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

Friday, May 29, 2009

Aeros Equipment Sale

Just a bump as a reminder - Fred

For those of you with no plans and some disposable income, here's a little item.

The Houston Aeros will be holding their annual end-of-season equipment sale this Saturday out at the team's Sugar Land Ice & Sports Center facility from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Among the items to be sold will be used skates, gloves, pants, helmets, nameplates, and much, more more.

The team will accept cash, checks (does anybody write checks anymore), and credit cards.

And I suggest you get there early before Ms. Conduct snaps up all of the goalie gear.

Rampage to get publicly-funded practice rink

Boy, just think of how nice it would be for the Aeros to turn one of those parking lots around Toyota Center into their very own practice rink and ice skating facility.

Well, it looks like the Rampage are going to get just that, a publicly-funded new rink right next to the AT&T Center in East San Antonio.

Check out this article from the San Antonio Express news.


A quote from the article:

Spurs (NBA team that owns the Rampage) Vice President Leo Gomez said his group would like to operate it but share the proposed 550 bleacher-seat facility with local youth and adult ice hockey leagues. Gomez also said the team would make it available for skating special events.

If you read all the way to the end, there are a few comments from local readers.
Interesting to say the least.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More From Chapter 11: The Strange Case of the Phoenix Coyotes and Some Other NHL Oddities

There was a bankruptcy court hearing in Phoenix yesterday regarding the attempt of Jerry Moyes to put the Phoenix Coyotes into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy while selling the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie who wants to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario. And in 12 days, we should all have some idea of where the Coyotes will be playing next season.

The judge yesterday ordered all parties to file briefs by June 5, 2009, and he ordered a hearing for June 9, 2009, in which he stated he hopes to offer a ruling on whether putting the Coyotes into bankruptcy allows the team to be relocated without approval, per NHL bylaws, of the owners. The NHL, with the support of the NBA, NFL, and MLB, is arguing that the bankruptcy court doesn't have the power to order a move that contradicts league bylaws. Moyes and Balsillie say that the court can void whatever contracts it wants and ignore whatever internal bylaws it wants in order to set whole the creditors.

According to the Toronto Globe & Mail, the judge expressed reluctance to order the move, and says he's not sure that he has the power to rewrite NHL bylaws. He might be reluctant, but I call bullshit on his argument about NHL bylaws. If bankruptcy courts can void union contract after union contract after union contract when mismanaged corporations go into Chapter 11, then he can ignore NHL bylaws.

The judge stated that if he rules in favor of relocation, the bankruptcy auction for the club will be held on June 22. If he rules that there can be no relocation, then the bankruptcy auction will be held on September 10.

Balsille has stated that if there is no decision regarding relocation by June 29, he will withdraw his bid for the team. And the Globe & Mail is also reporting that the NHL will be spending about $17 million over the next several weeks to keep the team running -- most of that money will be going to one Wayne Gretzky.

AND SOME MORE NON-HOCKEY NHL NEWS:

The Wall Street Journal yesterday mentioned that one of the teams closely following the Coyotes matter is the Atlanta Thrashers. Without citing any sources, the Journal reported that if the Chapter 11 relocation is allowed, then the same thing would probably be happening with the Thrashers. It also stated that the Nashville Predators are also in the mix for this type of relocation since the team has a clause in its contract that allows it to get out of its lease if the team averages under 14,000 per game in attendance for a season.

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The Columbus Blue Jackets, meanwhile, are heading up an effort to sell Nationwide Arena to Franklin County, the county where the Blue Jackets arena is located. The purpose of the sale would be to help the Blue Jackets, who are having financial difficulties that are partly originated from the lease the team has with the arena.

Apparently, the County's assuming of the arena would result in a better lease for the team. As it stands, the Blue Jackets lease the arena and pay for its operations, but arena revenue isn't covering the operating costs. The club states that this forces the team to take money from hockey operations to make up the rest of the operating costs.

The sale of the arena to the county would be funded by, of course, the taxpayers, who would pay increased tax costs on alcohol and tobacco sales. The puck is now in the zone of the state politicians who are debating whether to grant the county the authority to impose the tax, or else giving the county the approval to hold an election on the issue.

Oh, and the Blue Jackets stated that if the lease problems aren't resolved in their favor, they will relocate to another city.

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Charles Wang, the owner of the New York Islanders, announced last week that unless the Town of Hempstead, NY approves of an arena project for the Islanders by October 3, then the Islanders will be relocating when the team's lease expires in 2015. The franchise, apparently, makes the Coyotes look like a financial success, having lost between $15-20 million last season alone. And among the suitors mentioned for the Islanders, should relocation result, are all of the usual suspects: Hamilton, Las Vegas, Kansas City, and Houston.

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And things are getting interesting up Dallas way where today Tom Hicks, owner of the Dallas Stars and Texas Rangers, announced that he is now selling a majority interest of the Rangers. It was not long ago that Hicks defaulted on loans to the creditors who made the purchase of the Stars and Rangers possible, saying that the default was just a negotiating tactic to get better terms on the loans. At that time, Hicks also stated that he was willing to sell a minority interest in the Stars and Rangers.

Now he's on the record as saying that he's up for selling a majority interest in the Rangers. It appears, for now, that the Stars are safe. But then again, Hicks appears to be having some real financial difficulties, no matter the PR spin, so I wouldn't count out Hicks putting a majority interest in the Stars up for sale soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Steroids In The NHL: So Claims Dealer Arrested Today

As the Pittsburgh Penguins sit back and wait for the Detroit Red Wings to finish up with the Chicago Blackhawks for the rematch to last year's Stanley Cup final, one of the teams the Penguins defeated to reach this point is about to be caught up in some major turmoil.

A man named Richard Thomas was arrested in Lakeland, FL today. That, in and of itself, is no big deal in that lots of people get arrested every year. But Thomas was arrested as part of a major anabolic steroids bust -- there was also anabolic steroids arrests made today in Fort Bend County with a press conference to come later. But Thomas boasted, according to the police report, of selling steroids to athletes in every major sport, including, the story specifies, the Washington Capitals of the NHL.

The Capitals are currently investigating the incident and will issue a statement later. The NHL has yet to issue a comment. Also not issuing comments are MLB's Washington Nationals and MLB as Thomas also claimed to have supplied players on the Nationals.

UPDATE:

I didn't see Puck Daddy prior to the initial report. Both the Capitals and the NHL are denying the allegations. However, I'm not prone to believe the NHL when it comes to anything, and after being burned by MLB's denials over the years, I'll choose to remain somewhat skeptical of any blanket denial.

Wild/Aeros Goaltending Situation; Tom Lynn's job security

John Shipley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press muses on his blog today about the fate of Josh Harding and, in relation, where the Wild think their minor league goalies stand in terms of moving up.

His assessment pretty much matches mine. Neither Brusty nor Dimples are technically solid enough to get it on full time in the NHL, even as a back-up. I think Schaefer probably is, though I didn't realize he was making so much coin. That's damn good for the AHL, so good for him.

Also, we learn that it's an MCL injury that sent Dimples out at the end of the third in Game 4.

Looking Ahead

My #1 concern is about goaltending depth next season. This year and last, the Aeros had Dimples down in the ECHL to call up and provide pretty good support in a pinch. The Wild haven't drafted a goalie since drafting Niko Hovinen in 2006, and he's been playing in Finland all this time. (AeroFinn... how about a stats update on the kid. My Finnish is rusty.)

The team has not had him over for Prospects Camp since 2007, so who knows what their intentions are with him.

Without a doubt, the team needs to beef up the goaltending ranks either through draft or trade or both (though draft will be too late to help this season due to age restrictions). I personally am still quite scarred from the 06-07 season when Harding got called up with no help behind him, and then turned around and was immediately spoiled by the amazing Schaefer-Brust tandem last season.

It was more of a mixed bag this year, but imagine if the Aeros hadn't had Khudobin to call upon. Wowza. Anyway, more on this later as we take a look at how next years Aeros stack up.
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Meanwhile, from Russo at the Star Tribune today, reports of Tom Lynn's job security as GM of the Aeros may have been overstated last week, as Chuck Fletcher, the shiny new GM for the Wild, is saying that nobody is necessarily in or out and that those decisions will come in due time:
To clarify one thing that was reported earlier this week, [Fletcher] has decided no staff member is leaving or staying. He’s been in the office for three hours total, and has met a precious few. He said there’s no reason for anybody to be walking on eggshells, but stories that he’s told anybody they’re safe or unsafe were premature. What does that mean? He’ll meet with staff over the next several weeks, ask a ton of questions and then things “will become apparent to me,” and that does include Tom Lynn and Tommy Thompson.
So, maybe the Aeros summer won't be as stable as we might have expected. Won't that be fun?

Thank you Aeros: What a ride!

I will be the first to admit that I thought the Aeros first round playoff series would last barely more than a week. In the paper, I picked Peoria to win in six. I was wrong. In the second round, I thought Milwaukee, having home ice and being the second best team in the AHL, would win in seven. I was wrong. Then, in round three, I thought the Aeros magic carpet ride would get them to a sixth game only to lose. I was right, but as they DON'T say, "One out of three ain't good ... "

The things that will stick out in my mind most about this team is A) they never quit and B) they did remarkably well not really knowing from one game (series) to the next who would be their starting goalie. A lot of you know the game well (in many cases better than me) and you know that good, solid goaltending in the playoffs is paramount. While I don't know the X's and O's of hockey as well as I should in some cases, I do know the Houston Aeros better than just about anyone on this planet.

I know they won two championships in 1999 and 2003, but those teams were great hockey teams built to win. But this team, the 2009 Aeros, had the greatest, most unexpected run of all because of how they did it, who they beat and how they got there along the way.

They were the ultimate team to cheer for as a fan because from one night to the next, you had no idea which team would show up, yet they gave Houston hockey fans so much night in and night out.

When Anton got that first shutout in Round 1, a 2-0 win over Peoria in Game 3, I think that was the springboard to bigger and better things. As you all know, the Aeros crashed horribly down the stretch and nearly lost out on the playoffs all together. That is just my opinion, but Aeros assistant coach Luke Strand agrees with me. Consider this quote from Luke:

"Maybe the biggest 'test' was to get Anton his first playoff 'W' and inclusive was his shut out game in round 1," said Strand. "I feel he gained the confidence of the players and staff after out-dueling (Manny) Legace.

"Anton's bumps in the road I feel came from too many opportunities. He played more minutes in a month than he had in the second 1/2 of ECHL season."


Maybe it is too bad he got hurt in Game 4, but maybe it was a blessing in disguise for Matt Climie too. I thought he was cool under pressure, and watching him in Game 6 just does not do him justice. I have talked to several folks in Manitoba that say he kept that game from being about 5-1 or 6-1 after 40 minutes.

No matter how you slice it, these Aeros need to be lauded for an incredible run that gave Aeros fans excitement, joy, several myocardial infarctions per game, disappointment and pride. I cover the games objectively for the Houston Chronicle, but I would absolutely be lying to you if I said I did not well up a tad when Beaudoin and Hrkac scored those overtime goals.

That is how I will remember these Aeros; shooting scoring, running into each other's arms and piling up in the corners after those two OT goals. It's how you should remember them, too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Does this puck go in?

Mike Bossy beats 'Nucks (worst uniforms ever!) goalie Richard Brodeur with 2 seconds left in OT on May 8, 1982 in New York. In case you are wondering, Harold Snepsts tries to pass ahead, but instead of ripping it down the ice, he throws it to Bossy. I have watched this (see video below) a few times after a friend of mine brought it up, and I just don't see it go in the net. We were talking about mindless/careless passes and plays that have let to playoff losses.

It happened to the Aeros in 2001 against the Moose when Sandy Moger jumped on the ice for a shift, intercepted a careless pass from Moose captain Brian Chapman and then ripped a slapshot into the net for a 2-1 win and a 3-1 series advantage. The Moose then switched to Ken Wregget and won the next three games, including two at Compaq Center.

That was the biggest choke job in Aeros history, and the last games as members of the IHL.

Now watch this video, several angles show the goal, but, to me, none of them show the puck hitting the net. I'm not saying it didn't; I am just saying I didn't see it.



Update from Winnipeg

Update: the Aeros will be scattered on various flights out of Canda tomorrow. Exit meetings are later this week and The Third Intermission hopes to have an official update from Tom Lynn later this week.....Stay tuned.

No, thank YOU Aeros...

Here's a video up on Aeros.com thanking the fans for the season.

I'll just cut to the chase and admit that I sobbed like a baby watching it. Just a warning to those of you who might be inclined to a) watch it at work and b) cry about hockey... save it for home viewing.

UPDATE: So as not to be too emo about this whole thing, here's a pretty funny video posted by Puck Daddy (which, if you've got an interest in hockey in general and not just the Aeros or minors, is a great place to get a broad spectrum of info, usually with a humorous take).

Media round-up & the Calder Cup Finals

Helluva run, boys. Thanks for giving us a nice, long, utterly unpredictable season. I'm beyond proud.

The last few times we've been on the brink, I was prepared for the season to end, to do some writing looking back, and then looking forward. But this time, while I'm actually kind of relieved it's over, I'm not ready to dig into it. Mostly, I just want a nap.

But here's some folks who are able to write about it:

So, now the Calder Cup will go to either Manitoba or the Hershey Bears, who have also been dominant this season. Nothing against Manitoba... they were simply the better team and I don't feel any ill will toward them... but I'm pulling for Hershey in this series, which starts Saturday night.

I think their goaltending story is more compelling. Check out their stats to see why: They're getting it done on the back of their rookie, third-string goalie, Michal Neuvirth, who only has 17 games in the regular season. Sound familiar?

Both teams have huge fan bases, so this is a dream match-up for the league and should be a great series. And while I may be rooting for Hershey, I think Manitoba wins it in 6.

It's All Over

So, just a few, quick thoughts on the final game of the season....

First, the loss is probably my fault. I should have been there. It's clear now that my presence in Peoria and Milwaukee is what keyed those victories, so my absence is the fault for this loss. I hope you readers, and the team, will forgive me.

Basically, I think this end, this 3-1 loss to the Manitoba Moose in Game Six was the result that should have been expected. The Moose were the better team. They had the talent, and the experience, needed to beat Houston. Most importantly, they were, for the most part, healthy. Matt Climie put up the good fight in goal for Houston, but he was a fourth string goalie. And the Aeros played most of the playoffs with a third string goalie, Anton Khudobin, between the pipes. The Aeros were able to beat two teams who had two of the best goalies in the AHL on the ice, but in the end, they just could get past Cory Schneider, who was another one of the best.

The Aeros played 21 games in about six weeks, and they were tired, and injured. Besides Nolan Schaefer, Barry Brust, and Khudobin, Krys Kolanos has been battling a lower-body injury and Jesse Schultz had just returned from an injury. And I'm sure that as the days pass we'll be hearing more about the injuries the guys were playing with. I know the training room was often crowded after the game, but the guys always seemed to find away to tough it out and make it out onto the ice for each game.

The big questions in the coming months will be with the roster. Kolanos, Schultz, and Corey Locke are free agents, and those three guys provided a good share of the team's offensive power over the season. Matt Beaudoin, who emerged midway through the season and was, perhaps, the team's second-best offensive weapon in the playoffs, behind Locke, is also without a contract, as is fan favorite Mitch Love.

I'm not going to get to all of the roster questions, but who knows what new Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is going to have in mind for the Wild, and thus for the Aeros. I'm happy that Tom Lynn is returning as GM of the Aeros, and I'm hoping that Kevin Constantine and the rest of his staff also return.

It's going to be an interesting four months or so until the next season gets underway. And I hope you'll keep checking us out here at T3I because we plan on keeping you up-to-date on everything that happens.

And may I say on behalf of everyone at T3I, thank you for reading. We've been overwhelmed by the response and we hope to keep getting even better.

So for the final time this season, I'm playing deejay. Here's Ringo Starr with "Photograph."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Meanwhile...Over At the Houston Press and a Prediction

Okay, sorry for the delay, but the Friday game story is finally up at the Houston Press -- it's a holiday, remember. And sorry for the formatting as that's beyond my control.

As for what happens tonight, I'm saying the same thing that I said Friday. Whoever scores first win this game. Especially since, from what I heard of the Manitoba coach's partial meltdown after Game Five, I think the Moose might be gripping the stick a bit a hard. So if the Aeros score first, that just puts the Moose even more on the defense. But if Manitoba is able to score first, then watch out, this could be a slaughter.

AHL gets the shaft

Everyone ... I just hate to deviate from the tunnel vision that has been the Aeros' incredible run though the 2009 postseason. No matter what happens tonight, this season was a huge success, and to think of what could be ... well, I am not going there. 

As for this post, I am really surprised that the NHL did not contact Dave Andrews to see if these new rule changes for the NHL could have first been tested in the second best hockey league in the world. 

Anyway, check out this video and feel free to sound off here when you get though all the rule changes. 

Game Day Media Round-up

Here's a little reading for this fine Memorial Day, as the amazing Aeros suit up for Game 6 in Manitoba.

From the Winnipeg Free Press, we learn that the Moose are still cool under pressure.
And here's the Live Chat the Freep writers will be hosting tonight.
And the Winnipeg Sun says Bolduc is a game-time decision.

Finally, here's Andrew's game preview for the Chron.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Feature on Aeros' Masked Men

I finally decided the Aeros "Cirque du Goaltending" was too intriguing not to write a feature about it for InGoalMag.com, where I'm the AHL editor.

So, go check it out if you wish. Worst case, if the writing sucks, it's at least got Fred's beautiful pictures.

For more on Climie, check out Andrew's feature for the Chronicle yesterday.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Aeros are going to win the Calder Cup in seven games

"How can this idiot make such a ludicrous statement when they still have to go to Manitoba and win BOTH road games there just to get to the Calder Cup finals," you say?

Here is why ... read this. I literally got chills.

For some reason, like this columnist, I never could let this go. How did this happen?
Now we know that the Aeros were involved in something that could only happen "A hundred million billion times."

Now those odds of becoming just one of four or five hockey teams to come back from a 3-0 deficit don't seem so bad, do they?

In case you have not seen the picture of the video referenced in the story, go here:

View from the Press Box - 22 May 2009

Here is the latest installment of "View from the Press Box" after Friday's 4-3 overtime win against Manitoba. This time we put the camera on a box rather than have a human being hold the camera for six minutes. Actually, that worked out better anyway because it allowed Heather to make faces at us the whole time.



To rehash the Aeros travel plans, they fly to Minneapolis this afternoon and then change for a flight to Fargo, ND. The team will then bus to Winnipeg from there, and Game 6 is Monday night. Should they win that one, Game 7 is Wednesday.

Thoughts from last night; Media round-up

I think all the superlatives have been said already. That was an amazing game, and I'm pretty sure there are claw marks in the table on press row where I was sitting.

I needed every minute of those intermissions to gather my nerves and find my breath. I can't even imagine actually PLAYING that game.

Well done, boys. Amazing stuff. Keep it up. I cannot WAIT for Monday to see what happens.

And how great was it having Schultzie back? He made little (and sometimes big) plays nearly every shift that made a difference. Amazing stuff after having been out for a month. He's my super secret star of the night.

If Matt Climie isn't backing Turco up in Dallas next season, oh boy, is he gonna make the Aeros lives hell playing for the new Austin team. (BTW, if you want to keep tabs on the approach of their inaugural season, they have a decent Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/TexasStars) that's worth following if you are into the tweets and whatnot.)

Anyway, on to the media round-up. It was a night full of great quotes and even some great non-quotes from a very angry Manitoba coach.

From Houston:
Andrew's article for the Chronicle (plus video)
My article for PHN
John's article for the Press (coming soon)

From Winnipeg:
Post gamer from the Winnipeg Free Press
And finally, from the Winnipeg Sun

Round 3, Game #5: Aeros vs. Moose -- The Get Back Edition

“In retrospect,” Kevin Constantine said after the Houston Aeros 4-3 double overtime victory over the Manitoba Moose. “I think it was a bad coaching decision not to call the timeout. If we’d lost, it would have been a long, long summer for me.”

But luckily for Constantine, and for the Aeros, the summer is not starting. Yet. As once again the Houston Aeros held off playoff elimination and live to see another day.

And looking back at the first 59:39 of the game, it’s hard to believe that this game came down to overtime and the failure of Constantine to call a timeout. Yet it did as the Aeros and Moose played one of the most entertaining and exciting hockey games seen in Toyota Center in a long time.

The game got off to a great start for the Aeros when Maxim Noreau converted on the power play at 2:56 to put the Aeros up 1-0 in the first period. And just under two minutes later, Tony Hrkac found himself in the perfect position to get his stick on the rebound of a Robbie Earl shot and sink the puck in the net to put the Aeros up 2-0 at 4:22. Then at 17:24 of the second period – topping a nearly 15 minute barrage of non-stop, high-speed hockey – a streaking Matt Beaudoin got the pass from John Lammers and put the puck past an out-of-position Cory Schneider to put the Aeros up 3-0.

Then the unthinkable happened. The Moose came out to start the third period with a new goalie as Curtis Sanford took the place of Schneider, the ace number one Moose goalie who’d played every minute of every playoff game for the Moose. But though the Aeros got several good opportunities, they couldn’t get the puck past Sanford. The Moose, however, had better some better luck.

The first Moose goal came at 2:29 of the third just seconds before the Aeros were about to kill off a penalty. But Michael Grabner got the puck past Matt Climie to make the score 3-1, and that’s where the score remained for the next 17 minutes. But as the crowd was roaring and the players were preparing to jump off of the bench and celebrate the sure-awarding of the number one star to Climie, the Moose, on the power play and using the six-on-four advantage, surrounded the net and kept shoving the puck at Climie as the Aeros failed to clear the puck. So at 19:39, Jason Krog got the puck past Climie to make the score 3-2. Then came that time in the game that had Constantine wishing he would have called the timeout as with just two seconds remaining in the game and the victory within their grasp, former Aero Mark Cullen got the puck past Climie to send the game to overtime.

“I felt good the whole game, but I caught a couple of unlucky breaks at the end there, Climie said. “They had a couple of lucky goals to tie it up. I just wanted to keep the boys in it and give them a chance in overtime. The third goal was a kind of weak one to give up, with just two seconds left. And I wanted to do my part in overtime to shut the door.”

So for the next 24:19, Climie did, indeed, shut the door, stopping 18 Manitoba shots in the two overtimes. Trouble was, Sanford, was just as good as Climie, stopping 16 shots. Until, at 4:19 of the second overtime, Robbie Earl found Tony Hrkac in the slot and Hrkac found a way to get the puck in the net to give the Aeros the 4-3 victory.

“Benoit [Pouliot] made a nice play behind the net to get it in,” Hrkac said. “Robbie [Earl] got it in the corner, and their forwards were kind of on me, but then they spread out because they were thinking about Robbie going to the point, and there was a little lane there, so Robbie saw it and I saw it, and he gave me the puck, the goalie went down and boom, over the shoulder.”

The Aeros then stormed the ice and the crowd erupted.

“I thought it was a great play,” Constantine said. “Robbie had enough patient and poise to wait till the pass was there. Like a coy veteran, you wonder how Hrkac put it in.”

And suddenly, Manitoba’s seemingly insurmountable 3-0 series lead didn’t look so insurmountable as, wonder of all wonders, the Aeros found away to get this series back to Winnipeg for a Game Six on Monday night.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:

Matt Climie was solid in this game, despite the last 21 seconds. Except for some mop-up duty in two games, he’s barely played, and recently, with Nolan Schaefer’s return, he’s not even had as much ice time with the team. Then again, it’s not every AHL team that has a fourth string goalie who actually played three games in the NHL this season. And when the time came tonight, he was ready.

“It’s the AHL playoffs,” he said. “It’s a dream come true to play this caliber of hockey. I just wanted to make sure I was prepared and ready to go tonight. I just wanted to make the most of this opportunity, and the guys inside here have really welcomed me and I just wanted to do my part to them win.”

Jesse Schultz, who also returned to action tonight, stressed that the team has confidence in all of their goalies, then he mentioned how difficult tonight was for Climie. “He was unbelievable,” Schultz said. “He didn’t travel with us on the road last time. It’s tough to skate with four or five guys here and not see a lot of shots.”

Kevin Constantine called Climie’s play solid, and it looks as if he’ll be getting the start on Monday night.

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Jesse Schultz returned to action for the first time since injuring his ankle in Game Six against Peoria almost four weeks ago. And from the press box vantage point, he looked really good out there.

“I feel pretty good, actually,” he said of his ankle. “It held up real well. It was four weeks tomorrow since it happened. I wasn’t sure what to expect getting back in there. It’s felt pretty good the past couple of days, and it’s held up, so hopefully it just keeps getting better.”

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With his two assists, Corey Locke has now tied Mark Freer for the most points by an Aero in a playoff season. Freer got 22 points in 1999 (11-11=22), and Locke also has 22 points (11-11=22). Matt Beaudoin’s goal gives him 17 points (8-9=17) for the playoffs.

And how about a little appreciation for the old man. Tony Hrkac’s two goals gives him 14 points for the playoffs (4-10=14), including three goals in the past two games. Hrkac told us after the game that while he knew he could still play when he got the call from Troy Ward, he still didn’t expect anything like this.

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During the game, we found out that Tom Lynn, the Wild’s assistant GM and the Aeros GM would be staying with the team in his same capacity to work under new GM Chuck Fletcher. And if anybody has a right to be happy about the Aeros right now, it’s Lynn, who during the offseason added Krys Kolanos, Corey Locke, and Jesse Schultz to the team and who, during the season, added Matt Beaudoin and Tony Hrkac, traded for Robbie Earl, and even though the playoffs had already started, was able to get Matt Climie from the Dallas Stars for the remainder of the team’s Calder Cup run.

So I just want to congratulate Tom on the job he did with this Aeros team, and for keeping his job with the Wild since often, when people from outside an organization take over a team, they bring in their own people to work under them.

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The quote of the season definitely goes to Kevin Constantine who, after it was all over, was asked his thoughts on the game. “I always look at President Obama – or any president,” he said. “I look at how they age. I started the playoffs at 50 and I’m 73 years old already.”

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The Aeros are making the trip to Winnipeg tomorrow. They’ll fly to Minneapolis tomorrow morning. From there they’ll fly to Fargo, ND. And from Fargo they’ll take a three-hour bus ride to Winnipeg, arriving sometime late tomorrow night. They’ll probably practice on Sunday, and they’ll play on Monday night.

And for those of you (like Danny Irmen) who are wondering if I’ll be making any of the games in Winnipeg, the answer, unfortunately, is no. I’d love to be there, but damn, the cheapest airplane ticket I could find was around $1300, and I couldn’t even guarantee that I’d make the arena by game time. I’d love nothing better than to be there, but I’m unemployed at the moment, and there’s no possible flight combination I could use that could get me there on my frequent flier miles.

So guys, you’re just going to have to do it without me this time. Sorry.

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There’s no way, after Monday’s game, that I thought the Aeros were going to get this series back to Winnipeg. No way. So I thought that, to play us out tonight, I’d go with a little classic rock and The Beatles playing, appropriately enough, “Get Back” – and Paul’s even got him a playoff beard going.

Round 3, Game #5 -- Aeros vs. Moose -- Photos

What a game!!! The Aeros started off with a bang, 2 quick goals and then a second period that was simply amazing, 14 or 15 minutes of dominating hockey without any stoppages. Maybe the single best period I've ever seen the Aeros skate at Toyota Center.

Here is the Noreau goal, it dribbled through 5 hole.
Lammers celebrates

D-men Brandon Rogers and Maxim Noreau celebrate
This is an amazing series of the first Hrkac goal. Cory Schneider almost got it with the blocker but there was enough on the shot to flip the puck up in the air and fall into the net. I've circled the puck where it ts difficult to see. The puck is in every photo in the series.

Here you can see the puck between the blocker and the arm.Some celebration of the goal
Here is the Matt Beaudoin goal.
And here is the 2OT Tony Hrkac goal with some celebration.

All Photos:Fred Trask

Round 3, Game #5: Aeros vs. Moose -- Some Quick Thoughts

Wow. Wow. Wow.

After Monday night's loss, I never thought the Aeros would be returning to Winnipeg. Never.

So wow.

Andrew will post our View From the Press Box in a bit -- those get delayed because of other items we have to get done. So I just thought I would post some quick things.

First, for those who missed it...the Aeros won 4-3 in double overtime. That the Aeros won the game to send this series back to Winnipeg is one thing. That the Aeros won this game in double overtime is another. And then there's the fact that the Aeros had a 3-1 lead with 21 seconds left in the game and had to win the thing in double overtime.

Major props tonight go to Tony Hrkac. Another impressive outing with two goals -- including the game winner -- to lift his playoff point total to 14 points. Nice work from Robbie Earl who set Hrkac up for both of his goals. Matt Climie, except for about 30 seconds in the third period, was impressive, especially for someone's who barely played the past month or so.

So we'll have much more later, but just wanted to get this up. Game Six, believe it or not, is a reality, and it will take place in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Monday night.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Manitoba feeling it too ...

Per a Winnipeg Free Press story this afternoon:

"...based on this morning skate at Toyota Center, the Moose will be without forward Alexandre Bolduc, who was scratched from Game 4 with an unspecified injury.

With Bolduc, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and apparently Tommy Maxwell in sick bay, Manitoba will bring forward Matt Pope from the reserved list into a third straight playoff series in progress this spring.

Pope, who will go straight to the top line with Jason Krog and Jason Jaffray, has two goals and four points in five playoff games."

And The New GM Is...

It's official. The new GM of the Minnesota Wild is Chuck Fletcher.

That is all.

Observations From The Morning Skate -- Quick Notes Edition

By now you've heard the big news for today. And as Luke Strand told me, it's that Matt Climie is starting in goal tonight. I spoke to Kevin Constantine during the skate, and the decision had not yet been made -- he and the staff wanted to wait until after Nolan Schaefer and Climie skated to make a decision.

As for Anton Khudobin, Constantine said that he's got a lower body injury. He got the injury during the third period on Wednesday night. During a time out of the third, Khudobin informed the trainers that he was hurt, then he skated back out to the net. The trainers checked him out at the end of the third period, and told Constantine that he could not play. "So we had no choice but to play Schaefer," Constantine said.

I don't really have much else for you. There was some off-the-record talk about players' beards. I did overhear Constantine talking to Manitoba's radio guy for an interview to be played during the game, and Constantine basically said he's not sure of what to expect from Climie.

The obvious scratches for tonight are Dane Crowley, Barry Brust, and Anton Khudobin. Paul Albers, Jesse Schultz, Marco Scandella, Jason Ryznar, and Carson McMillan all skated with the rest of the guys in the skate. Krys Kolanos did not skate, but I've rarely seen him out on the ice at the morning skate, so that doesn't mean anything.

A quick inside the numbers give us some basics. Only two teams in AHL history have ever come from 0-3 to win a series: Rochester in 1960 and Adirondack in 1989. But the Aeros are 3-0 this post-season when facing elimination. All-time, the Aeros are 7-5 in Calder Cup play when facing elimination. And in Game Fives, Houston is 7-10 all-time and 4-5 in Calder Cup action.

Corey Locke leagues the AHL is Calder Cup scoring with 20 points (11-9). Matt Beaudoin is second with 16 points (7-9=16).

The Moose/Cory Schneider have allowed just eight third period goals in 14 games, but the Aeros are responsible for five of the eight. The Aeros have 23 third period goals in the playoffs, compared to just 24 goals combined in all of the first, second, and overtime periods. The Aeros are outscoring their opponents 23-14 in the third period.

The big key again will be the first goal. The Aeros are 8-2 when scoring first, and they are 6-0 when leading after the first.

So what happens tonight? That's a damn good question. I think if the Aeros can get the first goal and if they can give Matt Climie some time to settle in after that first goal, then they might be okay, and they might be able to get back to Winnipeg for a Game Six. But frankly, the odds aren't in the favor of the Aeros. But if there's one thing we've learned this season, it's to never count out the Aeros (still, you have to wonder about just how many goalie injuries this team can take).

My bold prediction: the first team to score wins.

Updated -- Matt Climie to start tonight for Aeros

Our own John Royal was at the Morning Skate this morning and got word that Matt Climie will start in goal tonight for the Aeros in Game 5. Read here for more on this on chron.com. Also, the Winnipeg Sun picked up the news and has their take on Climie, the mystery goalie.

Here is the quote from Aeros assistant coach Luke Strand:

["We feel throughout the playoffs, (Climie's) play is at the highest of our group of goalies. Since the end of March, Nolan (Schaefer) had only faced very limited time in any type of game scenario leaving him maybe just a bit off of his timing. Matt is a talented goalie that we are hoping continues to be as sharp as a starter as he has been in his time of relief this playoff run."]

Here is a look at the Aeros goaltending situation for the last six weeks or so:

1) Nolan Schaefer - backup tonight
2) Barry Brust - Out, Lower Body Injury
3) Anton Khudobin - Out, Lower Body Injury
4) Sebastien Centomo - Released after backing up late in regular season
5) Rejean Beauchemin - Released late in regular season
6) Matt Climie - Assigned by Dallas earlier this playoffs, and will start tonight

Now tell me the last time you saw a team use six goalies in a month-plus and make it to the semis.

Incredible

Justin Falk Feature

Falker is from Snowflake, Manitoba, which is close to Winnipeg.
The Winnipeg Sun did a feature on the Aeros d-man that was in their paper this morning.

Here is a quote from Constantine from the story:

["He's a bit of a slow starter," said Constantine. "His personality is really good, but it's a little laid back and people like that take a little time to get comfortable.
"He started a little slow and tentative and then he gained confidence. It's kind of how the playoffs have been for him. I really believe he is a tremendous prospect. He's big and he's athletic. As long as they're patient enough to let due course happen, he'll be a good NHL player."]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Round 3, Game #4 -- Aeros vs. Moose -- Photos -- Part 2

I realized I'd not given you a shot of Carson McMillan yet.
Some Marco Rosa.
A swooping Danny Irmen.
Bryan Lundbohm and ex-Aero Mark Cullen
A calm Cory Schneider is about to catch the puck.
Matt Beaudoin rushes up the ice.
Greg Rallo lifts the stick of Matt Kassian.

Cory Schneider with some leather larceny.

Mitch Love is cross-checked by Nolan Baumgartner.
Mitch Love is given a ride along the Aeros bench by Guillaume Desbiens.
Krys Kolanos gets off one of his terrific shots on Cory Schneider. Often times these find their way through, under the arm of the netminder.
Cory Schneider takes some refreshment during a stoppage in play.

All Photos:Fred Trask

Wild GM announcement tomorrow

The Minnesota Wild will be announcing their new General Manager tomorrow at 4 p.m. Central in Minnesota.

Russo is saying (from the beach in Honolulu, the poor dear) that his sources inform him that the new chief will be Penguins' assistant general manager Chuck Fletcher.

We'll keep you posted on what the trickle-down effect of this hiring will be. New honchos usually want their own people around them, so we'll see if there's turnover at the top of the Aeros food chain at Tom Lynn's position.

Game 4 Media Round-up

For starters, here's a nice little feature on the delicious Matt Beaudoin from theAHL.com.

From Houston:

From Winnipeg:

And finally if you have too much time on your hands, here's the replay of the live chat on the Freep's site last night. There's some pretty funny stuff. Interesting to see what opposing fans are thinking during a game.

My favorite line: Khudobin, his Russian nickname translates to "Tsar of Rebounds"

Round 3, Game #4: Meanwhile, Over At The Mothership

Here's my Houston Press write-up of last night's game. So, as always, go give it a read. I think it captures the spirit of last night's game.

And if any of you are wondering about my focus on Tony Hrkac after last night's game instead of Matt Beaudoin who had a game for the ages, there are three reasons, kind of. First, I talked to Hrkac after yesterday's morning skate, and I thought it made a nice bookend to get to him afterwards and follow-up on what we had talked about earlier in the day. Second, I wasn't around for much of the Matt Beaudoin interview, so I didn't really have the quotes from him. Third, Hrkac is just a few months younger than I am, so an old guy out there keeping up with the kids, especially an old guy who hadn't played in four seasons, just fascinates me.

But make no mistake, the deserved number one star of last night's game was Matt Beaudoin, and I hope the Aeros/Wild are doing something to get this guy locked into a contract for next season.

Round 3, Game #4: Aeros vs. Moose: Nobody Told Me

After Wednesday morning’s skate, Tony Hrkac said that the team had to avoid making mistakes, they had to play smart, and that they had to focus on just winning this one game. Most importantly, he said, they needed to at least be tied at the end of the first period.

Things looked good for the Aeros (and for Hrkac’s prediction) when Corey Locke knocked in a rebound past Manitoba’s Cory Schneider at 1:26 of the first to put the Aeros up 1-0. But then the mistakes and dumb play began and the Moose got two goals – including another short-handed goal on the penalty kill – to grab the 2-1 lead after one period.

But the thing about the Aeros is that they just don’t quit. They came out in the second and tied the game at two-all when Corey Locke fired a cross-ice pass to John Lammers who then found Robbie Earl coming up the middle of the ice, and Earl buried the puck in the net at 13:58 of the second. Then the team got stupid again, and allowed Manitoba to score 25 seconds into the third period to take the 3-2 lead.

Enter Matt Beaudoin and Tony Hrkac.

Beaudoin took a pass from Benoit Pouliot at 13:31 of the third and slapped the puck past Schneider to tie the game at three. And seconds later, at 14:29, Beaudoin made a great play under the net to find a streaking Hrkac who tipped the puck past Scheinder to put the Aeros up 4-3.

“I got a good pass from Pouliot right outside their blue line, and I knew I had a winger going,” Hrkac said, “so I wanted to get the shot on the net for the rebound, and [Beaudoin] got the rebound, and from my angle I thought he put it in. But it went behind the net, and I just went straight for the net and he saw me and threw it out to me and I put it in the net.”

But the Aeros don’t do things the easy way. Anton Khudobin found himself badly out of position at 17:21 and Mario Bliznak got the wraparound to tie the game at four and send the game to overtime.

It was during the intermission leading to overtime that word filtered up to the press box that Khudobin had gotten injured in the third period and that Nolan Schaefer would be coming out to take over at goal.

“I just didn’t want to let the team down,” Schaefer said. “I wanted to get in there and give them the chance to win, and I didn’t even have to do that.”

He didn’t have to do that because the Aeros came out on the attack in the overtime and at 2:01, Matt Beaudoin scored his second goal of the night (and got his fourth point) to give Houston the 5-4 lead and to keep them alive in this best of seven series with the Manitoba Moose.

“Tonight we got our bounces,” Beaudoin said after the game.

But to stand a chance at winning this series, the Aeros are going to have to keep getting the bounces. And the next chance to get the bounces will come on Friday night as the Aeros and Moose go at it in Game Five from Toyota Center.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:

It's going to take a bit of a miracle for the Aeros to win this series. In the entire of the AHL, only two teams have ever come back from 0-3 deficits to win a series. Those teams were the 1960 Rochester Americans and the 1989 Adirondack Red Wings.

Tony Hrkac says that in this instance, the cliche has to win out, meaning that the Aeros can't focus on winning three games. They just have to focus on the next game and the next period. "The next game is the biggest game of the year. If we lose we’re done," he says. "But we’ve got to go out there one period at a time and hopefully get the next goal. We need to build off this win. It’s a big win for us. They’re a good team. They’re not going to be rattled."

********************
Corey Locke's first period goal tied the team record for playoff goals in one season with 11, tying Mark Freer who also scored 11 in 1999. Locke's 20 total points (11-9=20) is second all-time for playoff points in one season. He is behind only Freer who had 23 points in the 1999 season. Locke is also the AHL's points leader for this Calder Cup race.

Matt Beaudoin's four points (2-2=4) tied the Aeros' all-time playoff record. This has happened twice before, the last time being in 2001 when Shawn Carter got a goal and three assists.

"I think it was his best game of the year for us," Kevin Constantine said. "He’s been a real nice addition to our power play, but tonight he was also a really good five-on-five player, he did a little of both. It was his best game. It was good to see."

*******************
The Anton Khudobin injury was rather surprising news to those of us in the press box. It was also, it appears, rather surprising news to Constantine and the rest of the coaching staff.

"At some point in the third, I don’t know when," Constantine answered when asked when the injury occurred. "It was during the third, he did play the end of the third injured. It was something the coaching staff didn’t even really know about. But it was brought to our attention that he was hurt, so we had no choice but to put Schaefer in at the end of the game."

And while we're on the subject of goalies, it should be noted that this was the first time that Cory Schneider's ever allowed more than four goals in a playoff game for his career.

"The stat was that prior to this game he’d given up six goals in the third and we had three of them," Hrkac said. "So we knew were good in the third period. We knew we could get to them in the third, and we did that and we got them in overtime."

********************
And I've got a note for Booker, or whatever the hell his name is. Hey, moron, when the goalie's in the net and action is about to start back up again, don't go shouting out his frigging name and trying to grab his attention. As hard as it might be for you to believe, Anton Khudobin's got more important things to focus on that your inane activities.

********************
And to play us out tonight, I thought I would do something a little different and play a song for the Moose. So to help you get over the loss of your 10-game post season winning streak, here's John Lennon with "Nobody Told Me."

Round 3, Game 4: Talk to the Hand, Manitoba

So, I just wrote my PHN piece which I'll link up in the media round-up tomorrow, but I'm done talking about goals and assists and quotes from players and coaches, because that's not the stuff of hockey that fires me up.

It's stuff like Khudobin playing through some manner of injury in the third period and Schaefer coming in cold in the biggest period of hockey all season.

It's the Beaudoin story. A rookie who's gone from "who?" to earning an AHL contract to now being second in playoff scoring in the AHL. Guess who's gonna turn some heads this summer as a free agent if the Wild doesn't lock him down? And he's done all this with only 10 PIM in the playoffs. You listening, Locke, Pouliot, and Kolanos? Kid keeps a cool head, works his ass off, and never gives up on a puck. Plus he grows a damn fine playoff beard.

It's wondering what's next for this team. Amazement that they can really just look at this shift by shift, game by game, knowing in the back of their minds that they're looking at a pretty darn steep climb to get where they want to go. That every morning skate could be their last together.

Plus, I wonder how much those 5 goals rattled Schneider. I asked KC about it tonight and he gave the PC answer of No, he's pro, etc etc. But I can't help but think, after not letting in more than 3 goals in ANY AHL playoff game, including last season, 5 goals sticks in his craw a bit.

Does this motivate him? Does this motivate his defense?

I think it does. Unlike Milwaukee, who were balanced more like the Aeros in terms of personnel and level of experience, Manitoba has LOTS of guys who have won or played for championships at various levels and know what it takes to push through and bounce back against adversity. These guys aren't going to choke like Milwaukee did in Game 7. The Aeros will have to choke them all on their own.

I was all prepared to write my big "First Look at Next Year's Aeros" post tomorrow. I hope you don't mind waiting for it a few more days. :)