This is, I think, the hardest post to write that I've ever done here. The interviews were hard to transcribe, listening to the inflections in the voices of Mike Yeo and Jon DiSalvatore, the emotion, the passion, the disappointment, the feeling that they had just let down not only themselves, but the fans, especially the fans.
This isn't how the Aeros wanted this season to end. Not losing game six on home ice after having a 2-1 lead in the third period. Not losing a game on a desperation play by a Binghamton defender coming from nowhere to block a Patrick O'Sullivan shot that appeared to be a sure goal with about 50 seconds left that would have sent the game to overtime. Not after they finally got their power play working. Not after they left everything they had out there on the ice.
In the end, the Aeros just couldn't go any further. All of the game sevens. All of the physical play. The injuries. In the end, it was just too much. Especially with a 19-year-old rookie goalie named Robin Lehner playing out of his mind.
The better team won last night. The Senators getting the 3-2 win to win the Calder Cup in front of 10,000-plus screaming Aeros fans. So, for one last time, lets get to the notes, quotes and observations from game six.
1. First, here's the link to my game story in the Press. I know you're sick and tired of my pushing this, but this will be the last time for awhile. I don't know what the status of Aeros coverage in the Press will be for next season, but they've indulged me for four seasons, so go over one last time this year, read the story, leave some comments. Let them know you care (and damn, what do you know, people from Binghamton are already bitching about it though I say nothing but good things about the team).
2. Despite the Aeros loss, this was easily the best game of hockey I've seen in a long time. Perhaps it had something to do with Terry Koharski not being around, but David Banfield and Jean Hebert did an excellent job of officiating this game. They kept the scrums to a minimum. They called the penalties that needed to be called. They didn't get in the way of the flow of the game. Perhaps the league listened to Mike Yeo, perhaps they didn't. But still, nice job of officiating.
3. I think the bravest person around last night was Jon DiSalvatore. It's Mike Yeo's job to talk to us media folks, win or lose. But DiSalvatore could have said no. I don't think any of us would have objected. I think we would have all understood. But the guy's the captain. He's been the go-to guy for a comment all season. So we asked for him, and he came out, and he talked to us. You could tell it was hard. You could tell he was dying inside. Dying for himself, his teammates, the fans. But he stood there one last time and answered our questions.
There was a reason the guys elected him to be the captain. And we've seen it many times out there on the ice. But his performance after this game, standing there, facing us, after this, that's why he was the captain.
4. "If I can say right now, thank you to all of the fans," DiSalvatore said at the very end. "I do want to thank them. They were tremendous. They showed up tonight, and they were great. We really appreciate that support. We’re upset that we couldn’t bring a championship, but we appreciate all of the support that they’ve given to us, and we hope that they’re back next year for sure."
5. The crowd last night was fantastic. The Aeros are a minor league team in a major league town. They battle for attention with the Astros, the Texans, and the Rockets. The Dynamo probably get more attention. They're there with the Cougars and the Owls. But despite that, they went out and won games. They demanded attention, and the fans, the city paid attention. There were over 10,000 folks inside Toyota Center last night banging their thundersticks and clanging the cowbells. I was down there in the corner in the third period, and you could feel it.
6. "It was an interesting year for me, coming back here," Mike Yeo told us. "We had some amazing, passionate fans, but I think things kind of grew as the playoffs went on. Those passionate fans, I’m really happy for them that they got awarded with a long playoff run, and I wish we could have delivered to them what I believe that they deserve as well. I think our fans are the best in the league. I also think that with the help of the media – the media was great for us throughout the playoffs, and I think that picking up – I think we picked up a lot of new fans along the way. I think people got a chance to see what it’s all about. The passion that’s out there. The energy level that’s out there. The speed and intensity of the game. And our crowds were just unbelievable. Again, I wish in front of that crowd tonight, to see how classy they were, to see them cheering on right to the very end, I wish that we could have delivered a different outcome."
7. About that outcome. What a punch in the gut. Binghamton played great hockey. But the injuries were the doom for the Aeros. Cody Almond and Jared Spurgeon were probably, along with Colton Gillies, the team's best penalty killers, and they couldn't play. Jon DiSalvatore said the special teams were a wash -- each team had two goals on the power play -- and that it was the five-on-five that did the Aeros in. And perhaps he's right. Once again, going to the injuries to the Spurgeon and Almond.
We saw way too little of Spurgeon this season. That's because he was up with the Wild way before he was supposed to be up with the Wild, and he stayed up there because of just how good he was on defense. And Cody Almond had been a key piece to making the chemistry of the first line just right, providing the grit to go with DiSalvatore and O'Sullivan.
8. One of the things that Yeo and DiSalvatore have spoken about all year is the character of this team. About how they've banded together, become a family. Maybe it's kind of a cliche. But for this team, it worked, and Yeo says that why this team went as far as it did.
"You know what, when you see a guy go out and put his own agenda aside, and do everything he can to help the guy next to him, to help you, to help his teammates, that’s when you know that guy’s a winner. That’s a guy you want to go out and do the same thing for. That’s what we have with this group. It’s a group that cared an awful lot about each other. I think that that came from each guy giving everything he could for the group. It was a very special group."
9. Jon DiSalvatore was asked what that one thing, above any other thing, would be that he remembers about this season. He didn't mention a game, or a goal. He mentioned his teammates.
"It’s always going to be the guys," he said. "It’s us in there. We go through everything together. You experience different relationships with guys. You battle, and you grind, and you challenge each other, and at the end of the day you guys are all fighting for the same thing. And you come together – you learn so much about the character of guys, and what it took for what guys to get to this level, and how guys are experiencing pro careers differently, and how we all become part of it with each other. These relationships that you build, especially going this far is – they’re a lifetime. They become lifetime friends, and warriors that you’ll just go to battle with any day."
10. In the end, Binghamton was just the better team last night. Particularly Robin Lehner. "He’s fantastic. He was fantastic," Yeo said. "Certainly in the second period we had great chances. We could have extended our lead. We couldn’t get that third goal. He’s huge. He’s a big guy. He covers an awful of lot net. He was great."
11. It was tough to see the Aeros lose last night, to lose the series. It was tough to see Binghamton celebrating on the ice while the Aeros skated in a daze, trying to grasp what had just happened. But despite all of that, I had a slight tinge of happiness. Not so much for the Senators as a team, because I don't really know that team. But I do know two of the players, Barry Brust and Corey Locke.
Barry Brust was my money quote, my go-to-guy for three years in Houston. He'd always give a great quote, win or lose, especially if he had just lost a game. He's a good guy, hell, he's a great guy. And Corey Locke was only here for one season, but that season, two years ago, he was a star. He was Mr. Dependable. The guy just had, still has, this ability to put points on the board. And while not as great a quote as Brust, he would always talk and do his best to give us what we needed.
So as tough as it was to watch the Aeros lose, to see the guys I've been covering and getting to know this year lose, I want to congratulate Brusty and Corey and their teammates.
12. Finally, it's been awhile since I've posted a video. But there's this song that's been running through my head since the game ended last night. Perhaps it's because of the way Yeo and DiSalvatore kept trying to apologize to the fans and to each other for letting everybody down. Perhaps it's because the song is used in Slap Shot, one of my favorite movies. But it just seems to fit the mood I'm in, so here's Elton John with "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word."
I'll be back later this week with my thoughts on the season and a whole bunch of thank yous.