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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy New Year, Aeros fans!

Well, it's not quite the end of 2012, but the Aeros are done until 2013 when they host the OKC Barons at 5:05 at Toyota Center.

After a two-game skid entering the Christmas break, the Aeros played three games and took five of a possible six points against Texas, Charlotte and San Antonio. Mikael Granlund scored a 5-on-3 goal to salvage a point Saturday at the AT&T Center. Dov Grumet-Morris was named the No. 1 star of the game and Greg Rallo converted a bad (luck)
rebound in OT for the winner.

Matt Hackett was great, and helped kill off a 5-on-3 of his own to help get the big point on the road. Jon Sim scored in regulation for the Rampage, and it was a pretty goal, too. Nice work by the Rampage on the power play, and Hack just didn't have a chance.

The Aeros will start a four-game week Tuesday against the Barons, and then they'll play a three in three next weekend against the Rampage and Stars twice.

It would be nice for the Aeros to get three wins in the four games, but I will take 5 of 8 points as a success against this schedule. OKC has the offense, Texas is great on the defensive side and the Rampage have won two of three and, like the Aeros, have points in three straight games.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Aeros enter next 10 games with "unholy" defense

The Aeros have slipped recently. Head Coach John Torchetti was right when he said he felt like a slump was coming after the Aeros finished that winning streak earlier this month.

The team is hovering around .500 during the rough patch, which is good, but they have allowed three or more goals in seven of their last eight games. That folks is not going to get the Aeros into the playoffs. The is just too much parity in the league this year (which is a good thing) but the teams with the best defense and goaltending are going to end up in the top 8.

I think the next 10 games are going to be huge. There is still the possibility that the lockout will end, and many teams will change in the next 30 days. The Aeros need to take advantage while they still have the services of some prime offensive weapons.

I have not seen as many games in person this year, but I follow the team daily and I think a lot of their recent struggles has a little to do with the odd schedule and the uncertain labor situation. The former is going to settle down, and the Aeros are going to play their next nine games all in Texas. The labor will still be there, and until there is some more news on that front, I still think you are going to see guys like Granlund not playing at full speed. I may be way off, but I have talked to some of my colleagues around the AHL, and they see it too. (Not just Granlund; I just used him as an example because he is as good as gone when the lockout ends.)

In their next 10 games, the Aeros have Texas three more times, San Antonio twice and the tilt against OKC on New Year's Day. That is more than half of the games against teams they have fared fairly well against this season. There is also a healthy dose of teams they have quite frankly sucked against this year. Two more with Charlotte and another with Lake Erie. They are 0-for-6 against those two.

At the end of this stretch, they will start a Midwest trip against the Chicago Wolves. That will be the first meeting of the year, and the Aeros have not fared well in Rosemont this millennium.

My thought is the success of this stretch will depend largely on the next two games. Losing to Charlotte again would be a huge bummer that could carry over to the San Antonio road game. I would like to see the team shake off the Checkered Monkey and start a new winning streak against a team they are going to have to beat if they want to have success during the playoffs.

The Aeros gave away two points and turtled the last time they played Charlotte. I'd like to see them score first, second and third and dominate against a team that has had their number all year.

Do you think they have that in them?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Aeros dig deep to eclipse the Stars in OT, 4-3

Coach Torchetti said he knows the team is in a bit of a slump and this win doesn't really seem to change that for him, but he was happy to get a win and stay above .500 while they work through it.

Photo by Morris Molina - Houston Aeros
The game itself eked above .500 on the whole... a sloppy first half, despite a nice goal by Granlund, who took advantage of a turnover in the Stars defensive end. Shots were something like 7-17 at one point, if I'm remembering correctly.

But an extended penalty kill, including some 5 on 3 time, midway through the first half of the second period seemed to have shaken the vacation legs and in no time, the Aeros had put a flurry of shots on goal and kept shots pretty even the rest of the way.

And while the offensive end was the Granlund, Coyle, & Zucker Show, it was fun to see some defensemen get into the act. Primarily, of course, Kyle Medvec's first goal of the season, first point of the season. Hell, it was just his 6th SHOT of the season, but he made it count in the form of the OT game winner.

Always fun to see a guy like that, who goes unheralded most of the time, have a joyful moment. Torchetti said he likes the statement it makes: Medvec works hard all summer, gets sent down even though he was a full time Aero last season, keeps a good attitude, keeps working hard, plays a simple game once he's called up, and is now playing as many minutes as any of the rest of them. The classic "put your head down, work hard" hockey success story. Nice to see it pay off for him like that.

On the flip side was that very smart play where someone (I didn't catch who) passed the puck out of the corner to Cuma, who was left all alone to streak in on the Stars back door. Nilstorp amazingly read the play in time, got a pad over and Cuma's shot hit with a loud THUNK that, as a goalie, I *usually* love. Nothing like a good, solid pad save. But that one... man, I wanted that one to go in. Sometimes the poetry of hockey will break your heart..

Anyway, a good end result, but still work to be done to, um, bust this slump. And because of the OT point, the Stars continue to stay ahead of the Aeros in the standings. Back at it Friday, unfortunately against Charlotte, who have had the Aeros by the stones all season.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Aeros falter late, lose to Monsters in Cleveland

Lake Erie Monsters Photo
CLEVELAND - An atrocious penalty kill, a bad turnover and a bad injury to a key player all adds up to a bad night at the office for the Aeros.

Now, in their last five "before Christmas" games, the Aeros are 0-5, and it looks like Torchetti and his staff need to figure out how to motivate the boys before the holidays.

Thursday's loss dropped the Aeros percentage points behind the Texas Stars, who have been red-hot since a bad start.

Marco Scandella was hurt on a vicious hit from behind early in the game. The PK unit gave up half the goals and Chay Genoway was the goat with just over a minute left in the game when he gift-wrapped the game winner by Monsters rookie Andrew Agozzino.

There were a few positives. The Aeros were not affected by Winter Storm Draco and made it to Cleveland well ahead of the game. They also wore their green jerseys, which are tremendously more attractive than anything they wear at home. The Aeros also came back from two goals down, just like they did the last time they played a horrible game against a weak Lake Erie team.

I am going to keep this one short, because there are tons of people out there celebrating that the world didn't end this morning. Well folks, there are still 14-plus hours left in the day. I still have to stock up my Chinese made rolling, tsunami-repelling bomb shelter.

I expect the Aeros to rebound on Saturday and come home with two points. This group has been pretty good about rebounding from bad results, and I know no one feels worse than Chay Genoway right now. The second-year player has followed up a strong rookie campaign with some decent numbers, and his plus-minus is respectable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Interesting Question ... Who has the better prospects?

While the Minnesota Wild and Toyota Center continue to keep their secret lease negotiations just that, the Edmonton Journal put together a nice piece on how the Oilers' prized possessions were doing down in OKC.

Their prospects can score at will, but they are very disorganized and are soft defensively. And because of that the Aeros have won five of six overall against the OKC Barons this season. No one saw that coming, I don't care how close to the team you are.

All the games have been close and have been high scoring, but the Aeros seem to be able to score late and have found a way to get the extra point in the standings when the games have gone past regulation and overtime.

The writer in the story linked above points out all of the young talent the Wild has in its system and even mentions that as one of the reasons Zack Parise chose Minnesota.

I know myself and others thought it was a really big schedule disadvantage to have the Oilers top farm team on the schedule six times before Christmas. The Barons will be reduced to rubble if and when the lockout ends, and there are some teams that are going to get to feast on what is left.

You have to give Torchetti and his crew a ton of credit for getting it done early and finding a way against that offensive circus. To me, through the first third of the season, that has impressed me the most about this squad. Beating the Barons five out of six times has been quite the feat to date.

Your thoughts?

Taylor Hall has made a big difference offensively, but the Barons still can't keep
the puck out of their own net - 
Photo by Morris Molina, Houston Aeros

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Aeros rescue weekend with SO victory over OKC

After being outshot 70-45 by Charlotte across Friday and Saturday's games, and worse, being shut out for the first time this season on Saturday, the Aeros did what they always seem to do when they fail: Take the lesson to heart and correct the problem.

Poor Yann Danis had to be at his very best tonight, and he was, against the onslaught that started from the opening faceoff and didn't end until the shootout. Out-shooting the Barons 39-19 in regulation and then 6-1 (thanks to a very strong, but fruitless, power play).

I felt like the Aeros challenged Danis a little bit less thoroughly than the Barons challenged Hackett in the shootout (not a softball in the bunch and he was magnificent on all four saves), yet they still scored twice. Granlund's shot just sort of drifted in after the initial save, and Phillips' goal... well, yeah, that was a filthy goal.

Isn't it interesting how creative Phillips is in the shootout? He's having to learn to really step back and play a defensive game, where he was a scoring stud in junior, and it's a big adjustment. But man, that scoring stud stuff never goes away. The guy can build a career as just a shootout specialist if he can do that to NHL goalies.

Anyway, I digress, but if you were there, you can't blame me, right? It was an outstanding, fun game, made even more unbelievable by the fact that both teams were playing their third game in three days. Normally that's a recipe for sloppy hockey, but this game was nothing like that.

Among the other superlatives: Rob Mignardi's first goal as an Aero (pictured here), and you could see the delight on his teammates faces in the goal celebration. I love those moments. They're what hockey is about and it warmed my cold, dark, goal-hating goaltender heart.

This is about the exact moment I knew we were going to see teddy bears
raining down from the stands - photo by Morris Molina
Also, I nearly turned to my cohorts on press row before the game and asked when was it too soon to start wondering about Granlund. But I decided it was, indeed, too soon. He hadn't scored since returning in early December and I really couldn't think of a time where he was particularly close to doing so in the games I'd seen.

But the kid they call "Granny" scored an important goal late in the second to send the Aeros into the third with a tie and enough "we can do this" mojo to carry them through Arcobello's go-ahead goal midway through the third. And then he scored what was essentially the game winner in the shootout.

Just a lot of good hockey from the Aeros tonight, and despite a broadening gap between Charlotte in first and Houston in second this weekend, they did keep 3 out of 6 points. Moreover, they're showing a mental toughness, digging deep in what was by far their best third-in-three game, coming back from a deficit twice. These are the nice things you want to see in your team's development process.

As I mentioned on Twitter earlier, I wish I could go back and re-watch it without the need to write about it after. It felt like a pretty special game with a lot of special players on both sides of the puck. Good on you if you got to be there and just soak it in.

Moreover, as the last home game until after Christmas, hopefully everybody got their hockey fix for a while. The boys head to beautiful Cleveland later this week to try and slay the Monsters of Lake Erie on Thursday and Saturday.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Aeros beat Rampage in front of 8,000 screaming curtain-climbers

The score may indicate that the game was a blowout, and some Rampage fans might agree that it was, but the Aeros' 5-1 win over the Rampage Tuesday afternoon was closer than you might think.

The Aeros celebrate Foucault's first-period goal - Morris Molina (Aeros)
It was close until the Aeros scored three third period goals in just under five minute to put the game away.

The Aeros were in control after Kris Foucault and Charlie Coyle scored goals in the first 21 minutes. The second Aeros goal seemed to spark the Rampage, even to a point where Torchetti called a timeout in the middle of the second period.

The Aeros held the 2-0 lead until Greg Rallo scored with 30 seconds left in the second period.

After San Antonio killed off a power play to start the third, the Aeros defense and Matt Hackett were solid in setting up the scoring burst by Palmeiri, Palmer and David McIntyre.

The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Rampage in a stretch where the team had won six out of seven overall to climb out of the cellar. The loss also snapped a six game winning streak for Jacob Markstrom.

Torchetti hinted that the Aeros got a little too comfortable with a 2-0 lead and a 21-8 shots advantage and mentioned that he had thoughts of the game on Sunday. (The Aeros got a quick goal and then gave up the next three against what, to that point, had been a terrible Peoria team.)

So what got the out of the funk Tuesday? Defense, Checking and a systems-first mentality. If you've heard that before it's because you have.

For now, the Aeros are in first place in the South division. Charlotte hosts Milwaukee tonight, so that all could change later on, but the Aeros have won six of eight overall and are up to fourth in the league in points.

The Aeros improved to 3-1 against the Rampage this season and still have eight more games against San Antonio before the end of the year. My favorite quote from Torch came after I asked him why he thought his team was averaging six goals a game in the morning starts.

He smiled and said he was looking to get the rest of the game times changed. Just don't tell Forecheck.

Here is a blurb from the Aeros presser:

The Houston Aeros (13-7-1-2, 29 points) defeated the San Antonio Rampage (10-12-0-3, 23 points) 5-1 on Tuesday in front of 8,573 fans at Toyota Center. Forwards Nick Palmieri, Jared Palmer and David McIntyre each scored and added an assist, as Houston pulled away in the third period for the four-goal win.  Houston goalie Matt Hackett (10-6-2) stopped 20 of 21 shots, ending San Antonio’s four-game winning streak. Charlie Coyle and Kris Foucault also scored, as Houston won for the seventh time in the last eight outings. Rampage goalie Jacob Markstrom (8-7-1) stopped 25 of 30 in the defeat. Houston will head to Charlotte for a pair of games, starting Friday at 6:00 p.m. (CT) at Time Warner Cable Arena.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Aeros lose 3-2, crushed by hot goalie

Weird game tonight in that I went down expecting hellfire and brimstone from Torchetti and he looked at me (oh so briefly) like I had three heads when I asked the first question along the lines of, "Yuck, what was that?"

Awesome for me that ALL of my questions were along those lines.

He said, instead, that apart from the lousy defensive play by a certain unnamed forward that led to that third goal against  (the breakaway), he was happy with the Aeros' game.

He gave big props to Mike McKenna, the Peoria goalie, for playing an outstanding game (so true, I was blown away, even though I knew Mike was a good goalie), and basically shutting the door on a lot of good chances by the Aeros.

The loss halted a 6-game win streak for Houston and if they'd won tonight, that would have been the first 7 game win streak since Feb-Mar of 2008. He said he was very disappointed to see the streak end on a goal like that. And poor Hackett... he had that thing but when an opponent can stand there and pound on the puck and your pad without your defense getting all up in his business, that's probably going in. Really sucks for him.

Coach said he felt like they should have lost Friday, but they won. And they should have won tonight but they lost. "This is how losing streaks start."

My contention, though, is that the Aeros ALWAYS lose before the big autograph signing thing each year, which was tonight. If Peoria hadn't had such a bad record, I would have thought there's no way the Aeros would lose. Rested, but not rusty. Most guys pretty healthy. But McKenna + Autograph Session spelled doom.

And of course, the teams are rarely themselves for these morning games, so that should be a fun one on Tuesday. San Antonio is kinda hot right now, too, so this really could be how losing streaks start.

BTW, for those who have been wondering what's wrong with Scandella... I thought he played a really intense game tonight. Agree? Disagree? And also, are you as surprised as I was that Torchetti was happy with the way they played (for the most part)? Glad I had the dogs to lead my story with so it didn't totally wreck what I'd written. :)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Aeros jump into second place with 2-1 OT win over Stars

I don't think even my jinxy ways could cool down the white-hot Jason Zucker, who scored the OT game winner in Cedar Park tonight to clinch a 2-1 win for the Aeros.

It's his second OT GWG of the season and he's the only player in the AHL to have more than one so far. He's also the best at scoring power play goals, the third best rookie scorer, and fourth best goal scorer in the league. He's just exceptionally consistent for a young guy.

(BTW, our friends over at Hockey Wilderness did a fun debate on whether Zucker has the stuff to be a top 6 forward for the Wild, you know, should the NHL ever. play. again. aughhhh. Check it out and let them know your thoughts (as folks who've seen a lot of him by now) in the comments there or here.)

Not to be overshadowed was Matt Hackett, who was named first star (usually reserved for OT GWG scorer in these situations). He held off the Stars' 16 shots to the Aeros 5 in the first period, which was essential for the Aeros getting their "been off for a week" legs back under them.

Kris Fredheim got the Aeros only regulation goal in the first period. If I could start chants from the press box, I'd started an "UNDER-RATED *clapclapclapclapclap*" chant for him.

Granlund was back, Cuma was scratched (not healthy). Both Granlund and Genoway got a little dinged up blocking shots but both returned. We'll see if they're in on Sunday once the adrenaline has worn off.

Aeros got into penalty trouble in the first period (hence the ever-so-many shots on goal), but neither team had another penalty the rest of the game. Very unusual, but makes for some nice, quick hockey.

That's about it. Hard to say much not seeing it in person.

Kuemper played for Orlando tonight after being sent down there to get some games in. They lost 5-4 in a shootout (in which no Orlando player was able to score; Kuemper stopped 3 of 4). Somehow Fort Wayne scored an empty net goal with just seconds left even though THEY were the ones who were down and had the extra man on the ice (and presumably an empty net).

Either I'm confused (as are many of my Twitter followers who puzzled over this with me) or the stats folks aren't clear on what constitutes an EN goal. The score sheet: http://echl.com/stats/official-game-report.php?game_id=9865

Anyway, I'm told he'll play again tomorrow night and be back to Houston Sunday. DOG DAY Sunday, the most wonderful game of the year. Woof!....

Followed by the most noisy game of the year on Tuesday morning. Friendly reminder to start coughing at work on Monday so you can call in on Tuesday and come out. I promise not to put your face in the Chronicle.

See you Sunday.