JM Daoust celebrates after scoring on Saturday night.
One of the key pieces of last season's Aeros team was Jean-Michel Daoust. Often times, it seemed, he was about the only piece of the team that seemed to be working as well as was needed. This season though, things just haven't seemed to work. He was often a healthy scratch, and when he played, things just didn't seem to happen.
He was placed on the Clear Day Roster, but it was clear that he wouldn't be seeing much, if any ice time, during the playoffs. And through the first two rounds, that was the case. He was out skating at every practice, and observations of him around the locker room after games seemed to reveal a guy who, though not playing, was having a good time, often serving as a kind of comic relief after some of those tough games the Aeros were playing against Milwaukee.
He first saw action toward the ends of the Hamilton series, becoming a key component to a fourth line that, through injuries and ineffectiveness to other lines, was seemingly changing personnel night after night. He's become a regular on the ice in this Binghamton series, and it was his hard work in front of the goal that earned the Aeros their only two goals in Saturday's 4-2 game five loss, in which Daoust found a way to score twice in the first period.
"You know that at one point, I knew that I would have to be in," Daoust said after practice yesterday. "When you go on a long run in the playoffs, there’s always injuries. Mainly what kept me motivated to keep working in practice and training and going to the gym was obviously my teammates. You saw them playing on the ice. They worked their backs off. I see them working, and doing that, and you don’t want to let them down if you go in. That was my main motivation."
And perhaps its that attitude, more than anything, that the team needs right now. The team easily got past Peoria, but the series with Milwaukee, Hamilton, and Binghamton have been more physically bruising and mentally draining than the other. And then you see Daoust, this short guy full of energy and with a huge smile and you know that he wants nothing more than to play hockey and make his teammates proud.
Tonight is game six, a do-or-die game for the Aeros. Another must-win in a season of must-wins. But Daoust has perhaps the best perspective for handling the game.
"It’s an important game, but it’s a hockey game," he said. "You don’t have to put too much pressure on yourself. You have to be ready and bring your best game. Obviously if you play well like that, we’ve got a good chance to win."
And then there's the most important thing of all. Something that several people have stated. The Aeros are playing hockey in June. In mid-December, when the Aeros were in that spiral that would carry them to seventh place, who out there thought this team would be playing hockey in June, two victories away from capturing the Calder Cup?
"It feels great [to play in hockey in June]," he said. "Especially in Houston, it’s so warm. It’s a fun feeling. We’re the remaining two teams in the league, and it’s always an accomplishment to get that far. So it’s obviously fun."