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

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dog days of summer

This is the time of year when hockey news just kind of stops.
The major free agent push is over, and we are still at least three weeks away from seeing the AHL schedule.

The prospect camp went really well, and it was nice of the wide to include some video from those games and shootouts.

Aeros head coach John Torchetti got to work with some of the guys that he will be coaching down in Houston next year, and speaking of which, he and the Wild have yet to announce Torchetti's assistants.

The Wild M.O. has been to have two assistants working with the head coach down in Houston, so expect some news on that later this week.

I really wish I could take a guess as to who might be coming here to join him, but it really could be anybody.
The last time he had a head coaching gig, with Moncton of the QMJHL, he took Tony Martino with him. Scott Allen worked with him in San Antonio back in 2002-03, but he is now an assistant with the New York Islanders.

Martino last coached in 2008-09 when he took over for a very poor Tulsa Oilers team that featured former Aeros center Jeff Christian.

That is all for now ... I do think we'll finally hear from the Aeros this week as to when their home opener may be. Based on all the other reports from other teams, and how many of them are opening on Oct. 7 and 8, expect the Aeros to open up on the road.

I think the Aeros won't be at home until that second week.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aeros will play 14 teams in 2011-12

New head coach Mike Torchetti will have his hands full with the San Antonio Rampage and the Texas Stars in 2011-12. The AHL schedule matrix was released Thursday, and the Aeros won't even get another crack at the Binghamton Senators unless the two teams meet in the Calder Cup Finals.

There are no Eastern Conference teams on the slate.

The Aeros will play 76 games next season, and 40 of them will be against teams in the newly-aligned West Division. The Aeros will play the Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage 12 times each, and they will see the Oklahoma City Barons and Abbotsford Heat eight times during the season.

The only new team on the schedule in 2011-12 is the Charlotte Checkers, who have moved to the Western Conference and are a part of the new Midwest Division.

The Aeros will play the Checkers, Chicago Wolves, Milwaukee Admirals, Rockford IceHogs, Peoria Rivermen and Lake Erie Monsters and four times.

Also on the Aeros' schedule next season are the Grand Rapids Griffins, Rochester Americans, Hamilton Bulldogs and Toronto Marlies.

The Griffins will play the Aeros six times, and the Americans, Bulldogs and Marlies twice each.

The complete AHL schedule will be announced early next month, and the Aeros are expected to release the date of their home opener and up to four other guaranteed dates next week.

The bottom line is this is a good schedule as far as cost, travel and developing rivalries are concerned. The bad news? Well ... less variety and fewer games against Chicago and Milwaukee. To me, the only real surprise on the list is the six games against Grand Rapids. Never saw that coming ... I really expected 10 games against OKC and just two against the Griffins, but I will take it.

Here is a breakdown:

Aeros vs. (# of Games)

San Antonio Rampage (12)
Texas Stars (12)
Oklahoma City Barons (8)
Abbotsford Head (8)
Grand Rapids Griffins (6)
Milwaukee Admirals (4)
Chicago Wolves (4)
Rockford IceHogs (4)
Peoria Rivermen (4)
Charlotte Checkers (4)
Lake Erie Monsters (4)
Rochester Americans (2)
Toronto Marlies (2)
Hamilton Bulldogs (2)

What are you thoughts? When do you think the Aeros home opener will be ... who would you like to see on the other side of the ice come mid-October?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Becoming Wild: Part 1 - "Mike Yeo is a badass"

What words of wisdom did Mike Yeo have for the Aeros when they were down 3-0 to Milwaukee in game 6 of the division championship series?

Well, now you can find out. Check out the first episode of the "Becoming Wild" series that is documenting the Wild's offseason and starts with the Aeros playoff run.

It's basically "Mike Yeo 101: For Wild Fans" but for Aeros fans, it's just neat to relive a little of that amazing playoff run.

You can go here: http://wild.com/becomingwild to see all the episodes and see when the next ones are showing.

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.

Aeros stay in West Division

The league announced today a chance in divisions and playoff format.

The Aeros, as expected, will stay in the West division. The league, however, will move from four to six divisions and the top eight teams will make the playoffs. The division winners will be seeded 1-3.

The TX and OK teams will be grouped with Abbotsford, and Charlotte will move to the Western Conference and will play in the newly-created Midwest Division. I call that the O'Hare division, since all the teams fly to Chicago to play the Wolves, Admirals, IceHogs and Rivermen.

Later this week, I think we'll see the grid of who plays whom and how many times. Expect to see the teams the same number of times, with the exception of Charlotte. The Aeros will play them at least four times, if not six. And I would imagine the Aeros will play more than just four games against Abbottsford this season.

This is a win-win. No more crappy crossovers and the best eight teams make the playoffs. That is the best way to do it, and the AHL even says that teams are re-seeded after the first round. That patterns the NHL style (win) and not the NBA style (fail).

Discuss ... this is a good day to be an AHL/Aeros fan.

Here is the official release from the AHL:

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … American Hockey League President and CEO David Andrews announced that the league’s Board of Governors, convening this week for its Annual Meeting in Hilton Head Island, S.C., has approved the following division alignment for the 2011-12 AHL season (NHL affiliates in parentheses):

Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
Manchester Monarchs (LA)

Portland Pirates (PHX)
Providence Bruins (BOS)
St. John’s (WPG)
Worcester Sharks (SJ)

Northeast Division
Adirondack Phantoms (PHI)

Albany Devils (NJ)
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)
Connecticut Whale (NYR)
Springfield Falcons (CBJ)

East Division
Binghamton Senators (OTT)

Hershey Bears (WSH)
Norfolk Admirals (TB)
Syracuse Crunch (ANA)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)

Western Conference
North Division
Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)

Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL)
Lake Erie Monsters (COL)
Rochester Americans (BUF)
Toronto Marlies (TOR)

Midwest Division
Charlotte Checkers (CAR)

Chicago Wolves (VAN)
Milwaukee Admirals (NSH)
Peoria Rivermen (STL)
Rockford IceHogs (CHI)

West Division
Abbotsford Heat (CGY)

Houston Aeros (MIN)
Oklahoma City Barons (EDM)
San Antonio Rampage (FLA)
Texas Stars (DAL)

The format for the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs was also approved by the Board of Governors. Eight teams in each conference will qualify for the postseason, with the three division winners earning the top three seeds and the next five best teams in order of regular-season points seeded fourth through eighth.

The conference quarterfinals will be best-of-five series; the conference semifinals, conference finals and Calder Cup Finals will be best-of-seven series. Teams will be re-ordered after the first round so that the highest-remaining seed plays the lowest-remaining seed.

The regular-season schedule format is still to be determined, and the complete playing schedule for the 2011-12 regular season, which begins Oct. 7, will be announced later this summer.

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and for the 10th year in a row, more than 6 million fans attended AHL games across North America in 2010-11.

Torchetti to be named Yeo's successor

Former NHL head coach John Torchetti will be named the Aeros next head coach today.
The three-previously announced "finalists" (Trent Yawney, Gary Agnew and Ryan McGill) did not make the cut, as the Wild chose Torchetti.

"Torch" as he is affectionately known, has coached the Florida Panthers and Los Angeles Kings in two previous stints, and he was an assistant under Quenneville in Chicago with the 'Hawks broke their Stanley Cup drought in 2010.

Another fun fact is that Torch was the first head coach of the San Antonio Rampage the first time they were affiliated with the Florida Panthers. He was the head coach, once upon a time, with the San Antonio Iguanas (CHL) and an assistant coach for the San Antonio Dragons under Jeff Brubaker. (The Aeros knocked the Dragons out of the playoffs that year, four games to one in round 2.)

Here is a post that Mike Russo of the Star Tribune wrote today. Some more great background information here.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Wild adds forward Jeff Taffe

The Wild was unable to get power forward Mark Mancari on free agent Friday. That would have been huge as Mancari is one of the best players in the AHL when he is down.

The Wild went after him hard, but ultimately could not match the one-way deal offered by Vancouver for half a million bucks.

But with the departure of Patrick O'Sullivan (who has of Sunday afternoon, has yet to sign anywhere) the Aeros still needed someone to put the puck in the net.

Jim Mill found his guy Sunday, announcing that Jeff Taffe will join the organization on a one year, two-way contract.

Taffe was in the Blackhawks organization last year, and scored a career-high 30 goals for the Rockford IceHogs. He did not get much time in the NHL in 2010-11, but Taffe is a guy that can contribute "in the majors" when he is there.

In 175 career NHL games, Taffe has 21 goals, 23 assists and 40 PIMs.

More on this signing later ... I have a small story to tell about the time that Taffe ran over former Aeros goalie (and current Wild backup) Josh Harding.

That was a long time ago, and doesn't matter ... but it was a big deal at the time, and Harding missed a significant amount of time with an injury.