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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Aeros take down Barons in a shootout, win 2-1

For the third time in four games, the Aeros have earned two points against the AHL's NHL Edmonton Barons. Offensively, that team has lived up to the hype this season, but they leave a lot on the other side, and that was quite evident in Thursday's showdown.

Photo by Morris Molina - Houston Aeros
The Aeros won the game, 2-1, winning their four straight game and improving to 3-1 against the Barons this season. In the linked story above, Aeros captain Drew Bagnall talks about how the team played with a physical purpose, taking away the time and space for the OKC superstars. It worked, and if the Aeros power play had done anything at all, it could have kept the Barons for getting an overtime point.

The rematch is tonight at 7:05 at Toyota Center. There is not reason to believe it won't be a Matt Hackett vs. Yann Danis rematch. Both were very good Thursday night.

The Aeros had many, many opportunities to take at least a 3-0 lead in the first 10 minutes, but Danis was up to the task.

Palmieri's regulation goal was just a sick wrister after basically undressing the much heralded Justin Schultz. The pass from Fontaine was just as sweet, too. Fontaine fakes a dump-in and then whips a pass over to Palmieri, who finishes it off early in the sixth minute.

Here is a replay of Palmieri's fifth goal of the 2012-13 season:


What a goal ... but Schultz got the next laugh about six minutes later when he caught a couple of Aeros watching him instead of trying to get the puck.

It was a great shot, but it was mostly uncontested. Schultz just danced around Phillips and then blew by Josh Caron, who got caught watching the future super star.It's hard to fault either one of them here. Phillips fell, got up and then had to chance Schultz all over the place. And Caron probably takes a penalty if he gets in the way. Either way, it was a good play by the Barons to tie the game.

Here is a good look at the Schultz goal, his 100th of the season ; )


The rest of the game was a battle of the PKs and goaltenders. And that lasted until the shootout when the Aeros were able to get three past Danis in six tries. Foucault with the game winner, and now the Aeros are one of just five teams in the west with at least a .600 winning percentage.

For me, without two of their studs, the Aeros are playing much, much better defensively and are making things work with a very weak home power play.

It's kind of hard to imaging that the Aeros sweep the Barons this weekend, but a big win would give them five straight wins before a six-day break.

What stood out for you? I really like Fontaine's game right now, and even though his points are tailing off, Charlie Coyle looks like a future, steady NHLer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Injury update, TC lease non-update

I spoke with Aeros GM Jim Mill this morning to catch up on the myriad injuries and ask about the lease negotiations, since folks seem to be getting a little edgy about that lately (understandably).

I also wanted his take on Justin Fontaine's meteoric rise to the top of the scoring chart for Houston. The kid is just money all day long and while Jason Zucker got all the press for his record-tying OT game winner over the Heat Sunday, I thought Fontaine's performance was as important to even getting the team into the position to play in OT.

Mill said he's not surprised by his success at all. Fontaine came into camp stronger and in great shape after working hard all summer, and he's happy to see it paying off for him. And what a relief it is for Fontaine, and really his whole line (Palmieri and McIntyre), to turn it up to 11 right as Granlund goes out with that injury and really make up that offensive gap (and then some).

That said, Granlund is possible for a return against OKC on Thursday and/or Friday. He's practicing fully and at this point it's up to the Finn to decide whether he's game ready or not. It would be great to see him back, especially against the Oklahoma City Oilers. I'm as excited for these games as I was for the start of the season. Should be some phenomenal hockey, at least on one side of the puck if not both.

In other injury news, Mill didn't want to get too detailed but Brett Bulmer's left leg injury Sunday wasn't as bad as they'd feared, but there is still no time table on his return. Kampfer is out indefinitely and spending time in dark rooms and wearing sunglasses, according to his Twitter, so that one is just going to take the time it takes. Finally, also no time table for Rau's return.

Hopefully I asked about everybody. Obviously Brodin is still out for a while with that surgically repaired collar bone.

On the lease, the team continues to keep everything about it close to the vest, for obvious reasons, but Mill said they're still talking to the Toyota Center and he feels like there's still plenty of time. I asked if they were getting into "fish or cut bait" territory here and he said it's not that dire; that there's still time. Even though I've been told all along that something would happen in late Nov/early Dec... I guess like a concussion, this will take the time it takes and we'll all just sit in the dark for a while longer.

I know how I'm interpreting it, but there are many moving parts to consider and I'm probably not clever enough to know what they all are, so it's pure speculation. And since I'm too cranky today (and frankly, most days) to field calls scolding me for speculating on the blog (you win, Josh), I'll let you guys speculate in the comments. :)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Couple of Well-Deserved Stick Taps for Brust, DiSalvatore

Overall it was a very good weekend for the Aeros, who earned four points against the best and worst teams in the AHL. After Friday's win at San Antonio, the Aeros got a goal five seconds into OT to beat the Abbotsford Heat. You can read more about that game below.

But a couple of former Aeros, two very popular former players were in the news over the weekend, so we'd be remiss by not mentioning that.

Brust lines up for a save against the Milwaukee Admirals
Barry Brust, who helped man the pipes between 2007 and 2010, set an AHL record this weekend. He set the new mark for the longest shutout streak against the San Antonio Rampage on Saturday night.

Before James Wright ended it later in the game, Brust went 268 minutes and 17 seconds without allowing a goal. That surpassed the previous AHL record of 249:51, established by Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower with the Cleveland Barons in 1957.

I talked to Barry after the game in Houston on Sunday, and asked him how long he knew he was going to get the start against the Rampage. The Heat have three goalies, and Brust has gone several weeks between starts. Brust said he knew for awhile, but things could change. That helped him prepare for all the hoopla that led up to his most recent start.

I also asked him what was going through his mind as the second ticked off leading up to the record. He just told me that he did whatever he could do to keep from looking at the clock. He was excited, happy, thankful and relieved when it finally made it to the 19th minute without allowing a goal.

Here is more about the record from The AHL:

Brust, who finished Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win with 26 saves, is now 5-0-0 on the season with a 0.59 goals-against average and a .978 save percentage, stopping 131 of 134 shots overall. The 29-year-old native of Swan River, Man., is 101-71-9 in 196 career AHL games, and was a member of the Binghamton Senators’ Calder Cup championship team in 2010-11. 

In setting a record that stood for nearly 55 years, Bower – a three-time AHL MVP and three-time Calder Cup champion in his career – helped Cleveland to a 2-2 tie with the Buffalo Bisons on Nov. 27, 1957, before shutting out the Hershey Bears (Nov. 30), Springfield Indians (Dec. 1) and Hershey again (Dec. 5). His streak was ended by Buffalo’s Lou Jankowski on Dec. 7.

(Aside from Ms.C: Wild horses couldn't have kept me from that game, so InGoal Magazine asked me to write a little something up afterward. Since I was the only reporter there, here's the exclusive with Brusty and Coach Ward after the game.)

Also over the weekend, former Aeros captain Jon DiSalvatore recorded his 500th career AHL point on Sunday in the Heshey Bears' win over the Toronto Marlies. DiSalvatore captained the Aeros to the 2011 Calder Cup finals and is now the fourth leading active player in the AHL. More amazingly, he's play for 10 different coaches in each of his 10 AHL seasons, and I think that is a record that will never be broken. That is just mind-boggling for someone who has been in the league for so long.

Jon, as many of you know, was a stand-up guy and always answered the tough questions ... win or lose. He had a rough plus-minus year during his first year in Houston, but he rebounded with back-to-back seasons with a career-high 28 goals. And he was money during the 2011 playoffs and scored one of the biggest goals in franchise history during Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against Hamilton.
DiSalvatore wins the West Finals vs. Hamilton in 2011

I was really hoping there'd be enough cash to persuade him to stay another year or so, but he got a great deal from the Yankees of the AHL. Here is some more about Jon from The AHL:

DiSalvatore, a 2000 draft pick by the San Jose Sharks, is in his 10th professional season and first with the Bears. 

He has totaled 209 goals and 291 assists in 696 career games with Hershey, Houston, the Lowell Devils, San Antonio, Peoria, the Worcester Sharks and the Cleveland Barons, reaching the 20-goal plateau in each of his first nine campaigns. 

DiSalvatore captained the Houston Aeros to the Calder Cup Finals in 2010-11, and made his first AHL All-Star Classic appearance in 2012. 

DiSalvatore ranks fourth among active AHL players in career scoring, behind Toronto's Keith Aucoin (794 points), Chicago's Darren Haydar(736) and Providence's Trent Whitfield (583).

Zucker Ties AHL record, Aeros win :05 into OT

Johan Larsson and Jason Zucker shocked the Abbotsford Heat and just about everyone else inside Toyota Center with his ninth goal of the season just five seconds into overtime Sunday afternoon.

The teams traded goals in regulation, and after the Aeros wasted a power play gift late in the third period, Zucker and Larsson teamed up for the stunning finish (video below). The goal tied the AHL record for the fastest overtime goal. Zucker's goal tied the record set by Dave Saatzer of the Nova Scotia Voyageurs in 1980, and tied by Chris Corrinet of the Portland Pirates in 2002.

The AHL schedule gods were on the Aeros side this weekend for sure. The Heat, playing its third game in three days, made just enough mistakes to let the Aeros get an extra point in the standings.

Make no mistake: The Heat is the best team the Aeros have played so far on both sides of the puck. They have points in all but two (16 of 18) of their games thus far. OKC, who is here later this week, surely has more offensive power, but the Heat are smart, well coached, have the league's top PK united and they have three (THREE!) goalies that can steal two points on any given night.

Some high-level themes that stood out for me include the Aeros giving up two goals on turnovers. Everyone we talked to after the game said exactly the same thing: The Heat wait for you to make a bad mistake, and they punish you quickly.

Hackett again solid, letting in just two goals and giving his team a chance to win. When only two go in, you have a chance to win every game. On the first Heat goal, Hack made a great save, then got a little post luck before a Charlie Coyle turnover led to a 1-1 game. Hackett was screened on the second goal after Connelly and Bagnall both turned the puck over ... and then Zucker missed a block. After all that, Estoclet gets in front of Hackett, distracting him just enough. Click below for a good view of how that play developed.


Taylor was good, too, but the Aeros wasted about 3-4 other prime chances that would have kept the Heat from getting the OT point. McIntyre missed a breakaway, and one player (I was reading something and looked up just in time to see the end of it) missed an open net after Taylor was caught out of position in the second period.

UPDATE - Thanks to the Art and Hockey blog, we find out that it was Palmer who missed the empty netter. And she got a splendid picture of the aftermath. But don't look at the hockey players, look at the fans (including one of the Anthem singers in Row 2) ... their faces say it all!

MY, oh MY! (Photo by Art and Hockey)

The goal scored at the end of the second was indeed about a half second too late. The officials got the calls right on both calls (when Mac hit the crossbar on the breakaway and the late goal at the end of the second).

As for the final sloppy power play - look, that is what you are going to get with a ton of rookies and second-year players getting a season-long baptism by fire. The younger players are the more gifted scorers, and they are going to hit one night (see Friday's late PP goal in San Antonio) and they are going to strikeout the next. What I would like to them them improve upon is the desperation to keep the puck in the zone. While I know you don't want to over commit and cause a breakaway, there are a few players that look a little laggard when it comes to keeping a play alive.

I am not going to mention names here, because I have only seen about a third of the games live this year. I think this is an effort issue and not an growing pains issue, so I will wait and see if I see any improvement from these players this weekend.

The Aeros are in the top third of the league in points and points percentage. Given the injury to their top two (arguably) playmakers and (not arguably) one of their top scorers, I think you'll take that.

So what are your thoughts on the game? The Aeros earned four out of four points this weekend and have won three in a row and four of five overall.

Off the post ... and in. (Photos by Morris Molina, Houston Aeros)

Justin Fontaine has 14 points in November. He is en fuego.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Aeros Stretch Winning Streak to ... two!

OK, I will save the sarcasm about the Aeros season-high tying two game winning streak. They have won three of four overall, and are playing much better defensively with players getting healthy and Matt Hackett getting all the playing time in goal.

Two of the wins are against the Rampage, the AHL's worst teams by points, including Friday's 2-1 win. Justin Fontaine scored the game winner on the power play late in the third period to get the two points. Fontaine is the team's player of the month so far with 12 points.

Since that 7-5 win on kids day in the Alamo City, the Aeros have not allowed more than two goals in the three games. Their scoring is down, too, and goals are going to be even harder to come by on Sunday when the Heat come to town with the league's best defense.

Like Heather reported yesterday, Kuemper will be back as the back-up Sunday, but it's Hack's net for the short term with no three games in three nights for a couple of weeks.

Photo by Darren Abate/pressphotointl.com
The Heat are the first of three great teams the Aeros will host on the homestand, as Oklahoma City comes to town next week for a pair of games at Toyota Center. The NHL lockout has afforded us to see a lot of decent talent so far this year, and OKC is loaded with NHL players. The Aeros are 2-1 against OKC this year, and you'd have to think we'll see more high scoring games next weekend.

The other bit of drama this weekend is former Aeros goalie Barry Brust COULD get the start with an AHL record on the line. He's about a period away from recording the league's longest shutout streak. Personally, I think the Heat will start him tonight against San Antonio, but maybe not. The Heat got a shutout Friday night at Texas, and they may ride the hot hand saving Brust for Sunday against the Aeros.

I think most of us are kind of hoping for the latter. And if you're the Aeros, I think you want a crack at trying to break up that streak. Either way, be sure to check the box scores tonight to see if Brust gets the call in San Antonio.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Kuemper assigned to Orlando, briefly

The Aeros created a bit of a flurry this morning when they announced the assignment of Darcy Kuemper to ECHL Orlando today. In return, they signed John Curry to a PTO to back up Hackett.

Turns out, they just want to get Kuemper a start tonight, but he'll be backing up in Houston on Sunday (per Jim Mill, via text). I wouldn't be surprised if this happens a number of times through the season, as Kuemper only has 4 starts and 5 games (one was a relief appearance) so far this season.

As valuable as Hackett is and as important as it is that he get the bulk of the starts, you can't let Kuemper waste away on the bench. We've seen how tough it is for him (and really, most goalies) to start only once in a blue moon.

So, it's a good thing for Kuemper and really fairly inconsequential for the Aeros if they continue to do it in this piecemeal way. As the Hitchhiker's Guide says, "Don't Panic."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Aeros Split the Weekend vs. Rockford

True to their mediocre form, the Aeros split their two games this weekend, losing at Rockford Friday and then winning the "home" game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Basically the story of the weekend was this:
Fontaine celebrates his goal on Sunday (Bruce Kluckholm)

Power play went 1-for-9 Friday, and the team whiffed on two 5-on-3s in a 2-1 loss. Then on Sunday, Matt Hackett essentially saved their bacon in an ugly win in front of more than 11,000 fans. The game Sunday wrapped up a stretch of nine games in the first 17 days of the month, and now the team will be off until Friday when they visit San Antonio.

After a fourth straight road game, the Aeros will kick of a stretch of three straight home games and five of six overall at Toyota Center.

Johan Larsson scored twice Sunday, and Justin Fontaine scored the other goal to secure a win.

Defensively, Hackett and the Aeros allowed fewer goals in the two games than they did in the 7-5 win over the Rampage last week. The Aeros improved to 3-4-0-2 in November. Not TOO bad, but they have fallen back in the pack in the Western Conference.

Hackett has started the last three games and seven of the last eight overall. He has all three wins, and Kuemper is 0-2 and has given up eight goals this month after a nice October.

Even though the power play failed them Friday, that unit has scored goals in four straight games (6x28) and has come through at least once in six of the nine games this month. And until yesterday, the PK unit has been mostly OK. Sunday marked the first time all the month they allowed more than one power play goal in the game.

Here are the highlights from the win on Sunday at the X.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Aeros win, 7-5 at San Antonio

The Aeros left the unfriendly confines of Toyota Center, went to San Antonio for their annual kids game and beat Dov Grumet-Morris seven times for a sloppy 7-5 win over the Rampage.

Good news? Aeros end four game losing streak and find some offense with three power play goals. 
Bad news? They coughed up two two-goal leads and allowed two shorties. Sickening display of defense, but after that homestand, a win is a win is a win. 

Hopefully that gives the team a little boost heading into the week of two more road games. They'll visit Rockford and will then play the IceHogs at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Aeros will need to win that game to even their all-time record at the X (1-2). 

Here is the link to today's box score, and later on, I will add a highlights package for those that did not get a chance to watch the nail-biter on AHL (mostly) Live. 

Hackett made 12 saves in the 3rd period to preserve the win.

And here is four-plus minutes of highlights from today's game that will make you cringe and celebrate all at the same time. No matter how you slice it up, this was a big win for the Aeros on the road. Now let's see if they can keep it going.

Some Tuesday morning feel good

The Aeros have been playing poorly lately, and recently they have not been very good in games that start before 5 p.m.

But, here are some highlights of the Aeros when they were at the best, at least offensively. Let's hope we get some more after the game this morning in the Alamo City.

These are from a few weeks ago when the Aeros won a game in Cedar Park against the Stars. I fully dedicate this win to Aeros PR guru, Josh Fisher.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Aeros Lose 4-2 Texas -- The This Is Getting Tiring Edtion

The Aeros took to the Toyota Center ice tonight for the last time in two weeks. And with the way they played, Aeros fans might not be too angry if the team just decides to stay away for an even longer period of time.

The Aeros lost 4-2 to the Texas Stars tonight. There was a sloppy first period -- a too many men on the ice bench minor less than two minutes in the game was just the epitome of the sloppiness. They trailed 3-1 after that first period. They showed some life in the second period -- there was a nice goal by Jason Zucker to pull the Aeros to within 3-2. But the sloppiness returned in the third and the Aeros lost, again.

John Torchetti's statements are the game weren't much different from those we heard earlier this season, or Friday night, or last season. There's talk of a lack of commitment. Of guys who need to step up. Of letting the Stars feel too comfortable on Toyota Center ice. 

"We've got to work harder," Torchetti said. "I don't see the desperation that we need to see."

But what's it going to take for the team to show that needed desperation on ice? The answer seems unknown. Maybe hard work. Maybe execution. But until they figure it out, it's just miserable to watch.

"It's frustrating," Torchetti said. "We try to slap a puck in from the red line and it only goes two feet and it comes back and it's in the net. That's just how it's going. Nothing I can tell them except hey, you've got to keep battling through it. You've got to work harder."

Drew Bagnall spoke after the game, and he accepted some of the blame, as if he's not doing enough in his leadership role to make the urgency, the desire, the want to work harder aspect of the game evident to the younger guys.

"We have to come together as a team," he said. "It's no one individual player who's going to win or lose us a game. It's  team thing. It starts with leadership, and I'll take the brunt of the blame for that."

Torchetti just wants the guys leaving more of themselves out on the ice.

"The number one thing is, we've got to pay a bigger price," he said. "We're not paying any price at all. We don't even have one nick on our faces. We've played in four hockey games, and I don't think anyone's paid a price yet." 

But as frustrating as it is for Torchetti and Bagnall, it's more frustrating for the fans. The team's been sloppy. The play's been lackluster for the most part (Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine being the most notable exceptions to that). Sure the team's been hit with injuries, but injuries can in no way excuse what's happening out on the ice. 

The Aeros are gone until November 25 when they host the Abbotsford Heat led by former Aeros assistant Troy Ward. Will the team play better on the road? Will they find themselves away from Toyota Center? That's still to be determined.


Tonight's sacrificial goalie was Darcy Kuemper. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Aeros Lose 5-4 (SO) To Monsters

If you look closely, you'll see a slight problem with the brand new gigantic scoreboard.

This is getting tiring. The Aeros get off to a crappy start. They get back into the game. They tie it late. They play a tough overtime, then lose in the shootout. Yeah, it's a familiar story. 

It happened again tonight as the Aeros lost to the Lake Erie Monsters 5-4 in the shootout. They're now 5-4-1-2 (12 points) 12 games into the season. And as head coach John Torchetti told us after the game, with their offensive skill guys out of action for several more weeks to come, the Aeros are going to have to get used to playing these types of games, and somebody is going to have to step up at some point and take over.

"This is our team," he said. "Until we understand that we have to come out and play consistently our roles, and do what we're asked to do and play our system, we're going to be playing like this for a long time, until we get to work and understand that commitment as a hockey team."

The Aeros fell behind quick, losing 2-0 midway through the first period. Nick Palmieri got the Aeros on the board late in the first, then Justin Fontaine tied early in the second with a spectacular goal that had him falling and flipping the puck off of his stick.

The Aeros would fall behind again, only to have Chad Rau tie it, then they fell behind again, only to have Jason Zucker tie just before the end of the third period.

Then came the shootout and shot after shot into the stomach and pads of the Lake Erie goalie. And just like that, it was over. The Aeros got a point, yay, but do these things really feel like wins? Not after the last two years.

Torchetti might have been even-keeled-like after Thursday's loss, but he seemed to be trying to send messages tonight. Messages of disappointment. Messages of guys just not getting it.

"We've got to play defense, bottom line," he said. "We've got one line tonight that wanted to cheat all over the ice and gave up two goals and they didn't want to commit to playing defense, and until they do, we're not going to be a winning hockey club."

And this: "We have to be more focused. Our young guys have to understand that we have to be ready for a 60 minute hockey game. They think that they're going to free points. This is a tougher league. Tough league."

He said several times that with the skill guys like Mikael Granlund out, there are some other guys who really need to step up there games, and aren't. This is their chance, and they're not taking it. "We've got guys who are still sleeping," he said.

So ends another night from Toyota Center. Another night ending in another defeat in the shootout. Yeah, yeah, they got a point. Yeah, yeah, it's always nice to get a point. But wouldn't it be nice for them to actually get two points for once.


Dear Toyota Center, thanks for that huge-ass video screen and scoreboard. But how about making sure the damn clocks are synchronized. Is that really to damn much to ask?

If you look carefully at the photo above, you'll notice that clocks show a different time. And this is during game action. It happened at the end of the first period, the end of the second period, the end of the third period, and the end of overtime.

Yes the Aeros are just a mere tenant. Yes the Rockets are the masters. But would the clock really keep malfunctioning like that if the Rockets were playing the Lakers? No, no it wouldn't. So why was it happening in period after period tonight?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Aeros lose in epic fashion, 6-4 to the Marlies

You know how to know I love you? It's 11:30 p.m. and I'm dog tired and I still have 2 episodes of 30 Rock to watch before I sleep.

But this game, a 6-4 win for Toronto, was such a clusterfrank, I couldn't NOT write about it.

I'll say this: The only good thing about it after the 2nd period is that only about 3000 tickets to the game were distributed, and there weren't that many seats filled. If the boys had to pick a night to absolutely go to hell at the end, good job that it was on a night where there were more people working that game than attending it.

If you weren't there, count your blessings while I'll sum it up for you:

Toronto started out guns ablazing, and the Aeros looked like they'd been off for 2 weeks. Toronto scored early, the Aeros found their game legs, and Fontaine scored 6 minutes later to tie it.

Aeros played well in the second. Really well. Goals from Rau, Zucker, and Coyle were answered by only one goal from the Marlies in the period.

And I don't want to gloss over how nice the goals were, because sometimes you have to enjoy the bright spots regardless of the outcome. Fontaine's, in the first, was just his line creating a scramble in front of the crease. Scrivens just couldn't keep up with all the quick little passes and Fontaine backhanded it over the dizzy goalie.

Rau's was a point shot from Corbin Baldwin that tipped in off of him. Zucker's was just one of those power to the net, shoot the puck, beat the goalie deals, unassisted deals that makes goalies hate you.

And Coyle's was my favorite. He and Phillips were streaking up ice, Coyle looks back and points with the blade of his stick to where he wants Phillips to pass it. Phillips puts it right there, Coyle gathers the puck and fights off two defenders to get an off-speed shot on net. Scrivens just doesn't seal the ice, doesn't read the speed of the shot right, etc. and it trickles through him.

Painful goal to let in from a tendy's perspective, but just smooth brilliance from Coyle, who now leads goal scoring among AHL rookies.

Then the horrendous 3rd period with 4 unanswered goals. Someone commented to me on Twitter that the one through traffic was a garbage goal (it was deflected, so no it wasn't), but really, Hackett played well the whole game and got no help. He saw a ton of really tough shots that if Hack weren't more skilled at sending rebounds to safe places, would have ended up in the net. 

Torchetti was even keeled after the game, as he tends to be after losses. This is a development league and here's a teaching moment: You don't take advantage of the opportunities presented to you, you get the snot beat of you. Details, details, details.

He said he's glad they're coming back tomorrow with a chance to make it right, but also said that he feels like some guys aren't putting 100% into their ice time and if that doesn't improve, some ECHL guys may get a stab at it while the offending parties watch from the stands.

So, we'll see where that leads.

The good thing is, Zucker didn't hurt himself when he threw himself violently into the boards celebrating his goal. If he hadn't just gotten back from injury, maybe it wouldn't have made me cringe like it did. I'm guessing Chuck Fletcher and Jim Mill were thisclose to needing fresh undies watching that. Toting Granlund and Brodin around to to doctors in Minnesota is probably more than enough for them in one month.

Back at it tomorrow, gang. Maybe it will be more fun with a bigger crowd. Lake Erie is actually quite good this season, especially on the road, so the Aeros are going to have to bounce back quickly.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

There is no attendance problem

One of our most faithful readers, ICEVET, made a comment to my "View from the Press box" post from yesterday. I made the point that the Aeros need to play better at home in order to be one of the elite teams in the Western Conference and the AHL.

Here is what ICEVET said:

"The average attendance run rate during the 2011-12 regular season was nearly 7300, buoyed by the agressive management of David Burke.

Through 5 games, average attendance run rate (5700+) is down 20%....and this includes 8,132
on opening night.

Hopefully, attendance levels will rise to support this very talented team."

ICEVET is right, the attendance, when compared to last season's average is down. And when you compare the first five games this season to those from a year ago, the average gate is down to 5,743 from 6,554. When compared to the rest of the AHL, the Aeros currently sit 13th in the 30-league team. 

Both of those stats immediately struck me as disappointing because of the progress the team has made at the game during the Tom Garrity, Jamie Spencer and David Burke Aeros President eras. But I did a quick five-year comparison, and the results show that the Aeros do not have an attendance problem this season. 

Typically, because of High School football and many other factors, the Aeros attendance does not pick up until late December or so. The Aeros also play many more Sunday games, and have fewer Saturday nights at their disposal because they share the Toyota Center with the Rockets, concerts and other events. 

Their attendance through the first five games last year was more than 6,500 and that was their best rate in the last five years - by a lot. And what happened the year before? The Aeros made an incredible run at the Calder Cup buoyed by one of the best group of players in franchise history. 

In other words, there was a high coming off the previous year, and even during the typical "low season" the Aeros had great numbers at the rink. 

Here is a look at the Aeros first five game attendance average over the last five years. 

2012 - 5,734
2011 - 6,554
2010 - 5,185
2009 - 5,662
2008 - 4,562
Five-year average - 5,539

So what does this mean? It means that the first five games of this season has been spot on with their average over the last five seasons. 

And this does not even get into when these first five games were played. How many of these games were played on weeknights? How many of these games were Fridays and Saturdays? How many of these games came in a four or five night span (when the home team plays three or four games in a week, attendance suffers.)

The bottom line is last year was the anomaly, not this season. David Burke did an amazing job, overall, during his run at team president. He followed a general ticket-selling formula (kids, families, kids, families, groups, kids, families) that has been employed since Tom Garrity took over, and he raised the bar with fan interaction, social media and little things like instant replays and goal horns. 

The Aeros are not out of the woods yet. There is no lease in place for next season and beyond, so it will be interesting to see how that affects attendance when we get into early December and preparations will have to be made for the following season. Let's just say that front-office morale will be affected either way. 

Also, from March 14 to April 13, they are going to have to play 12 games in less than a month, and that, too will certainly affect how many fans will buy tickets. 

All that aside, the Aeros are doing just fine so far both on and off ice the ice. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

View from the Pressbox: A quickie on last weekend

This story is all over the place, so please forgive the ADD.

The Aeros are several men down because of a rash of injuries to defenseman, but that did not keep them from picking up three points and moving up from 10th to 9th in the overall standings.

Hackett with a great stop - Morris Molina, Houston Aeros
Three great comebacks in all three games, but they only win one of them as John alluded to last night. But, to look on the bright side is better. The win on Saturday at OKC was most satisfying, and Sunday was an even matchup overall that just ended up going the other way because the Aeros did not get the breaks in the first eight minutes and in the shootout.

Early on (already) health is going to dictate their fate far more than any other factor in the short-term. The team is loaded and they really look like they love playing and going to battle together. I'd love to see this group play for two straight months at 95 percent healthy.

There is some definite leadership and a fighter's mentality. That will go a long way down the stretch when they are playing all those road games in late winter.

Get ready for a lot of close games and a weaker power play until Granlund returns.

Big-picture wise, the Aeros have 10 more games this month, and six of those games are against San Antonio, Rockford and Oklahoma City. Only one of those teams (Lake Erie) has scored more goals than the Aeros, but four of those teams have allowed fewer goals.

Lake Erie and Abbotsford are ahead of the Aeros in the standings, but every other team on the schedule is within a game of .500 - translation? Get ready for a lot of close games.

Right now the Aeros are on pace for 91 points. Last year, that is good enough for a  three or four seed in the Western Conference. What I want to see -  to call the Aeos an elite AHL team like I believe their coaches think they are -  is for the Aeros to start playing better at home.

They have already lost three of five at home this year, and last year, they were 17-21. I realize they get points for getting to the fourth period, but OT and SO losses are losses.

All three games are at home this week, and the Aeros need to win two of them to stay in the upper half of the league standings. I think they can do just that if Hackett plays like he did the last two games, and the Aeros keep plugging away with their no-quit style of hockey.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Say What?

Late in the third period tonight, there was a little dust-up between the Griffins Joakim Andersson and Tyler Cuma. And that leads to what has to be one of my favorite photos ever as Cuma tells Andersson to speak a little louder.

Aeros Lose In Shoot Out To Griffins

The Aeros have got this whole come-from-behind-in-the-third-period thing down to a science. They did it on all three games of this weekend's three-in-three, but got the win only once, on Saturday night.

Tonight, down 1-0 to the Griffins late in the third, they tied the game and sent it to OT. Then they were on the power play at the end of the OT, and couldn't score. And despite have some fantastic shot opportunities in the shoot out, they couldn't get the puck into the net while Matt Hackett was beat twice, giving the Griffins the 2-1 (SO) win.

Both teams were playing the final game of a three-in-three, and it showed. But Hackett played a hell of a game, keeping the Aeros in the action while the Aeros had numerous opportunities to score but had difficult times getting the puck in the net.

And getting the puck in the net is probably going to be a bit of a problem for the Aeros for the foreseeable future seeing as how the team's top goal scorers are injured. John Torchetti says the guys are just going to have the play the system and get used to tight games.

By the way, there is no timetable for the return of Mikael Granlund, though Torchetti did say that the injury wasn't as bad as they feared.

An injured Jason Zucker limps off of the ice at the end of overtime.

Zack Phillips misses just wide in the shootout.

Matt Hackett with a shootout stop.

Justin Fontaine tries to go five hole but the shot is stopped.

And here is the shoot out game winner for the Griffins.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Aeros lose in OKC; also lose Granlund, Brodin for a while

The Aeros lost 4-3 last night, allowing 3 straight in the first and second, then scoring 3 straight of their own in the third. But in the end, a 4th goal from the Barons was more than the Aeros could match.

Unfortunately, that's not the story going into tonight's rematch. Both Jonas Brodin and Mikael Granlund were injured in the game and will be out of service for a while, especially Brodin who has a broken clavicle after getting crushed by Taylor Hall in his AHL debut.

The hit was originally ruled a match penalty for contact to the head, which would have meant a suspension of at least one game (likely, tonight where he was slated to sit out the second game of OKC's weekend 3 in 3). But the AHL rescinded the penalty today after reviewing it. Hall had said he felt it was shoulder on shoulder and not a head shot, and the change by the league (and the broken clavicle) seem to support that.

To add to the intrigue, Taylor Hall spoke to the Edmonton Sun earlier in the week saying he felt the play in the AHL is a little reckless and maybe the NHL guys are targeted a bit more. This was after OKC played the Aeros Friday before last and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got the butt end of Granlund's stick in his mouth and missed part of last Friday's game getting his mouth fixed back up.

As yet, however, none of the Barons stars have lost any more than a period or two to injuries. Meanwhile, Zucker, and now Granlund and Brodin, will have missed several games each.

Above is video of the Brodin hit, with Hall skating full speed into and absolutely rocking the rookie. It was a hockey play (Brodin was going for the puck), but I'm not sure an unbiased person can say it wasn't reckless. If we're being honest with ourselves, many hockey plays look pretty reckless in some way. This one was just sort of a perfect storm of high profile players, teams, awkward timing from a media perspective, and an injury.

Granlund's deal is a leg strain of some sort. Both guys will need more evaluation to see how lengthy the recovery will be for each. But strains heal and bones mend, so it could be worse. And good news for the Oilers/Barons is that Hall's shoulders are obviously 100% after off-season surgery if he's going shoulder to shoulder and breaking the other guy.

The teams meet again tonight. Zucker is back in for Houston and they've called up rookie defenseman Corbin Baldwin, a big dude who's had a scrap or two in his day, but not a goon either. Per Russo, the pickings are slim for healthy call-up defensemen and calling him up isn't a "response" to the injuries last night, other than responding to the fact that they needed another D.

Well... okay, I'll buy that with Monopoly money. But obviously it doesn't hurt to add a 6'5", 215 guy with some proven sandpaper when the appearance is that the Aeros aren't the toughest team. The officials in tonight's game will surely be calling this one tight, and fortunately, after tonight, the Aeros don't have to see the inside of the Cox arena again until late February.