than the win is that the Aeros are tied for first place with San Antonio as they head into the All-Star break, and the team went 10-2-0-1 in January. And one other note, when we last checked, Abbotsford's Josh Meyers was at Memorial Hermann getting a CT Scan after being carted off of the ice at the end of the first period.

I'll throw up some quotes and some analysis and thoughts later tonight but I thought I would get some photos up first. And first things first, if you notice some slight smudges, it's not my camera, it's because I was shooting through the plastic tonight. I did some quick playing around with the editing tools to make the photos clearer and sharper, but I'm still nowhere near being close to Mr. Fred.

I don't have a photo of Jean-Michel Daoust's first period goal. I have a shot of the puck going in the net, but not of the actual shot. What I do have is this shot of Max Noreau making the pass that triggered the shot.

And for no reason except I like the shot, here's another shot of Noreau trying to get the puck into the offensive zone in the first period.

Robbie Earl had another strong, physical game. And here he is in the first period trying to pull off a wraparound.

I'm posting this shot to give an indication of the type of night it was. Abbotsford went the physical intimidation route tonight because they weren't skilled enough to stick with the Aeros. So you saw a lot of the Aeros on the ice with Abbotsford guys towering over them. Yet strangely, it was the Aeros who kept getting penalty time.

And this last shot is included because Heather liked it and indicated that she might want to use it as wallpaper for the blog someday. It's Rau and Cuma preparing for a faceoff.

We'll all have much much later, I think. I know that I will.

The road less traveled? Yeah right ...

The last three months of this season will be as interesting as ever. Your Aeros are right in the middle of the playoff race, they are playing their best hockey of the season, and the weird injuries in Minnesota have not affected the team in ways that we are all used to.

If every team in the West maintained its points percentage through the end of the season, the Aeros would be on the outside looking in. They would end up sixth in the division, and the crossover rule would not apply to them. The top five playoffs teams, in order, would be: Peoria, Milwaukee, Texas, San Antonio and Oklahoma City.

The Barons would move over to the North and would play Hamilton or Manitoba.

But I don't think everyone will maintain the same winning percentage. Houston has been trending up, San Antonio has been trending down and everyone has schedule quirks that will probably affect how things shake down.

(Example? Sure ... Based on my math, the Aeros would be scratched out by OKC by two points. The two teams have four games left, three of which that are in Houston and are played on consecutive days. Say the Aeros win three of those four games or all of the ones played in Houston. See how things can change?)

The only locks that I really see at this point are Peoria and Milwaukee. And the only team that I don't think will be able to keep up is Rockford.

I think schedule will play a big role in who gets invited to the dance. Milwaukee, for example, has a whopping 21 games left at home. They are 12-3-2-2 at Bradley Center and could be the favorite to win the division for that reason.

San Antonio has just 15 home games left and is just 12-9-2-0 on the road. They start their big rodeo trip after the All-star break, so we're about to find out how good that team really is. Oklahoma City, too, has just 15 home games compared to 17 on the road, but they are a much better team away from the Cox Convention center. They are 15-7-0-1 on the road.

The Aeros have one of the best home records in the division at 13-6-1-1 and have 18 of their remaining 30 games at Toyota Center (remember one will be in St. Paul). Chicago will play a majority of its remaining games at home, but the Wolves are just 11-9-0-3 at Allstate Arena. Both Texas and Peoria are equally good at home on the road, so they seem less affected by the remaining balance of their schedule.

Like a commenter said earlier, the Aeros need to step up their power play and tighten up the PK on the road. If both of those things happen, coupled with continued good fortune at home, I think we'll be seeing some playoff hockey come April.

While it is too early to start making predictions, it's definitely time to start scoreboard watching. The Aeros biggest roadblocks to the post season appear to be San Antonio, Texas and Oklahoma City.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aeros return after successful road trip

For about 11 minutes, it looked like we were going to have to add Wednesday's game to the ACME blown-game tracker. I watched some of the game on AHL live, and true to form, the Aeros came out hungry and grabbed a two-goal lead.

The second period was not so good, as the Aeros allowed three straight goals in 11 minutes to give up the lead.

I have not had a chance yet to talk to Mike Yeo, but I bet they had an nice little chat after the second 40 minutes. The result? They out-shoot the home team 19-4 in the final frame, tie the game early in the period on DiSalvatore's 11th goal and then Robbie Earl wins it in OT with a one-timer that deflected off the stick of a Crunch defenseman.

So they come home with four of six points and remain right in the middle of a very tough West Division race.

Now what?

They have one more game before the All-star break and a win will give them 60 points. I don't know if you remember the last time the Aeros had a home game right before some time off. But I do, and I know Mike Yeo does. The Aeros played their worst game of the season in a 5-0 home loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs. I really hope the importance of this game is stressed to the team.

Since that loss to Hamilton, the Aeros are 11-4-0-1. That is good stuff. They have lost back-to-back games just once since then and have had a balanced scoring attack and decent goaltending. They have held strong in this, their toughest stretch of the season ... and the rest of their schedule is very favorable. Five of their next nine games are on the road, but after that, they only have to cross the state line twice, and one of those trips is to OKC.

The Heat don't score, but they have great goaltending, and they hit the hell out of teams. If you can get to two goals, you've pretty much got a point. If you get three, it's a "W" ... If the Aeros can grab that two goal lead, they'll be in good shape, but if they allow the first two goals, they'll have to wait until next week to rebound.

Monday, January 24, 2011

New to the blog! ACME blown two-goal and third-period lead tracker.

My gosh I should have done this before ... after the Aeros blew yet another two-goal or third-period lead Sunday (hey, they did it both this time) I was asked again to clarify just how many times this has happened this season. Most of the time it is easy to point out the games that are sure-fire losses. This was one of those games.

First a little background -- The Aeros are a great first-period team and they are a hard-working lot that have gone from worst to first in about six weeks. Now, thanks to their Achilles heel, they are set in fourth-place in the crazy West Division standings.

Their biggest weakness this year is closing out games they shoulda-coulda won. Eight times this year they have either led 2-0 at some point in the game or lost a game in which they were up going into the third period. That means, though 49 games, they are on pace to do that five more times this year.

(Please stop reading now if you don't have a sense of humor. Thanks.)

So now, featured on the right side of the page of this blog, is the ACME blown two-goal or third-period lead tracker. I am doing an experiment to see if I can change the future and stop the team from doing this five more times this year. I figure I can change the future just by getting enough people inside the organization to be aware of this ghastly trend.

Some notes from the ACME blown two-goal or third-period lead tracker:
  • The Aeros have been outscored 15-0 in the third periods of these games.(15-0!!!!!)
  • In seven of the eight games, the Aeros were either playing their third in three days or their fourth in five.
  • Seven of these eight games have come against the very weak North division. Beyond Manitoba and Hamilton, this division is light.
  • Six of the games have been on the road, two have been at home
  • In the eight third periods in question, the Aeros have drawn just eight power plays.
  • They have been shorthanded 14 times in these eight third periods.
  • In the five games where the Aeros had a 2-0 lead, the opposition scored its first goal less than five minutes later three times. In two of those cases, it was less than three minutes later. Twice, it was more than 23 minutes later.
  • Matt Hackett has been the loser in five of these games. Khudobin in the other three
  • In the three games that were decided in regulation, the opposition scored the game-winner twice in the first 10 minutes of the third, twice in the second 10 minutes of the third and once (against Lake Erie) in the second period.
  • In three of the games, referee Ghislain Hebert was one of the on-ice officials. In two more, either Jamie or Terry Koharski was involved.
I can't remember the name of the commenter, but someone fairly recently said the team (and us) needs to quit blaming the stupid AHL schedule for these major setbacks. I know, on the record, Mike Yeo has not once blamed the schedule for anything. But I sure will, and I have the data to prove that A) the Aeros have the worst schedule the West division and quite often their results are affected by it.

But, as I have said all along, if they can survive through February, they have a very nice home schedule ahead. They do not leave Texas ONCE in March...

Aeros Hockey: Fourth Place, No First Place, No Fouth Place (Or Second Place, Maybe)

Here's my latest story over in the mothership, in which I try to bring some semblance of understanding to this past weekend, and the Aeros rise up the standings since Christmas. So please give it a read. Please. I'm begging you. Read.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Told ya not to blink: Welcome to 4th place

Gotta keep this brief because the real job beckons today (and I already managed to put that off with going ice skating and then watching the Aeros game).

The boys lost to the Marlies 4-2 after strong start with 2 first period goals (McMillan, Peters), but then letting the Marlies chop away at the score with 4 unanswered goals in the (2 PP) second and third periods. 

But you could just see the drain in their play. Mistakes ahoy in the form of turnovers, penalties, even just falling down a bunch---tired puppies---and no mercy from Jamie Koharski with the whistle. Also none of that pesky need to "balance" the penalties either, as Earl was hauled down on what was for him an almost sure scoring opportunity with no call.

Oh well. The ol' coach will say don't blame the refs and don't blame the schedule. Sorry coach, I blame 'em both. Maybe I'm just feeling contrary. Sitting at my work computer on a Sunday evening does that to a girl.

It was a very nice streak of game points though, and racking up all 4 points Wednesday and Friday before taking a brief hiatus for the All Star break would bring back the good feelings. 

Speaking of good feelings, Aeros PR rock star Rich Bocchini and Voice of the Aeros Joe O'Donnell are teaming up on a blog that's off to a great start: Pilot to Gunner

Put it in your daily rotation because they're sure to have some great stuff from inside the belly of the Aeros beast. Not Chilly, but... metaphorically... well.. whatever. You know what I mean, right?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

View from the TOP and possible roster news

Don't blink or you're gonna miss it, but the Aeros are tied with Milwaukee for first in the West after tonight's 2-1 win over Lake Erie.


But I say don't blink because there's only 3 points separating First place and SEVENTH place. It makes me tired just thinking about it. You pretty much have to win every game for a while just to get some distance, but I don't see anybody doing that, so it's going to be knotted up like this for a while.

But the Aeros' heavy home schedule in March SHOULD help them, unless they're insanely weird and contrary like that Locke/Kolanos team was. I don't think they are though. This team is good in ways that, for lack of a better analogy, can be reproduced. Like, it makes sense when they're good and when they're bad. They're... predictable?

Anyway, predictably, the Aeros played a solid game tonight, apart from a third period that saw them get only 4 shots on goal and the Monsters get their only goal of the night. Not a bad goal though, as far as I could tell. Shot through a bunch of traffic. Still, the "let up" in the third with the 2 goal lead... I'm gonna guess that pissed Yeo off. But they held it together, particularly through a hairy PK where I think every guy out there blocked a shot. It was a heroic effort, IMO. But I'm a sucker for self-sacrificing, every-man's-a-goalie defense. I wonder why. :)

Aeros goals came from Earl and Peters. I missed both of them. Ha. But I'm told Peters was a tip in with credit to DiSalvatore for the originating shot.

Off to Toronto for tomorrow's matinee at 4 p.m. CT. Well, they are, not me. I WISH. I kinda love watching this team.

March. Is. Going. To. Be. Awesome.

To wrap up, here's Hackett's save from Friday night:

I should probably note here that Nick Schultz of the Wild just got hurt and it sounds like maybe a concussion. So get ready for the Aeros to take a hit at defense. Not sure which of our remaining d-men should get the call. Cuma? Prosser? Need a defensive d-man, not necessarily a power play, offensive guy like Noreau.

Wild already broke Scandella, who took a puck to the head and is working his way back from a concussion due to that and isn't on the current road trip.

Aeros/Stars Action Photos

Here are some more photos from last night's game, as promised. Here's Gordie Howe with the ceremonial puck drop.

Here's Matt Hackett making a save in the first period.

And what would a Gordie Howe night be without a fight? Here's Jarod Palmer going at it with Raymond Sawada.

And here's the end of the fight as Sawada skates off toward the box. It kind of looks like Draw Bagnall wants to get in on the action.

And here's the end of the game and the guys showing their love for Matt Hackett.

Aeros-Stars -- The Texas Goal (Photo)

Okay, I've been trying to load several photos for a good long time now, and I'm tired, and want to go to bed, so...

Here is the Texas goal in the first period that gave the Stars the brief 1-0 lead. The goal was credited to Texas's Michael Neal. At the time, I thought Matt Hackett had actually stopped the shot and that he was sitting on the puck. However, looking at the photos of the sequence, I saw the puck in the back of the net.

That's not the interesting thing to me here, and I'm posting these two photos because they are in the middle of the goal scoring sequence, and immediately follow each other. If you'll look closely at the first photo, and I think there's a way to blow it up and expand it in Google, you'll note that the puck is actually on Max Noreau's stick.

And in the second photo, you'll note that the puck is behind Hackett, on the ice, in the net, and just barely visible -- check between Neal's legs. Now I'm not sure of my shutter speeds -- I did what Mr. Fred told me to do -- so it's possible between clicks that somebody else got a stick on the puck, but it appears in the photos that Noreau actually knocked it in.

I did get a photo of Casey Wellman's first period goal, but it was really from a distance, and you can't really see anything, and I didn't get Robbie Earl's second period goal or Jon DiSalvatore's empty-netter. I did get some Gordie Howe on the puck drop, and some photos of the fight, so I'll try to get those up later.

1/21/11 -- Aeros v. Stars -- Say Hello To Second Place Edition

Okay, technically, the Aeros are in fourth place, not second place, as we head into Saturday's game with Lake Erie. But screw the technicalities because the Aeros, with 54 points, have the same number of points as Oklahoma City. And both Houston and Oklahoma are one point behind Peoria and Milwaukee who are tied for first with 55 points.

Alas, if you break down by percentages and games won, the Aeros are in fourth behind Peoria, Milwaukee, and Oklahoma City, in that order. But damn, in mid-December, who would have thought the Aeros would be in this position?

Anybody? Anybody?

So the Aeros got the 3-1 win over the Texas Stars tonight as they continued on an incredible hot streak that has seen the team earn a point in six straight games while winning five of the last six. Now lets look at a few items, in numerical fashion, shall we?

1. The Aeros didn't get off to the best of starts. And they were only in the game because of the play of Matt Hackett which, itself, has just seemed to elevate lately. He stopped 30 of 31 shots in the game, and he nearly stopped the one shot he let in.

2. I was down in Hackett's corner with the camera when that goal from Michael Neal snuck in at 9:41 of the first. I'll try to post some photos later -- they're only so-so for what it's worth -- and I thought he was sitting on the puck and couldn't understand why the light went on. The Aeros seemed a bit perplexed, too. But in one of the one photos, the puck, which I thought he had stopped, is sitting in the back of the net.

3. That Texas goal, however, seemed to light a fire under the Aeros, and it's probably safe to say they dominated the game after that.

4. "I didn’t think that our start was very good," Mike Yeo told us after the game. "I don’t think, whether it was the layoff or how this week went, I don’t think we approached the game as well [as we should have]…and I think [Hackett] did a great of keeping us in it.

"Obviously, I think the turning point was Hack, but also the shift that DiSalvatore, Wellman, and O’Sullivan had," he continued. "Talking about, we want to get to the offensive zone and play our game, and those guys did that. And not only did they do that, but they scored a goal."

5. I asked Yeo about Patrick O'Sullivan's play since joining the Aeros after his demotion. The team's play has been improved since he joined the team, and Jon DiSalvatore has clearly benefited from having a guy like O'Sullivan to pair up with.

To me, the thing about guys like O'Sullivan is that you're never sure of what you're going to get. He's been in the NHL for awhile, and you don't know what his attitude is going to be like. Is he going to pout? Is he going to try and prove a point? How does he rub off on his teammates? I think we've been seeing the answer.

6. "I’ve been very impressed with his commitment to how we want to play the game," Yeo said of O'Sullivan. "There’s five instances tonight where he came back in our d-zone and tracked and broke up plays that might have been…for anyone who wants to say he’s not a good defensive player, he made several good defensive plays for us tonight."

7. That first goal was scored by Casey Wellman who had an impressive night, with the goal and a second period assist -- he lacked only the first to earn the Gordie Howe hat trick on the night when Gordie Howe was in the arena.

8. The second Aeros goal on the night was scored by Robbie Earl at 5:05 of the second period. Up at the press table, it appeared that Max Noreau took one of his standard 100-mph shots from the blue line that rebounded off of Texas goalie Richard Bachman staight to Earl who did not miss the open net. However, the scoring gave the first assist to Casey Wellman, and the second assist to Noreau, so maybe Wellman tipped the puck somewhere along the line.

9. Speaking of Robbie Earl, tonight was another impressive night from him. It's my thinking that while he's been having an all-around good season, he's really elevated his game the past month or so. So I asked Yeo about this, and Yeo said there had been a definite change since the Christmas break.

10. "I think he was getting a little bit worn down, not that he wasn’t good, but I wouldn’t say that he was as good," Yeo said. "I think his game has gone to another level. Coming out of Christmas he was focused. He came into the office and said what do I need to do, what do I need to do to take another step and be a leader on this team? He’s done it. He’s been a great leader for us going out and his work ethic has been phenomenal, first and foremost. And when the work ethic is there, the skill is going to follow."

11. Now for some bad news. The team's next three games are on the road. And Mr. Ferraro, down below, predicted that the Aeros would win two of the three, specifically, the games in Cleveland and Syracuse. That's a bad omen as, has been pointed out to me by a few people with the Aeros, whenever Andrew picks the team to win, they lose. So let's hope that Andrew's streak is broke and the team really does as he predicts.

12. I guess the Aeros have a new policy toward replays. Once again they didn't replay the video of a visiting team goal. This might not matter so much to those of you in the stands, but it is rather irritating to those of on press row as we want to see what happens on a goal. (Yes, I was down in the corner, but I didn't see a replay).

13. Okay, this is going to sound nuts, but...late in the third period, there was a play down by the Texas goal. I just happened to look up at the video board as action the turned back toward the Aeros goal at the other end. And I could swear that, for a brief second, I saw what appeared to be a still photo of cleavage, rather, cleavage covered by a black "Hooters" tank top. And by cleavage, I mean just the cleavage, no face, etc. Having worked in TV, I think I know what happened, the director hit the wrong button when switching between cameras and went to a still they had keyed up somewhere.

That said, I didn't get a photo of it, and neither Heather nor Andrew saw it, so I can't help but think that I imagined the whole thing. For the sake of my sanity, did anybody see anything like this on the video boards late in the game?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Aeros-Stars Photos

Sorry. I don't have a lot of time at the moment -- when you work for yourself, you've got to work every hour possible, so I'm working. I'll try to get some more photos and some quotes up in the morning -- I think we got some nice stuff out of Mike Yeo after the game.

Anyway, there's nothing special, game-wise, about this sequence of photos. It's just that it was something I've been working on -- tracking a play from one end to the other. And this is one of my better attempts. So I'll hope you let me put my experiment up and I'll try to get more tomorrow.

(And no, I don't have that save of Hackett's that threw Heather into a fit -- I have the bruises to prove it. I wasn't in position for it, and even if I was, I wouldn't have done it justice. That save would have needed Mr. Fred's photo work to do get even close to doing it justice.)

Good night everybody.

Save of the Year?

I dunno, you guys tell me. I knew Hackett had a really good glove, but that save tonight was just.... *speechless*...

I hope the Aeros will put out a clip of it so we can show it off a bit and get a little viral video love for Hackett, who really seems to have turned a corner as a professional. That incident of insisting on playing a few weeks ago was a big deal in his career. We're fortunate to get to watch him come into his own like this.

Anyway, the save:

Shot from the low circle if I recall correctly. It hits the glove, bounces out, sort of over and behind him and DEFINITELY going in the net.

He musters the absolutely exquisite hand-eye coordination to reach back and snag it before it falls in the goal.

I think I hit BOTH John and Andrew this time. Normally I just hit John. So, you know it was a killer save.

I drew a picture of it but, try as I might to convey the drama of the save, we really need video.

View from the Pressbox - Aeros start the weekend off right

Three games, three nights, three countries ...
What, no, they are not playing the Lake Erie Monsters in Mexico City tomorrow? OK, sorry about that. Just two countries then ...

Hey, the Aeros have this schedule thing down pretty good. They'll play three straight road games after Friday's impressive 3-1 win over Texas. I'd like to think they're good enough to win the games in Cleveland and Syracuse. The Toronto game will be tough, because unlike the Aeros, the Marlies will play just two games this weekend, and both of them are at home.

But back to Friday ...

A bit of a rough start, but after the Neal power play goal, Hackett really played lights out. And the DiSalvatore/O'Sullivan line clicked again ... they really worked to create that first goal, and Wellman snapped a nice shot in the cage against Bachman. After the Stars goal, the Aeros really dug deep to find what they needed to do to win.

The shots ended up even, each team had a power play goal, and both goalies were very good ... but the difference was Hackett and a little bit of luck.

The Aeros are winning the close games right now, and that is huge in a division where the top seven teams are separate by four points. They have climbed up to second place, but remember, they have played more games than anybody. They need to keep winning against the West division, and they need to do it in regulation.

Right now the Aeros are the hottest team in the Western Conference. They have won seven of 10, and only the mighty Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have a better record (8-2) over a 10-game stretch.

If the home team can keep this up, March is going to be real fun when the boys don't leave Texas ... once.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

So long and thanks for all the savegasms; Broda and Zingoni gone

News out of Minnesota this morning is that Nik Backstrom and Jose Theodore are both healthy, so whirling dervish Anton Khudobin is headed back to Houston. If you throw out the one lousy game where he just wasn't up to NHL speed yet, he was nearly perfect, allowing only 1 goal in his last 2 starts.

What's more, Wild fans (and the rest of the NHL) got to see what a unique goalie he is and have a few little heart attacks along the way. Always fun to "share" our guys with the rest of the world and show what they can do. Plus he made a week or two of show dough, so dinner's on Dimples, bitches.

But of course, this means Josh Tordjman is headed back to the Condors in Cali. *sigh* Oh well. Better to have loved and lost, right? At least the Aeros know they're in good hands when the inevitable late season goalie injuries hit either here or in Minnesota, where they're actually getting their shit together and making a playoff push.


Adding to this transaction news is that Joel Broda has been assigned to Bakersfield along with Tordjman, and Peter Zingoni has signed to play in the German Elite League. I can't find anything on which team, but, well, it ain't the Aeros, so...

Brusty Rolling Along

Former Aeros goalie Barry Brust blanked the Albany AHL team last night.
Brusty has won three straight starts and four of five overall. He is 7-3 in his last 10 decisions and has really picked things up in the new year. In January, he is 4-1 with a 1.81 goals against average, and if the season ended today, the Senators would be in the playoffs thanks to the crossover rule.

Way to go Barry ... way not to go fans in Albany. Wow ... tickets sold was about 1,500 and actual butts in seats was FAR less than that. Albany is dead last in attendance and are one of SIX teams in the East that is under .500.

Check out this read by an Albany Times-Union columnist. Be sure to read the comments of the bottom, if time permits.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Max Noreau: Hey Now, You're An All Star

As promised, here's my story over at the mothership on Max Noreau. There's talk of the All Star game selection. Of the push for the playoffs. And how he's aware that the perceived weakness in his game is his defensive play and that he's been working hard that, with the hopes that the Wild will give him a chance.

So give it a read. Hopefully you'll like it.

View from the Pressbox - Aeros drop shootout to Griffins

I don't have any problem at all with how the Aeros played Sunday in the 3-2 loss to Grand Rapids. I know the coaches and players are not going to make excuses, but I will. The schedule won Sunday, and that is that.

If you want to break down every little piece of the game, sure they blew two 2-0 leads, and yes, they did look really, really bad on that five-minute power play. To me, that was the turning point. I know a lot of you pointed that out on here, but I wrote about that in my story for the Chronicle and got a pretty decent quote from Yeo about it.

Hackett (pictured here in a photo by John Royal), who for the second time in as many weeks chopped his stick up against the boards in frustration, literally saved the Aeros from losing both points in the game. He was great when he needed to be, and I am sure the one he'd love to have back is the slap shot shootout goal. He got a piece, but not enough to keep it out of the net.

I was really disturbed with the way their goalie ran off the ice with double fist pumps. I mean, yeah, they won on the road with a fairly crappy lineup, but Mr. Pearce, save that for a night when you don't get undressed four times. Had the Aeros not been playing their fourth game in less than five days, this score probably would have been 5-1 or so.

Blowing a 2-0 lead in the shootout is rare, make no mistake about that, but the hockey gods were just evening things up from Friday, when the Aeros should have lost in overtime to the Wolves. The referee made a mistake by saying the goal was kicked it, and hats off the Aeros for taking advantage of that.

The Aeros will get a good week of practice time and then they'll host the Texas Stars on Friday.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

1/16/11 -- Aeros v. Griffins -- So Much For The Shootout

The Aeros lost 3-2 in the shootout to the Grand Rapids Griffins tonight. The good news is, that out of a possible eight points they could get playing four games in five nights, they got seven.

The bad news is that they led 2-0 in the second period, and were up 2-1 with half of the third period left. The ugly news, they were up 2-0 in the shootout with only two shooters left, then proceeded to give up three goals.

The important news is that the Aeros are now alone in third place with a record of 24-18-1-3, and they're only two points behind first place Milwaukee. Still, the loss tonight was disappointing, and Mike Yeo was very disappointed in the team's play the last half of the game.

This is it for me tonight. Maybe Andrew or Heather will provide some quotes. Make sure to check the mothership tomorrow as I've got a story on Max Noreau lined up. And of course, here are some photos from Robbie Earl's first period goal.

That's it. Later.

1/15/11 -- Aeros v. Griffins -- The Barry Brust Who Edition?

How about those Houston Aeros? As Andrew mentioned, Mike Yeo didn't think this was his team's best game, but even not playing their best game, they pulled off the 2-1 win over Grand Rapids to move into tie, points wise for third place, while sitting in sole possession of fourth place. Who would have thought that possible during December?

I'll get into more stuff further below, but first, a little photo essay, if you don't mind. After the first period, I moved back up to the press box, and took my seat next to Heather. About midway through the period there was this play which I captured in these three photos. And I swear, Heather hasn't reacted like this about anything a goalie has done since Barry Brust was at the top of his game. She was just blown away by Josh Tordjman's play right here.

In that same period, Grand Rapids goalie Jordan Pearce made the save below on a Casey Wellman shot. With this save, Heather was rather "meh" and felt it was nothing special.

Now on to my bullet points and discussion of the game, with, I hope, some choice quotes and stats.

1. The game's first goal came off of the stick of Patrick O'Sullivan, playing his first game since his demotion to the AHL. As you can tell from my earlier post of photos of the goal, it was a thing of beauty.

After the game, Andrew asked if there was anybody on the team happier about the O'Sullivan than Jon DiSalvatore as playing on a line with O'Sullivan gives him a high-skills player to compliment his skills and draw defenders.I think the photo right below gives a good idea of just how excited DiSalvatore was to have O'Sullivan around. (This is just after the O'Sullivan goal.)
2. Yeo thinks O'Sullivan will be good for DiSalvatore:

"When you have a guy like that to compliment a guy like Jon DiSalvatore – now [DiSalvatore] becomes more of a threat," Yeo said. "Not only is he going to get the puck to Johnny in better spots and key situations, it takes the focus away from Johnny as well. It’s easier to get lost for a goal scorer like Johnny when all of the focus all of the sudden they’re sending two guys on Patrick down in the corner, and that means that someone’s going to be open in the high slot, like Johnny was a couple of times tonight."

3. One such time was on the DiSalvatore's power play goal -- the game-winner -- in the second period, which found DiSalvatore up in that slot and ready for the shot.

4. A quick note about that second goal. The score sheet still says the goal was scored by Cody Almond on a tip-in of DiSalvatore's shot. This was after the original ruling was that DiSalvatore got the goal. After more consideration and review, the goal is being given to DiSalvatore with teh ruling that the puck hit off of a Grand Rapids player and not Almond. But with the way things go, this could still change about 20 more times.

5. We asked DiSalvatore what a guy like O'Sullivan means to his game:

"It’s great….I played against him when he was here his rookie year. A very dynamic player. A very smart player. Just to even talk to him on the bench. His vision is great. His idea and approach to the game is great. I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to the future with him."

6. We talked to Yeo and DiSalvatore, and I talked to Max Noreau, about the team's play the past month or so, especially after the Christmas break. DiSalvatore spoke about the team really buying into Yeo's system:

"Coach Yeo is stressing the importance of what it means to be a winner," he said. "The whole system, and every learning experience that we’ve had, has been geared towards that. It was a huge commitment for the guys to make this big push as this point in the season right now. We knew that either we have to make this push right now in this chunk of the season or we’re going to be the odd man out. With the way our division is, we can’t afford to give up any points on any given night. So I think it’s just a top to bottom team commitment that’s really pushed us."

And Noreau spoke of how the team bonded together when they were going through that stretch on the road in December:

"I think one of the big parts was we were on the road a lot. It was easy for us to make excuses on why we were losing or winning, but we put our heads down and went to work, and now we’re at home. It’s a lot easier to play. There’s no excuses anymore.

"It built character on the road when we were flying in on the day of the game, or busing in the night before, and we were getting those wins anyway. We were saying, when we’re rested, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be winning those games."

7. I spoke a bit to Noreau after the game about being named to the All Star team again, and what he's been doing to improve his game this year. You'll have to read about this over in the mothership on Monday. But let's just say that Darryl Sydor has really grabbed his attention.

8. The three stars for the game were 1) Jon DiSalvatore, 2) Josh Tordjman, and 3) Patrick O'Sullivan. I argued for O'Sullivan as the number one, and lost, because my comrades thought DiSalvatore had the better game and was everywhere on the ice.

9. But I based my opinion on this. I spent the first period down in the corner with the back-up goalie for Grand Rapids. And I saw what O'Sullivan's presence did to him, and I can't help but think the same thoughts were going through the head of Pearce.

Essentially, right after that goal, I heard about how unfair it was that they had to face O'Sullivan because he was too good to be in the AHL. There was just a kind of awe in his voice that they were facing someone this good. (For what it's worth, he was amazed that Ortmeyer was also on the Aeros).

10. The win was the fourth in the row for the team. That's the first time they've pulled that off since winning four in a row from October 30 to November 6. They've also won five of their last six, six of the last seven, and seven of their last 10 for what is, undoubtedly, their best streak of hockey this season.

11. The team's record is now 24-18-1-2 (51 points) and they sit alone in fourth place. That's the first time the Aeros have been in fourth place since November 26 when they were tied, points wise, with Milwaukee, but were in fifth place by percentage points.

As of now, however, they're tied, points wise, with San Antonio, for third place while sitting alone, percentage wise, in fourth. And, knowing where they were in December, the team is only three points after first place and could, conceivably, be in a tie for second place after Sunday's game with Grand Rapids.

12. For those who keep track of such things, the Aeros are now 20-6-0-2 when they score first. They lead the AHL in that category, having scored first now in 28 games.

The Motion of the Ocean: Giving in to the waves and Josh Tordjman

I tried. I really did. I tried to be a pro. To be objective and fair and rational.

I tried to plant my feet in the sand and not get buffeted by the waves of the season. When I was only in up to my ankles, I could do it. Waves would only swish the sand around my toes, or send seaweed brushing up against my ankles.

But now, I'm in too deep. This Aeros team has sucked me in and the waves push me and pull me and rather than being frustrated at my inability to resist their force, I'm giving in. I'm on my knees, my hair is wet, I'm laughing and spitting out saltwater.

And it's fantastic. This is how I came to love hockey, and for the purposes of this blog, this is how I will write about hockey.

This 2-1 win tonight over the Griffins was a lot like playing in the ocean. Messy, scrape-your-knees, leave it all out there in the sun wonderfulness. The messy part coach Yeo didn't like so much, and I get that. Lots of breakaways and odd man rushes that Tordjman had to turn away (and if he hadn't, it could have been really ugly). But the good stuff -- the part where every man on the team is doing what it takes to win -- he is proud of and should be.

It takes an awful lot of buy-in from a pretty large group of individuals to get the kind of commitment he's gotten out of this team. He's doing something very right, as is the leadership of this team.

John asked Jon DiSalvatore after the game about this onset of what I would call "stick-to-it-tivness."

"It's a big push and Coach Yeo is stressing the importance of and what it means to be a winner. And the whole system and every learning experience we've had has been geared towards that and it was a huge commitment from the guys to make this big push at this point in the season. We knew that either we've got to make this big push right now or we're going to be the odd man out," DiSalvatore said. "So I think it's just a top to bottom team commitment that's really pushed it. It may seem real cliche but it's really what it's been all about."

Great stuff. The "big push" is a phrase that came out of Yeo, DiSal, and Noreau's mouths tonight so it's obviously been much-discussed in the inner circles of the team. It makes sense. This is often a time when teams that started hot burn out a little. The dog days of winter. Bodies and minds are weary from the grind of the first half.

But teams like the Aeros... late bloomers who have been hanging in there but seeing only middling results... if they can own these dog days and start filling up the win bucket while the other teams are catching their breath, boy can that go a long way in March and April, when the rest of the division is making their "big push."


It's been a long time since I had to watch an Aeros game with my hand clamped over my mouth to muffle the gasps and squeaks that don't belong on press row.

I really never paid much attention to Tordjman before, even though I saw him plenty. All I knew was he's Kate Moss-skinny and he played for those devils in San Antonio. Feh.

So, I have to admit, he was a revelation of hand-clamped-over-mouth proportions tonight. I haven't been so completely moved to gasps over a goalie since Brusty was here.

First of all, he handles the puck with this sort of terrifying nonchalance and clumsy confidence. I know those seem contradicting, but how else can you explain how he really never has great control of the puck on his stick but seems utterly unconcerned about it?

Something about that just thrills me to pieces. I fully admit that seems like crazy talk.

Also, the decisiveness with which he makes saves, even if they're huge rebounds into the middle of traffic, he just does it with such conviction, and then he stops the rebound shots with the same conviction, like, "I MEANT TO DO THAT! TA-DAAA!!!!" *cape swish*

I was utterly transfixed by his entire game. And by the end of the game, I was smitten. When he batted that puck out of the air in front of him OVER the back of his net with his stick, I didn't move, except to giggle, for 5 straight minutes. Who DOES that???  Josh Tordjman does that, bitches!

It just felt so good to be excited about an Aeros goalie without having to convince myself that, "Well, he's a GOOD goalie, so I SHOULD like him." Nope. In fact, I was fully prepared to be unimpressed.

But you win, Torch. You got me. You, too, Aeros. Surf's up...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Welcome Back Mr. O'Sullivan

Sometimes, you just happen to be in the right place, at the right time. Tonight, I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with the camera to get Patrick O'Sullivan's goal in the first period of tonight's 2-1 win over Grand Rapids.

There's not much to say. Pictures, I think, really do tell the story. I'll have more later after I transcribe, etc. So enjoy.

View from the Pressbox - O'Sullivan to DiSalvatore is going to be fun

Go Packers. OK, I got that out of the way.

The Aeros won their season-high tying fourth straight game Saturday and have a chance to make it five in a row for the first time Sunday in a rematch against the Griffins.

I know it really sucks for O'Sullivan to be down here after playing most of the last four years in the NHL, but in a very selfish way, it was good to see him back. And I know Jon DiSalvatore is going to like playing with this guy.

Jon used words like "dynamic" and "great" coupled with "vision" in the post-game interview. I could not agree more. Sure, Patrick has had some issues in the NHL the last two years, but he will be great at this level, and he adds an element to this team that has been lacking since Locke-Schultz-Kolanos.

Of their last four wins, this one was the least pretty, and Yeo even said he was a bit down on the complete momentum shift after the second Aeros goal. But he credited the team for sticking with it, getting the two points and "playing like winners."

A win Sunday gives them seven in the last eight, and if the Wolves beat the Rampage at home, the Aeros would (remarkably) be just one point out of first place. I know they have a few games in hand, but the other teams have to win theirs. And the Aeros schedule is quite favorable in February and March.

Right now, I see a team that is fun to watch. I see a team and hear a team that is having fun playing with each other ... and I know they are all buying into Mike Yeo's "wear-em-down and stick to it system" that should continue to make them a tough team to beat at home.

How about a little credit to Josh Tordjman, huh? Great stuff from this guy in all three of his appearances this year? Robbie Earl was pretty good Saturday, as were DiSalvatore and Max Noreau.

There are a lot of leaders on this team, but they all lead in different ways ... which is one MAJOR difference from last year. It is time to start thinking about what this team can accomplish over what they'd hope to.

Major sidetracker here, but it's a good thing the Atlanta Braves don't play baseball during January or they would have gotten their asses kicked tonight. Man, really bad night to be a sports fan in Atlanta.

First, their pretty good Atlanta Hawks basketball team had its long home winning streak snapped by the Houston Rockets. Yes, THOSE Rockets. Then, their hockey team, another pretty good team that nobody watches, went to Dallas and lost 6-1. Then, while those two teams were losing their REALLY good football team, the 14-2 or whatever Atlanta Falcons got absolutely ripped by the Green Bay Packers on their home field.

Ouch. I think when the Astros were in the World Series, there was a day when the Astros, Rockets, Aeros, and Texans all had that happen to them.

Sorry to chase rabbits there, but I thought I would point that out to you trivia fans.

Stats Schmats & Photos from Chicago

So, it's not to say that stats don't matter... they just don't determine whether I like a team. Hockey may go down for posterity on paper, but in the moment, it's all played in the heart and the mind. It's blood and sweat and happiness and pain. It's the rollercoaster of confidence and doubt, success and failure. Momentum and emotions shifting by minute, by periods, by games.

And that's what's different about this year's Aeros: I like them. I look forward to games. I feel like there's always a chance. I feel like these guys like each other and play for each other. They have a pulse.

And regardless of how similar this year's stats are to last year's at this time, I never felt that way last year. I didn't like the team, I didn't like watching them play, I felt like they were all a bunch of islands adrift on the ice. They meant well individually, but they never were a unit. No pulse, no spark, no passion.

Little things keep happening to endear me to this team, to give me a sense of its pulse. Hackett insisting on the start last Sunday. Earl, as I wrote a few days ago, getting so little recognition but still being a stud on a nightly basis. Guys stepping up for each other. Scoring (or at least scoring threats) coming from every line. Guys come up, come down, are in and out of the line-up, and it doesn't seem to rattle them or mess with the chemistry.

This is not a season of biding time. This is a meaningful season. This is a team I'd want to be on. That's about as big a compliment as I can give them. I hope my gut feelings about them are accurate, because if they are, I think regardless of what happens in the post-season, we'll all be left with good feelings about this squad.

On that note, let's look at some pictures:

While I'm making my Sunshine Club speech, this pic from warmups seems to fit. DiSalvatore and McMillan all smiles and possibly doing a Vaudeville routine.
This situation usually doesn't end well for the goalie. 
And in fact it did not end well for Mannino. Buck, who got the primary assist on DiSalvatore's goal, celebrates.
I was really proud of Tordjman's game. He looked very sharp and came up BIG BIG BIG in the shootout, not letting a single goal in. And with DiSalvatore the only Aero able to convert in the shootout, he needed to stop them all. Gotta feel good for a solid AHLer who's been stuck in the Coast all season to come up and get a big win like this.
Tordjman has talents beyond goaltending. That's a quality spit stream, bud.
This was an unbelievable save by Mannino, sliding across to shut down this backdoor shot. Robbery!
God, I love this shot. Chad Rau ties it, bitches!
The band of brothers returns to work after celebrating the game tying goal. 
As usual, thanks very much to Chris "Boom Boom" Jerina for the fantastic photos. If you want to see the rest, go here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Pics from the Luau in Rockford

Get it? Roasted pig?

Anyway, Chris "Pizza! Pizza!" Jerina was our eyes in the stands for the 4-2 victory and here are some pretty pretty pictures:

Josh Tordjman looking very much in need of a new paint job on that old Phoenix/San Antonio lid he's wearing.

JM Daoust attempts to blow the puck to the other end of the ice, rather than using his stick. Show off.
Jed Ortmeyer celebrates after an Aeros goal
Beautiful action shot. You can see the puck in front of Richards' pad. By his head angle, I don't think he knows it's there. 
Hackett gets some love from the big man. Just cuz I love a good goalie appreciation shot. :)

Thanks bunches for those photos, Chris! You can see the rest of them here.