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

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Aeros fall to 0-3 on their 10-game homestand, lose 3-2 to Griffins

Aeros head coach John Torchetti took the blame for Friday's 3-2 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins after explaining to the media that he thought the team has become lax and lazy for the last six periods.

"That's not us," he said.

He said he did not call for the right personnel is that situation, calling out the line of Dowell, McIntyre and Bulmer, which gave up the game-winning goal with just over two minute left in the game. Normally, that might be the kind of line you want in that situation, but two of the guys just returned recently from long-term injuries, and the other, Dowell, was just sent down from the Wild. And he did not suit up while on recall to the big club.

And that wasn't even the worse line of the night. Although they improved markedly as the game progressed, the Larsson/DaSilva/Phillips line had a rough go of it in the first period, and even though he gave up two goals, ECHL netminder Cody Reichard fared pretty well in 60 minutes against one of the top teams in the AHL.

He gave up some juicy rebounds, including the shot on the game-winner, but the Aeros were severely outplayed in the first 40 minutes and were on the penalty kill, perpetually, for the first 10 minutes of the middle frame.

After the Griffins went ahead, Jason Zucker had a great chance to send the game to OT, but he missed a wide-open net with a backhander. Tough, tough, break for the Aeros, who are off until Tuesday when they host the Griffins again at Toyota Center.

Houston Aeros photo /  by Morris Molina
Zucker missed most of the second period after getting hit in the left hand with a point shot from the Griffins. It sure was nice to see him back on the ice for the third. He created all night, as did Justin Fontaine, who made the play of the game on the saucer pass through the defense for the tying goal.

The Aeros took the lead on another pretty play by Zucker and Nick Petersen, but the Griffins tied it up seemingly seconds later on former Aero Jeff Hoggan's second goal of the game. That is whey I told Aeros PR guy Josh Fisher that this was starting to look just like the Tuesday game against the Stars.

He laughed and said, "This will probably end up 3-2..." Nice call, Josh.

Up in Dallas, the Wild played another poor defensive game and gave up five goals to the Dallas Stars in a 5-3 loss. Matt Hackett had no chance on four of them and will remain with the big club, while Darcy Kuemper will come back to the Aeros. Also, it is expected that the Wild may recall a forward today to take Kuemper's spot on the roster. We'll see who goes. Maybe Zucker?

Josh Harding is skating again, and appears to be on his way back to the lineup ... but, I really have no idea if he is going to be in game shape again this season. No stories about his progress mention what the Wild's plans for him are. Basically, what do you do with a goalie who just found the right combination of meds to stabilize his M.S. Do you just say, "OK, he looks good ... we'll start him against the Blues tonight." Or do you send him down for a few starts? I am just a fan, but my vote would be to let him to continue to practice. And there no way I let him play a game in the NHL until he proves he can handle live game action.

Until the Wild feel he is ready, Hackett or Kuemper will continue to backup Backstrom.

In AHL affiliation news, the dominoes are starting to fall. The Rivermen are pulling out of Peoria, as their owner, the Blues owner, has informed their building that they are leaving. Read here for more info, but basically, the thought is that the Blues will team up with the Wolves and the Canucks will move their farm team to Abbotsford just as soon as the Flames figure out what to do with the Heat. Rumors continue to point to Utica, New York, which just makes no sense to me, but what do I know?

There is still no news on what the Wild's plans are for the Aeros. Basically it just comes down to how much the Toyota Center people want to have hockey here.

I love hockey and the Aeros, so I hope they are able to work something out. In the last two weeks, I have made drives to San Antonio and Dallas to watch hockey. I hope I don't have to get used to that.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wow, what a thriller! Aeros lose, 7-6, in overtime

Zucker scores on his first shot back with the Aeros / by Morris Molina
Normally a home loss after you've had the lead in the third period would be quite the bummer. But, with the way the game went last night, just about everyone on the ice will take the point and be someone satisfied with the result given how the game played out.

Yes, Matt Hackett was rusty, but the guy had not played in a month, and he was sent down here specifically to get a game in before maybe be recalled to play with the Wild this weekend. The defense in front of him was horrible, too, and I feared before the game that the Aeros would get blown out.

Just a recipe for disaster when you're facing the best team in the AHL and one that just got two more players from their NHL parent, the Dallas Stars. Here, you can read the chron.com recap by Mike Damante, who filled in for the wayward Mrs. Galindo.

After the Stars won it in OT, the final count for the game was 13 goals. If you are scoring at home that's 24 goals in two games between the two organizations. The night before in Dallas, the Wild beat the Stars 7-4. Texas got payback on Tuesday, but the Wild won the mini-series three points to two.

OK, so that is a stretch on the sunshine there.

The bottom line is that the defense has to be better. Yes, there are some key clogs missing with Dowell being recalled and Stephane Veilleux being hurt. But Jason Zucker was a minus-two in the game after scoring the first goal. And based on where I was sitting for the game, I can't tell if Tyler Cuma was that bad or just a victim of extremely bad luck ... but he was minus-four in the game and was on the ice for the last four Stars goals.

My players of the game were Justin Fontaine and Steven Kampfer, who continues to be one of the best Aeros on the ice every game. The penalty shot by Brett Bulmer was a beat, so let's hope that gets him going for the home stretch ...

The Aeros have eight games left on their homestand, and they are 0-2 so far with two OT points in the process. Friday night, they'll host the Grand Rapids Griffins, who seem to win every game and score 11 or 12 goals in the process.

The defense and goaltending will be tested again.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Five of Six Ain't Bad

Not a bad weekend for the boys in the bomber jerseys, eh? A really tough 3 in 3 with a middle travel day and still earning 5 out of 6 points.

What's more, they earned them in all the right places. I think if there's game where they could afford to drop a point, it was probably this game tonight against the Amerks. Or maybe it just feels that way because I enjoy beating OKC so much more. :)

Either way, it was a big weekend and as Coach Torchetti said, if someone had offered him 5 of 6 he would have signed right on the dotted line.

What was interesting to me is that Torchetti has been harping on penalties the last few games, but tonight, I thought they were pretty disciplined, which is sometimes one of the first things to go when you're tired.

By pointing that out, I'm saying what I suppose is obvious: This team has got it going on. They had every right to be sluggish and sloppy (and they were at times) but instead, they put 40 shots on Leggio (who was playing his 54th game of the season... what an ironman!)

Seems to me this team is peaking at just the right time and powering ahead in the standings points. Just this weekend alone has been pretty impressive to watch.

Tonight in particular, goals from Rau and Phillips (who is red hot right now with 4 goals in 8 games) and a great game from Cody Reichard in net for just his second AHL game, really showed how well this team weathers a storm. And what are playoffs if not the biggest storm of the year?

(Also, have to mention two REALLY nice shootout goals by Granlund and, particularly, Fontaine. I'm still sort of angry at Fontaine for his, purely from a goalie perspective. It was as nasty as they come.)

The big home stand continues Tuesday night with the Stars and Grand Rapids on Friday. Keep Calm and Hockey On, folks.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Tonight: Aeros at OKC Barons

Everyone thought the OKC Barons would fall off the map once the lockout ended. In fact, the opposite has happened, and Todd Nelson's team might arguably be better now without their studs, who are now in Edmonton. They are better defensively, and they seem to keep every game close.

The Aeros have split two games with the Barons since the lockout ended, with each team winning on home ice.

Tonight, the Aeros will play their final road game before starting a major 10-game homestand on Saturday against the Rochester Amerks. The Aeros really need to bear down tonight and go for two points, as the game Saturday will favor the Americans on the schedule. They had Thursday off, and the Aeros will be playing their third game in three days will travel to and from OKC.

Salty goal by M. Scandella (6) - Photo by Morris Molina
That is just my gut feeling, but the recent play of the Aeros suggests that they have a very good shot of taking at least one of these two games. Like John mentioned last night through quotes from Torchetti, the Aeros have to be more disciplined tonight. If not, Mark Arcobello and Jonathan Cheechoo will slice them apart.

And you have to figure Darcy Kuemper, who has been spectacular, will get a break. Maybe, maybe not. The Wild have not been shy about playing a well-rested goalie three straight games. You have to figure though that he'll sit one, especially with a groin injury not too far out of the rear-view mirror.

In their last 10 games, the Barons have points in seven of them (5-3-0-2). They have lost three straight home games, but they managed to get an OT point in two of them.

I like how the Aeros are playing right now; they've certainly attained an edge and are playing a salty game since that six-game winless streak back in January.

Torchetti loves the group he has right now and even went on the record as saying that he'd hate to play his team in the first round of the playoffs.

He's right; if the Aeros can stay away from the injury bug and be a tad more disciplined, they'll have a chance to make some noise in the Calder Cup playoffs.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Aeros Checkmate Checkers

It's been so long since the Aeros have played a game at Toyota Center that I just kind of figured they'd up and relocated to Des Moines already -- what, too soon? But the wounded warriors returned to Toyota Center tonight and matched the checkers move for move, getting the 4-1 win on the first night of a three-in-three.

Marco Scandella put the Aeros on the board at 11:24 of the first with a pretty shot he was able to get off and sneak between the goalie and the post as he was falling to the ice. Zach Phillips knocked in a rebound for the second goal, on a power play, at 12:16 of the first, then at 17:27 of the first, Justin Fontaine finished off the scoring with a shot from inches away which saw Charlotte's starting goalie, John Muse pulled from the game for Rob Madore, who got his first ever AHL action. (Carson McMillan got the empty-netter in the final minute for the final score.)

"It was a big win," head coach John Torchetti said. "Everyone stood up and they did a good job."

The Aeros have 14 regular season games remaining, and 10 of those 14 are at home, so let's hope the Aeros can take the time to rest up and get healthy as they make the final push for the Calder Cup playoffs.

And I know it's been awhile since we've seen the team, and had the chance to talk to John Torchetti, but he I don't remember him being as effusive and free with the praise as he was after tonight's win. But he knows his team's beat up, and he was thrilled to get the effort that he got out of a tired bunch of players. And most of the effort, most of the attitude the team's showing out on the ice, is the result of the veterans that were added to the team over the past couple of months, primarily Paul Mara, Jake Dowell, and Stephane Veilleux (who missed tonight's game due to an injury).

"Veilluex, Dowell, Mara have really changed the attitude in the building," Torchetti said. "Just working hard, holding guys accountable, telling them, hey, listen, this is the play. These guys play. Mara has 12-plus years. Jake has several years. Veilluex has nine years. They’ve got experience, and they’re bringing it. These guys are workers. That tells you a lot. We’re very fortunate to have guys that want to come down. They could be in a bad mood because they’re not being called up, but they’ve done a great job for us, and I’m really happy that they play for us."

Everything wasn't perfect for the team tonight. The team hasn't played since Friday, and he thought they looked really sluggish out on the ice. But he was trying to give the team some rest -- he worked them really hard on Sunday and Monday. And after the long road stretch where the team was seemingly playing every other night, he needs the team to get back into a rhythm.

He also wasn't happy with the penalties the guys got, and have been getting.

"We’ve got to stay out of the box," he said. "We’ve got to be smarter, especially with offensive zone penalties. It’s gone a kill us. We were short a guy…[Rau was out on a suspension] We're down to four [penalty] killers. I think Jake [Dowell] got into a fight to get a breather…."

"We’ve got to cut this out," he continued later. "But our past four or five games, we’re averaging five-plus [penalties], and that’s going to kill you one night. We’re wasting energy, and we’ve got to have better poise."

But tonight the Aeros got the win to improve their record to 32-22-4-4 (72 points), and five points behind Charlotte for the second spot in the South Division. They face the Barons in Oklahoma City tomorrow night, then they're back at Toyota Center to host Rochester on Saturday. So until then.


Could whoever is doing the sound at Toyota Center please learn the volume control knob is located on the sound board. Please? I don't think the sound was even that loud for Eric Clapton's concert last Sunday. And can somebody please tell me why Joe O'Donnell's radio broadcast was being broadcast in the seating areas? His pregame show was louder than the anthem.

Texas High School Hockey Championship & other stuff

Couple of quick notes as we head into the evening:

First, I want to thank Andrew for keeping things going here lately and for, as usual, being so knowledgeable and generous with his time. My husband and I are in the middle of moving to Dallas (I know... *sad trombone*) and, while I'm fortunate that selling/hunting/buying/negotiating/etc. all happened during this ENDLESS road trip, it has nevertheless been all-consuming.

However, as we head into this dense final stretch of home games, I'm excited to get refocused and see this puppy through to the bitter and/or sweet end (with Mike Damante graciously filling in at the Chron when I can't make it to games).

I dunno how much more pro hockey we're going to have in Houston after this season (really, I don't know... not hinting at anything here... you're all reading the same writing on the wall that I am at this point), but we have a nice little stretch here to really soak it all in and put our backs and hearts into it.

Second, if you want even a little more live hockey, Houston is hosting the Texas High School Hockey Tournament this weekend and Saturday's Aeros game will be followed up by the championship game.

Normally Dallas gets these tourneys because they have a more robust youth hockey scene (thank you Stars), but Houston got it this year, so it's a pretty big deal and should be some good hockey. I've played against high school kids a few times and, let me tell you, I avoid it like the plague now because I don't like crying myself to sleep at night. They're prettyyyyy, prettyyyyy, pretty good.

So, to summarize:
  • Galindo traded to Dallas for a bag of pucks
  • Houston vs Rochester / Texas High School Championship Double Header Saturday
  • (Bonus) Still sorta mad about how much the Aeros scored on Brusty the other day
Okay. I'm off. See you tonight. Here's hoping I remember how to write a game story.

Game Day: Aeros vs. Charlotte

If the Aeros have any dreams of getting the No. 4 seed and securing home ice in the first round, they need to beat the Charlotte Checkers tonight.

If they do it, they'll have to without Chad Rau, who was suspending by the league earlier this week for a high-sticking incident at San Antonio. That hurts a little bit, but the Aeros can win this game if they return to a good penalty-killing technique and Darcy Kuemper continues to play well.

I am not 100% sure if it is related, but the Aeros signed Kirk MacDonald to a contract. He played four games for the Aeros during the road trip and even missed some time in the middle of that stint with an injury. The MacDonald signing also indicates to me that the same forwards that have been out, continue to be out with undisclosed injuries.

MacDonald has done alright in the ECHL, but he'll be just another body trying to make it work at Toyota Center tonight.

Opposite Kuemper, I'd expect the Checkers to start John Muse, who's filled in rather decently with Peters up in Carolina. Muse is 3-4 and has started every game for them since then. He gave up six last weekend against Texas and then rebounded nicely with a 3-2 overtime win in the rematch.

The weekend before that, he split two games against the Aeros at Time Warner Cable Arena.

The Checkers, like the Aeros, have only played about 10 games in the last month. Since Feb. 23, Charlotte is an even 5-5 with just three regulation wins. Their once great defense is a little shaky now. Muse has started eight of those games and he's given up more than 3.6 goals per game during that span.

I'd really be disappointed and shocked if the Aeros don't win the game if they can keep the Checkers under three goals.

After tonight, there are only 10 home games left at Toyota Center. Barring a complete choke, the Aeros will make the playoffs for the 16th time in 19 years. If you want me to put a number on it, I'd say the team needs just seven more wins to clinch at least the No. 8 seed.

I'm actually optimistic that they'll finish closer to 4 than 8, but we'll see. The Aeros do have a very tough schedule down the stretch. No matter what happens, the final month will be filled with excitement.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tardy Post - Aeros lose at San Antonio

I was traveling all weekend, so I did not have a chance to get an update on the blog. But, in case you missed it, the Aeros dropped a 4-2 decision at the AT&T Center on Friday night against the San Antonio Rampage. 

Looking to go two games over .500, the Aeros played a great road first period and followed that with an ever better second period ... until the last seconds when they allowed the game-tying goal. 

Early in the third, Stephane Veilleux got an unsportsmanlike penalty that eventually led to a 5-on-3 and the game-winning goal for the Rampage. 

There is no question that the fresh legs prevailed, but the penalty by Veilleux just continued a sequence toward defeat that started with the McMillan,/Fontaine/Granlund line allowed the tying goal with under 10 seconds left in the period. 

That sealed at least a point for the Rampage, and the third-period penalties was the dagger. 

Thursday, the Aeros will start a three-in-three against Charlotte. Friday, they're in OKC before coming back home to start a 10-game homestand against the Rochester Amerks.

The Aeros are seven points back of Charlotte with a pair of games in hand. It seems very unlikely that they'll catch them for the No. 4 seed and home ice advantage. But win the game Thursday, and things could get interesting down the stretch. 

Thursday is a big game; hope to see you at the rink.

Carson McMillan scored at San Antonio Friday -  photo by Josh Huskin

Friday, March 15, 2013

Aeros power past Heat, move to 10 games over .500

After the Aeros went up 2-0 on the Abbotsford last night, Heat coach Troy G. Ward called a timeout. After that stop, the Heat outshot the Aeros close to a 2-1 margin for the rest of the game, and the 4-1 final was a lot closer than the score indicates.

Yes, the Heat defense was atrocious. Yes, their PK was even worse as the Aeros scored twice and generated close to a dozen Grade A scoring chances with the man advantage. 

But the Heat kept coming and coming and coming, and when Darcy Kuemper wasn't making difficult saves look easy, he was lucky as the Heat mis-fired at least two open nets and several other prime chances down 2-0. 

Even when Zack Phillips made it 3-0 (and Oh, what a pass by Larsson), the Heat kept it up and never quit until Lamb scored Abbotsford's only goal of the game with 14 ticks left on the clock. 

While it would have been nice, Kuemper didn't really lose the shutout in hearbreaking fashion. His performance was spectacular, and one garbage time goal doesn't take away from what he did in the last 40 minutes as the ice seemed tilted toward the Aeros goal. 
Aeros D Brian Connelly- Photo by Morris Molina, Houston Aeros
Big-picture wise, the win gets the Aeros 10 games over .500 for the first time this season, and with 70 points, they are six points clear of the team (Milwaukee) with the 9th best winning percentage in the Western Conference. 

The Aeros have 16 games left. If they win just eight more games, they'll finish with 86 points, and the Admirals would have to go about 12-5 to catch them. While the playoffs certainly are no lock, I think the Aeros are more likely to be a 5 or 6 seed than they are a 7 or 8 seed. The Aeros "magic number" to clinch a spot in the top 8 is down to 29, and 11 of their last 16 games are at home. 

This is the toughest part of the season, so there are no promises. 

It was nice to see a big crowd at the game on a Thursday. Nearly 6,500 see the Aeros put on quite the show. Connelly was great, and I thought Paul Mara and Marco Scandella were good on the power play. Mikael Granlund sees things happen before they happen, and having him in Houston is going to be a real treat for ever how long he "has" to stay down in the minors. 

The penalty kill has turned away 21 straight shorthanded situations. They are perfect since that third-period meltdown in Abbotsford two weeks ago. 

If they keep that going - hey, they are not going to stay perfect - they are going to be real tough to beat in the playoffs. 

Tonight, they visit San Antonio, who just lost two straight at home to OKC. They did get one point in shootout loss on Wednesday, but they pretty much have to win out just to have a chance to make the playoffs. 

If the Aeros bear down and score first, they'll be tough to beat. They also need to be a lot more disciplined than they were Thursday. I think all the penalties were just a product of how the game went. 

Where is referee Jeff Smith when you need him?

Here are some misc. stats from the game last night: 
  • The Aeros now have a plus-9 goal differential on the season. They are plus-10 in the 2nd period. 
  • The Aeros finished the season series 3-1 against the Heat, outscoring them 14-8.
  • Houston scored 7 power play goals against the Heat on 21 opportunities. 
  • The Aeros went 16-for-18 on the PK against the Heat this season. 
  • Houston has scored at least one PP goal in 5 of their last 7 games overall
  • Mikael Granlund has points in six straight games as an Aero (3g+5a=8pts.)
In closing, it was not a good night for our long-time friend Barry Brust. He has really struggled - right along with the Heat - since his magical shutout streak from earlier this season. Abbotsford has fallen from a Top 4 team to a squad that will very, very likely miss the playoffs. 

It was Brust's first game at Toyota Center since leaving the organization three years ago. He was on the bench as Robin Lehner led the B-Sens to the 2011 Calder Cup Championship. As an opponent, he's only played at Toyota Center twice. 

As a member of the Manchester Monarchs, he beat the Aeros in OT back in Oct. 2005. He allowed just one goal, a shortie by Kirby Law. Before Thursday, his last game in the building was mop-up duty against the Texas Stars on Feb. 27, 2010. After Wade Dubielewicz allowed three shots on three goals, Brust came in a stopped 13 of 14 as the Aeros comeback fell just short. 

I hope I am wrong, but I think we just saw Brust's last-ever game in Houston. He has been tremendous to fans and media alike, and I know I am not the only one who'd put him in the Top 5 of all-time Aeros goalies.
Brusty makes a save - Morris Molina, Houston Aeros

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wild trades Genoway to Capitals organization

Two months ago, Aeros defensemen were dropping like flies to injury ... and it looked like the team was going to slip away from the back just as the team was losing some very talented forwards to the NHL after the lockout.

But Steven Kampfer started to play well, and Jim Mill plucked Paul Mara from the ECHL and Kyle Medvec was recalled from the Orlando Solar Bears. Kris Fredheim was steady and Chay Genoway provided some puck movement to keep the team alive and well in the Western Conference playoff chase.

Now, in a move to free up some room in the organization, the Wild traded one of those blueliners, who just a few months ago provided life support to a team hemorrhaging players left and right.

Goodbye, Chay Genoway.

He was a healthy scratch in three of the last four games, all on the road, so most just assumed injury. But on Thursday, the Wild dealt Genoway to the Capitals for a conditional seventh round pick. The Aeros lose their second-best d-man, from a production standpoint, for virtually nothing (as far as the Aeros are concerned).

But there was room to do it for a pick, so they did it. Marco Scandella is healthy again, Brian Connelly, too, is back from a gruesome shoulder injury. And Tyler Cuma said on Twitter that he expects to be cleared to play soon enough.

During the stretch where the Aeros were on the road for 17 of their last 21, Genoway played in 17 of those games. He did not score a goal, but he contributed with six assists and was plus-six as the Aeros went 12-8-0-1.

Yes, the Aeros will miss Genoway, but there are plenty of defenseman in Houston with much to prove, and that, partly, is what made the blueliner expendable.

Here is a high-level look at what the Aeros' main blueliners have done in the last 21 games:

 2     Paul Mara            16 games       1G/5A     +4
 4     Drew Bagnall        8 games        0G/1A      -2
 6     Marco Scandella   6 games        0G/2A      +1
 7     Kris Fredheim      20 games       0G/2A      -5
 8     Kyle Medvec       21 games       3G/1A      +2
10    Brian Connelly      4 games        0G/4A        E
23    Steven Kampfer   21 games       1G/8A      +9
61    Tyler Cuma           3 games        0G/1A      +1
39    Chay Genoway     17 games      0G/6A      +6


Back at Home ... at last

The Aeros did their job on the road. Considering all that has happened with the Wild and the Aeros from a health standpoint, for the team to win 8 games during a stretch of 12 of 13 away from home ... well, that is just amazing.

Now the Aeros will play 12 of its next 14 at home, where they are 14-8-2-2 overall and has points (six wins) in its last 10 games at Toyota Center. The time is now to put the foot on the pedal and take aim at the Charlotte Checkers, who are one spot ahead of them in the division standings.

The Aeros got Darcy Keumper back, who missed a few games in St. Paul with the groin injury. He did well with the Wild, and comes back to the Aeros to get more playing time, while Matt Hackett gets a turn up in the NHL.

Mikael Granlund was also re-assigned to work on his game, and if he comes down here with the right mentality ... look out. He had one really bad game in December (minus-5 at Lake Erie) but in his last five games with the Aeros, he was a stud. He just could not parlay they success at the NHL level.

Currently the Aeros are No. 6 in the conference, but can jump back ahead of red-hot Rochester with a win tonight over the Heat. Abbotsford has been well below average since Thanksgiving fell to No. 9 with OKC's win at San Antonio last night and the Heat's regulation loss at Texas.

With just two games this weekend, the Aeros need at least a split to stay in the top six. Here is more from the Aeros press office. See you at the rink tonight.

Abbotsford Heat (28-26-3-6, 65 points) at Houston Aeros (30-21-4-4, 68 points)
The Houston Aeros and the Abbotsford Heat meet for the fourth and final meeting this season. Houston visited Abbotsford the weekend of Mar. 1 and 2, with the Aeros splitting the series by taking the last meeting on Mar. 1 and the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre with 5-1 victory. In the only meeting this season at Toyota Center, Houston claimed a 3-2 overtime win on Nov. 25.

Starting on Thursday, Houston will play 12 of its next 14 games at the Toyota Center. This comes after the team played 12 out of 13 games on the road from Feb. 6 to Mar. 10. Houston posted an 8-4-0-1 mark over that stretch. Houston is 14-8-2-2 at home this season and 6-3-0-1 over the last ten games.

Abbotsford’s fortune has changed since the last time the Heat came to Houston. On Nov. 25, the team was 12-2-1-2 and on top of the AHL’s Western Conference. Since Nov. 25, the team is 16-23-2-4 and in third place of the North Division. Abbotsford is 9-16-1-5 on the road this season and 2-6-0-2 over the last ten games.

Houston is 9-6-1-3 in 19 all-time meetings between the two teams, including a 5-2-1-1 record at home. Abbotsford has a 10-4-2-3 record all-time against the Aeros, including a 4-2-1-2 mark in Houston. The Heat is 6-2-1-1 at home, while the Aeros are 4-4-0-2 in Abbotsford. Abbotsford and Houston met eight times each of the last two years, with the Heat owning a 5-1-0-2 record last year against Houston’s 3-4-0-1 mark during the 2011-12 season against Abbotsford.

 Charlotte goalie John Muse stopped 18 of 23 in defeat, as the Checkers slipped to 15-11-0-1 at home this season.

The Houston Aeros –
With Jason Zucker in Minnesota, right wing Justin Fontaine is the team’s leading scorer with 37 points in 47 games played. He is first among active skaters with 16 goals and he is second in assists with 21. Fontaine has three goals in his last five games. Johan Larsson is ranked second in overall scoring with 34 points in 55 games played. His 15 goals are second overall among active skaters for Houston. Larsson has two goals and five assists for seven points over his last five games. 

Defenseman Brian Connelly and forward David McIntyre are tied for third among the team leaders in points with 26. McIntyre leads the team with a +19 rating in 56 games played. He is also the team’s active leader in shots on goal with 122. Connelly has 26 points, off two goals and he is first on the club with 24 assists in 37 games played. Connelly has a team-high 15 power-play assists. He has four assists in his first four games back from injury.

With Matt Hackett in the NHL with the Wild, Darcy Kuemper and Cody Reichard man the pipes for Houston. Kuemper is 10-6-0 with a 1.79 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. Reichard made his first career AHL start on Sunday in Charlotte. He is 1-0-0 with a 2.01 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. John Curry is out with an injury.

The Aeros rank 13th in the AHL on the power play converting 44 out of 250 chances (17.6 %). As far the penalty kill goes, Houston sits 23rd out of 30 teams, stopping 179 of 220 attempts (81.4 %). The Aeros rank 29 out of 30 teams in penalty minutes, averaging just 12.47 minutes a game. Houston is averaging 2.71 goals per game, while allowing 2.59 goals per game.

The Abbotsford HeatVeteran Ben Walter is first on the team’s scoring list with 35 points in 55 games played. Walter leads the team with eight power-play goals, is tied for third with 12 goals and he is first with 23 assists. He also leads the team with 15 power-play points this season. Center Ben Street is second in scoring with 32 points in 57 games played. His 12 goals rank tied third best on the team and his 20 assists sit second best. He also leads the club with 194 shots on goal. Former Aero Krys Kolanos is third overall in scoring with 31 points in 44 games played. Kolanos is second on the team with 153 shots on goal and he has scored the first goal of the game six times this season. Centers Roman Horak and Dustin Sylvester round out the top scorers for the Heat. Horak has a team-high 14 goals and is fourth overall in scoring with 25 points in 52 games played. He is tied for second on the team with six power-play goals. Sylvester is fifth on the team in scoring with 21 points in 52 games played. He has 11 goals and 10 assists on the season. Rookie Sven Baertschi has spent significant time in Calgary this season. He has 18 points off six goals and 12 assists in only 23 games played. Defenseman Brett Carson is the team’s leading producer from the blueline. He has five goals and five assists four ten points in 23 games played. 

The Heat’s strength this season has been in net, led Barry Brust, Danny Taylor and Leland Irving.  Brust, the former Aeros goalie, is 11-13-2 with a 2.31 GAA and .916 save percentage. He also has five shutouts this season, ranking third best in the AHL. After spending a good portion of the season in Calgary, Leland Irving is 3-6-2 with a 3.00 goals against average and a .895 save percentage. Danny Taylor is 14-10-2, with two shutouts and a 1.96 GAA and .924 save percentage this season.

The Heat rank 22nd in the AHL on the power play, converting 38 out of 251 chances (15.1%). As far the penalty kill goes, Abbotsford sits fifth out of 30 teams, stopping 219 of 255 attempts at 85.9%. The Heat rank 24th out of 30 teams in penalty minutes, averaging just 14.11 minutes a game. Abbotsford is averaging 2.16 goals per game, while allowing 2.46 goals per game.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wild assigns Granlund to Aeros

The kid was probably told to go down, work on his game and he'll be back in the NHL soon enough. Let's hope Mikael Granlund does just that.

On Tuesday, the Wild assigned Granlund to the Aeros, who will play two games this week; Thursday against the Abbotsford Heat and then again on Saturday at San Antonio.

Fans in St. Paul have been debating what the Wild should do with the kid, who has struggled in his first season in the NHL. Some want him down in Houston to get top-line minutes, while others wanted to see him playing those same minutes with the big club.

Right now, the Wild are just doing too well without Granlund, so it looks like Plan "A" is in order.

It'll be nice to see where the kid's head's at down here against the Heat on Thursday.

Here is the full release from the Wild:


    SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher today announced the National Hockey League (NHL) club has reassigned forward Mikael Granlund to the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League (AHL).

    Granlund, 21 (2/26/92), collected six points (1-5=6) in 19 games with Minnesota this season and registered a goal in his NHL debut vs. Colorado on Jan. 19. The 5-foot-10, 186-pound native of Oulu, Finland recorded 21 points (8-13=21) in 21 games with the Aeros this season. He was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for October scoring 10 points (3-7=10) and a +5 rating in seven games. Granlund was Minnesota’s first round pick (ninth overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

    2012-13 Season Tickets are now available for select lower level and RBC Wealth Management Club Level seats. Single-game tickets are also on sale now and available for most home games. More information on season tickets and single-game tickets is available at www.wild.com, or by contacting a Wild Ticket Sales Representative at 651-222-WILD.

    Visit www.wild.com/pressbox for the latest news and information from the team including press releases, game notes, postgame notes, multimedia content and daily statistics.

-- WILD --

Monday, March 11, 2013

Strong third period nets 30th win of the season in Charlotte

The Aeros joined the 30-win club with a 5-2 win over the Charlotte Checkers Sunday at Time Warner Cable Arena. After blowing a 2-0 lead in the second period, the Aeros had the stronger legs, Charlotte lost a few bodies due to injury, and Jake Dowell took over to lead the Aeros past the Checkers.

Charlotte Checkers Photo
Some guy you never heard of played goalie for the Aeros, and some guy you never heard of backed him up because the Aeros third string goalie - John Curry - got hurt in the shootout Saturday night.

Mike Russo of the Star-Tribune had the scoop on the situation, so this is plucked right from his blog to help catch you up to speed:

"I mentioned this in the notebook, but after scrambling to get a half-dozen goalies into Houston’s lineup last season, Aeros General Manager Jim Mill is once again scouring the depth charts.

Both of Houston’s goalies are in Minnesota: Matt Hackett and now-injured Darcy Kuemper. So naturally, on the first day of Hackett’s recall, Shorewood native John Curry was injured in a shootout at Charlotte.

In Sunday’s rematch, Cody Reichard, picked up from ECHL Stockton, backstopped the Aeros to a 5-2 victory, while Mill signed ECHL South Carolina’s Jeff Jakaitis, a former Rochester Mayo standout, to a professional tryout to back up. He is the Aeros’ fifth goalie of the year. The Aeros are fifth in the AHL West.

'Just when you think you have the depth and have it figured out, a goalie goes down in a shootout?” Mill said. “So you get the list out, start making calls to get a goalie into to Charlotte for a 3:00 pm game and oh yea we lose an hour - Daylight savings time!'"

Incredible, isn't it?

Well, if you have been a Aeros fan for more than five minutes, you're not surprised. It happened last year, and the team still managed to sneak into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.

Speaking of which, the standings are getting a lot tighter because a lot of the lower seeds have gone on some nice little runs lately. Here is a link to the AHL's playoff primer, which, I think, is a wonderful tool for AHL fans and media.

While the Aeros are currently fifth in the standings and have a nice, 10-game homestand coming up, they only play two games for the third week in a row. This is the week that a lot of teams will catch up in games played, so unless the Aeros win both of their games this week, they could drop a few spots.

That's all I got for now; See you at the rink on Thursday.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Aeros get a point in shootout loss to Checkers

The Minnesota Wild does not own the Aeros, the Charlottle Checkers do. And they are co-owners with the Lake Erie Monsters this year. When these teams get together, Charlotte and Lake Erie get wins. The Aeros get maybe a point here or there, but they lose just about every time.

Charlotte Checkers Photo
Hey, at least against Charlotte they won ONE overtime game and actually got the lead, something they had been unable to do against Lake Erie.

But I digress ... Considering their goaltending situation - and it remains unclear if Hackett will get his first start of the season today against Vancouver - I thought it was a big road point.

Matt Kassian scored his first goal of the season in the second period, but the Checkers tied it up later in the period, and that is how the game would finish until the penalty-shot tiebreaker.

Charlotte won the shootout 2-0, and finished with a 2-1 win in front of more than 12,000 fans. Just an incredible showing in North Carolina.

The playoff picture is just an incredible mess right now, which is a great thing if you like dram and entire seasons coming down to the very last weekend. This is going to be a fun ride, and it all starts again today when the Aeros finish their two-game set at Charlotte.

Have a great Sunday, everyone.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wild recalls Matt Hackett

I knew it was coming the second Mike Russo brought up Kuemper's groin injury in the blog the other day ... the Wild backup is hurt, which means the Wild have sent for and received Matt Hackett from the Aeros.

The Wild needs two goalies, and now the Aeros are down to two ECHL goalies for their upcoming series against the Charlotte Checkers. They will probably be running the show for at least the next two weeks of games.

Here is a link to the story on Hockey Wilderness about the Hackett recall.

It will be interesting to see how the Aeros fare while Kuemper is hurt.

Charlotte is in the same boat, ironically, due to injuries with the Hurricanes. Could see a lot of goals scores this weekend.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Aeros Split at Abbotsford, travel to Charlotte this weekend

The Aeros played like the better team for five of their six periods against the Abbotsford Heat last weekend, but they only got two points to show for it.

With a lead going into the third period Friday night, the Aeros lost their heads, took too many penalties and handed the Heat a "W" on a silver platter in the first of the two-game set. In Saturday's rematch, the Aeros dominated from start to finish and beat Barry Brust and the Heat, 5-1.

Their current standing has them in fifth in the conference, but they still have played more games that just about everyone else. The other teams will catch up, though, in the next two weeks, so Aeros fans will have a better idea of where the team stands for the final month of play.
Genoway fires one toward the net - Abbotsford Heat photo

Their next opponent, the Charlotte Checkers, will play two more games before they host the Aeros this weekend at Time Warner Cable Arena. They'll host OKC tonight and then travel to Norfolk Wednesday. The Checkers will be without No. 1 goalie Justin Peters for at least a month, because Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward will miss some time with a sprained knee.

Personally, I think the Checkers will just just fine with John Muse tending the pipes, but we'll see. His numbers are not that great in limited action ... but he did beat the Aeros at Toyota Center earlier this year.

The big picture

Like I said before, the Aeros are currently the 5th best team in the West, points-wise, and would have to suffer a terrible collapse not to make the playoffs. With 19 games left on the regular season slate, the Aeros probably need about 21 more points to make the playoffs. The could accomplish this by just winning nine of those 21 games with a couple of OT points scattered in there.

Obviously a lot could change, but the Aeros are playing quite well over the last month or so, and they have a 10-game homestand coming up in the not-so-distant future. Their schedule is home-heavy, but not easy by any stretch.

While most of their remaining opponents are better at home, they play some of the best road teams in the conference at Toyota Center down the stretch. Just counting Wins and Losses (not OT points), Charlotte and Texas are plus-11 on the road. Grand Rapids is plus-6, and Rochester and Chicago both have winning records on the road.

Of their remaining seven road games, Charlotte is "just" plus-four and is the only team left on their slate with double-digit regulation losses at home.

It's going to be a real fun ride through Mid April!