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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sky Rats and Celebrating Robbie Earl

I dunno about you guys but I've never seen a pigeon interrupt a professional hockey game before. Pretty smart birds shacking up in an arena like that. What do you want to bet their cholesterol is off the charts, bird-wise, eating arena scraps all the time?

Anyway, I couldn't resist giving the brave little fella some stick figure love. Maybe he thought Montoya needed defensive help.

I'm just glad they stopped the game. Can you imagine parents having to console their horrified children as a puck or stick or player hits that bird and feathers go flying? Would have made a way awesomer stick figure though.

Andrew covered the game stuff below, but I've been feeling a rising sense that Robbie Earl isn't getting the credit he deserves for a lot of the good he does for this team and I want to fix that, for whatever my appreciation and approval is worth, which isn't much.

Since he was traded here, I kinda felt like Earl was destined to be a journeyman forever-on-the-bubble type of player. Never consistent enough in the AHL to prove he belongs in the show, but just good enough for them to give him a shot here and there.

But one of the things I've learned to look for when trying to assess these AHL guys is growth and the ability to evolve, change, adapt, etc. And I believe I see an impressive amount of that in Earl, particularly this season.

This season he contributes with great consistency. And by contributes, I don't always mean on the score sheet, though usually he shows up there one way or another. It's often his speed and willingness to take some heat to protect the puck that gets the Aeros traction in the offensive zone and allows them to put good chances on net.

Something I hadn't noticed before, either because it's new or because I'm looking at the goalie (ahem), is how strong behind the net he is. He's a lot like the much slower Andrew Brunette, whose office is behind the net, and where he is absolutely merciless when it comes to winning battles for the puck and then protecting the puck while he looks for a pass in front of the net.

That work is what distinguishes Brunette in the NHL. He's not the best or fastest skater, but he's money behind the net and he's made a career of it.

Earl, on the other hand, HAS the speed. But it's not enough if you're always getting into the zone with your helpers trailing 5 strides behind you and 3 defenders hanging off you. He's got to use that speed to put himself in position to create chances for his linemates. Makes sense, then, to get behind the net where space is limited and puck is sort of naturally protected on two sides and dish out in front, right?

Suddenly, you've got a multi-dimensional, multi-threat player. And that makes him pretty valuable at any level of the game, but it makes him downright scary in the AHL. As a goalie, he throws so many looks, you can't cheat and your best hope is he's going so fast, he can't get the shot off. :)

What I'm saying here is that the fact that he's still finding significant ways to improve his game says a lot about him. He could have come down here and pouted, shown up when he wanted to, etc. But he's actually improved and he's an impact player every shift and I don't see why what he's doing here wouldn't translate at the NHL level.

He may not be one of the Wild's darlings since they didn't draft him, but some other team is going to find a spot for him and when it happens, he'll be ready to stick. I hope it's a lot like Joel Ward's last season here: A launching pad for a really nice NHL career.

So, kudos to Robbie for giving a big ol' middle finger to adversity and turning it into a win for the Aeros and, I feel sure, an eventual win for his long term career.

P.S. Our friends over at Hockey Wilderness are so locked in on Robbie that they even have Team Rob shirts.


artandhockey said...

There are many such...
underappreciated players who still give their all when called upon. NHL or AHL or below.
But then there are, too, 'pets' who get lots of chances, earned or not!
Reality on ice!

Forecheck said...

Agreed about Earl. That hustle and hard work deserves to be rewarded...with an "A"... or even maybe a "C".

Forecheck said...

Oh, yes - remember the Randy Johnson incident a few years back?


Ms. Conduct said...

Yes! That's the mental picture I had when I was daydreaming about getting to draw that bird getting pucked.

Anonymous said...

Earl is a player derserving of the Big Show. I hope that when it does occur the Wild will give him the opportunity.

CatTrick said...

I agree with your assessment of Earl ... glad to see him get some recognition. He seems to be playing with a whole lot more consistency now than he did during the times he spent with the Aeros last season, when some of that "pouting" seemed to be evident. I do hope that his association with the Wild organization is more than that of a launching pad. I enjoyed the 'stick figure love' you gave the bird ... am especially fond of his little ice skates! I thought of the Johnson mishap, too, but then remembered Fabio's bird incident ... would have hated seeing some poor player wearing that bird on his visor! But as a great fan of the stick drawings since their inception, you outdid yourself with the Matt Climie jock and will NEVER be able to top it. Since that posting, I haven't been able to go to the T.C. without having my gaze drift off to the rafters during the natioal anthem, and wonder why it's no longer up there. I'm STILL getting a good laugh at that and probably always will.