Headed up to SLICE for the Aeros skate/practice today, and everyone appeared to be in good spirits with no feel of impending doom and/or destruction. So that's a good thing. The guys are ready to play, they're confident in their ability to win the game, they're having fun playing in June, and Mike Yeo is still a little peeved about the officiating on Saturday night.
First things first...it appears that the only people reading/commenting on today's story in the mothership are the people from Binghamton. It's another take on the officiating, and I also state my firm belief that the officiating is not why the Aeros lost games four and five, but that the Aeros and how they played are the reason they lost games four and five, but when you have a coach supporting what you've been writing the whole postseason about the officiating, then of course you're going to lead with that, right? Anyway, click here and go read.
And some other things before getting to the heart of this post. To the commenter claiming there's some kind of conspiracy to keep Matt Kassian from playing and how the use of Pascal Morency is in clear violation of the Clear Day Roster rules, I thought I would try to offer up an explanation.
Each team is allowed a Clear Day Roster with a maximum of 22 players. These are the only players who can play in the playoffs, with a few caveats. Amateurs don't have to be part of the Clear Day Roster, and once their seasons end, they can join the team and play, as happened with Brett Bulmer. The other caveat is if there is an emergency situation, such as a call-up to the NHL, a suspension, or an injury.
With the injury to Cody Almond on Friday night, the Aeros Clear Day Roster consisted of 21 healthy players. Thus, it's an emergency situation and they can add a player to the roster. Thus, Pascal Morency, who was not on the Clear Day Roster can be added to the playing roster and play on Saturday night. With the injury to Jared Spurgeon on Saturday night, I would expect to see the Aeros adding Kris Fredheim to the roster, though I expect Jeff Penner to get Spurgeon's playing time.
So, I hope that satisfies though of you who have been asking about the use of Morency.
Now on with the notes from practice.
There were no real surprises. Cody Almond and Jared Spurgeon didn't skate, and it appeared that Pascal Morency and Jeff Penner were skating in their spots -- Morency with Daoust and McMillan as he did Saturday night, and Penner teamed up with Marco Scandella. Jed Ortmeyer did not skate, but is fine. Matt Kassian, Brandon Buck, and Kris Fredheim were also out skating with the regulars -- Buck took Ortmeyer's spot so the third line could get in some practice.
Mike Yeo spoke to the assembled media after the game, and I'm sure many of you have seen the video clips the Aeros posted, or the snippets that will be on TV tonight. But for those who didn't, well, I was there.
I asked if he was going to ask the guys to skate a bit more cautiously given the uneven officiating and how the penalties are being called. The question elicited this response, which I'll give in full:
"We have to watch our discipline for sure. We’re going to do that. Obviously those statements [on Saturday] are made to hopefully make other people take notice. Even when I went back and watched the game again, I stand by my words. I think that there were some things that should have been called in the third period when we were taking the play to them that weren’t called especially. But we can’t – that’s over and done with. Those statements were made to hopefully draw some attention to it, but for us, we can’t think about it any further. It’s all about tomorrow and making sure that we play disciplined, but at the same time, we can’t change our game. We have to be playing hard, and we have to be playing that aggressive style that we do."
So yes, he's still a bit bothered by the officiating, and no, he's not going to have the guys change their style of play, aside from asking them to be a bit more disciplined, thus no obvious tripping penalties please, Mr. Gillies.
The majority of the questions from me and my brethren to Yeo and the players were about how to approach a game six, and what it's like to play in such a game when you know a loss means the season is over.
"This is a game seven for us obviously, it’s only game six, but we’re approaching it with that mentality," Yeo said. "We’ve been pretty strong in those games. When we’ve been faced with our back against the wall situations, when we’ve come out, we’ve had strong performances. We’re real excited about getting in front of our home crowd and doing everything we can to keep this series going."
Warren Peters faced a similar situation last year with the Texas Stars, but he thinks what he dealt with last year is irrelevant to anything. He instead offered up the following.
"We definitely haven’t made it easy on ourselves, not that you plan on doing that. The conference finals was a lot more stressful than maybe it needed to be, but again, that’s in the past. [Binghamton] deserve some credit in making it 3-2 and getting a win on home ice, which was big for them, obviously. They did a good job in getting that done. Now it’s our turn to respond.
"We’ve had our backs against the wall a couple of times in the playoffs, and we’ve responded well. I expect the same thing from our team and the guys in our room because we’ve been doing it the whole second half of the season for sure."
Everybody seems to be focusing on how they handled the game seven situations in Milwaukee and here against Hamilton, and applying that approach to tomorrow's game six. That makes some sense, and it gives the team a semblance of confidence in that they know that, with their backs against the wall, facing a win or go home situation, they've responded by putting together a good game and getting the win. Yet tomorrow is somewhat different in that this is a game six, they've got to win this game just to get to a game seven.
Now Mike Yeo did face a somewhat similar situation as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won the Stanley Cup, and he sees some similarities to those Penguins and these Aeros.
"I think the biggest thing is, the similarity between that and this is that our group has confidence. I think that if you look at a series as a whole, and the way things have panned out, then we’re down 3-2 but it could easily be a different series with a couple of bounces here or there. I think that for the most part we’ve out-chanced them, we’ve out-shot them, and for the better part of most games we’ve been, I believe, the better team.
"We had that same mentality [with Pittsburgh] in 09 when we were faced with having to win both games and one of those was being game seven on the road where we get to both at home. But I know that that team, this team, both believe in themselves. And we believe in ourselves, and that doesn’t necessarily guarantee us anything, but certainly it makes things a lot more possible for us."
The Aero with the longest tenure with the club is defenseman Max Noreau, who joined the club early during Kevin Constantine's first season at the helm four seasons ago. And yes, this game does mean a bit more to him because of his time here.
"I think it means a lot to me because of that run we had two years ago. We lost in the semi-finals. We were so close, but didn’t quite get it done. Now we’re in the finals, and we’re down 3-2. It’d be nice to get it done this time. I have a lot of belief in this team. Everyone does. We had a great meeting today, great practice. Seemed pretty upbeat. Nobody’s really down. We’re coming home. We have great fans; they’ve been really good to us in the playoffs this year. We’ve just got to stick with it and get the two wins this week."
And then Noreau came out with the really important stuff. It's the stuff we hear from the team a lot, and have heard from the team a lot when they're down, and though it's rather cliched and simplistic, it has worked for the team. They've got to forget about everything and just follow the process.
"We had a big talk about that today," he said. "The main focus was, focus on the process, and focus on the little details you have to do, whether it’s getting a puck deep or getting a shot on net. Don’t focus on whether you’re going to score the goal or block that shot or whether you’re going to win the game for us. Just focus on the details. Do the right thing every time you’re out there. And if you focus on that process, the result at the end, we’re going to get the win. It’ll take care of itself."
Without any doubt this has been a physical series which has seen the Aeros lose Cody Almond and Jared Spurgeon to injury. Noreau thinks this could be part of the Senators plan, but he noted that it's been tried before, and that those other teams that tried it failed.
"I think they’re a pretty skilled team, but I think that at home they definitely upped their intensity," he said. "Whether it was because of their fans or they just completely changed because they thought that that would work, they came at us definitely a lot harder the past three games. But I think we’re by far the most physical team of the two, we’ve just got to get back to doing that.
"It’s been a grind for us, a couple of game sevens, Milwaukee was a pretty physical team. So was Hamilton. And mentally it’s been tough for us, too. We were up three-nothing and [Hamilton] came back, so I think we’ve learned a lot in the past month or two. We’ve got to put all of that together and bring it together tomorrow."
And despite the importance of tomorrow's game, Noreau had a great perspective: it's June and the Aeros are one of the very few hockey teams still playing.
"It’s pretty special," he said. "To know that it’s only us and maybe the two NHL teams left, you might be only the last four teams left playing the in the world. It’s a pretty good feeling. We’re pretty fortunate. We’re pretty lucky. We feel lucky to be here. But at the same time, I think we deserve to be here. We worked really hard this year, and all the guys poured their hearts out. It’s do-or-die. We’ve got two games, but two games away from the Calder Cup. That’s how you’ve got to look at it. It’s a pretty big honor."
I've talked to JM Daoust a bit, and I'll throw that up in a post for tomorrow, as he's always a fun guy to talk to. But before I end, the guys offered up their thoughts on what they're expecting from the fans tomorrow night.
"Just what they’ve been doing is fantastic," Yeo said. "We’re hoping for a great turnout. Binghamton was well-represented. When we get back home, we’re playing in front of our home crowd. I know that they’re going to be loud; I know that they’re going to be into the game, and they’re going to crank up the energy level for our guys. We’re hoping that it’s a big crowd and ready to come out and cheer us on, hopefully setting us up for a game seven here."
Warren Peters was a bit more precise: "We hope that they’re loud. We came from a chaotic building, and we’d like ours to be as loud and as noisy as possible"
And then there's Noreau who once again put things in a proper perspective. No matter what the crowd is like, it's still up to the Aeros to do their job out on the ice.
"Just some enthusiasm, some energy, but the bottom line is it’s our livelihood right now," he said. "It’s do-or-die tomorrow and whether the fans are upbeat or not, we’ve got to go out and produce. I know the fans are going to show up. They’ve been there the whole playoff run. They’ve been unbelievable. It’s up to us. It’s going to start in our room and it’s going to finish on the ice."