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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Photos from R2, G1

In case you forgot what the Aeros look like, here are some shots from last night courtesy of our man on the scene in Milwaukee, Chris "Limp Bizkit" Jerina.

Ninja Gillies
I'm pretending Sully scores here
They looked so happy before the game. Camera <3s McMillan, doesn't it?
Stupid Jeremy Smith makin' saves
 Catch the rest of them here. Thanks, Chris!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Aeros blow it in the first period, lose 3-1

Woof. Playoffs are hard. It's been a few days since we're had a reminder of that and that definitely showed in the first period.

Two quick goals in the middle of the first and, BAM, you're in a hole that's tough to get out of against this Admirals team. (Goalie Jeremy Smith was great to spectacular the whole game. Unless Hackett steps it up to a new level, I may be eating my words that goaltending is a draw in this match-up.) It took into the third period (never mind that Ads goal 32 seconds into the period) for the Aeros to look like the Aeros.

But I was happy to see them at all and now that they've spent a while in the groove, here's to staying there for the rest of the series.

Clearly, though, the Aeros are going to have to shake the Ads' suffocating defense in order to get space they need to Do Work down low. But I'm not worried about them figuring this out.

John expressed in his last post some concern about the line-up changes Yeo had planned. Well, now we know what they were: Bulmer in for Kassian on the wing and Scandella in for Penner at defense.

The defensive swap seems like a fairly even exchange. But the Bulmer insertion bothered me at first. Really though, Milwaukee isn't a team you worry about going all goony on you, so maybe Kassian's intimidating presence was less valuable than giving Bulmer some experience. And maybe there's some pressure from Minnesota to play the young prospect if it makes sense, though that's just conjecture on my part.

It looks like the guys got through the game relatively in one piece. Spurgeon took a puck in the ear in the 2nd period, but it sounds like he's okay and it's just a cut.  He did miss the rest of the game though, so I'm not sure I'm 100% believing that.

Will have pics from Chris later, link to game stories later, and maybe someone will pipe in with some statistics or something. Can't wait for these games to return home! AHL Live is brutal!

Ms.C's Series Prediction

I finally wrote my series preview for PHN this morning, but it's not out yet and it's not all that good because I didn't have much time to work on it. I'll link it when it's up, but for now, if you're the type of person who likes predictions, I'll go ahead and give you mine:

Aeros in 6.

Though if I'm being totally honest with you, I'm still so blown away by the sweep of Peoria, my heart says nobody's ever going to beat the Aeros again. So, clearly I've lost my Objectivity Hat and have the tin foil hat on instead.

The last time I thought, even jokingly, that the Aeros would never lose again was after game 2 of the season. And then the Aeros went on to lose 5 in a row. So let's hope I'm not THAT wrong again. :)

I think, like most of you, I can see them getting down early as they get their playoff legs back. But the potential snowballing doom-like effect of that, which I'd normally anticipate in my glass-half-empty kinda way, doesn't really seem like an issue with this team. They'll rebound. Just how quickly?

As far as positional predictions, I wrote that the Aeros had the edge at offense, defense is a draw, and goaltending is a draw unless Dekanich is healthy, and then it's a clear edge to Milwaukee.

Since PHN doesn't have a writer in Milwaukee, I have to cover the away games, too. Which means I HAVE to watch and can't chicken out like I did on Game 4. As such, I'm going to try and tweet the game tonight, at least what I can by watching online, so look for that if you're a Twit. Chris should have pictures for us at some point, too, so that's very cool.

I dunno about y'all, but it's been so long since I've seen these guys, I was getting pretty entrenched in baseball season (GO JAYS!). Getting back on the hockey wagon, though, and it's gonna be a fun week!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fearless Prediction: Aeros In Six

So it appears that while Andrew was sending out an email asking for our predictions earlier this week, he's yet to post his. So, with the series between the Aeros and Admirals due to start tomorrow, I guess I'll get things started.

I'm worried about this series. I was also worried about Peoria for what it matters. Here's my big problem. The Aeros have will have gone 10 days between games when the puck drops tomorrow. And they've only played seven games the entire month. So I'm worried about the team being at the top of it's game. I'm worried about rust. I'm worried about the lost momementum that came from sweeping the Rivermen.

I went up to practice on Tuesday, and I saw the hardest practice I've seen this season -- admittedly, I haven't seen many, so that could have been the normal. But Mike Yeo had the squad going full out. And Matt Kassian thinks the way the squad practices, he said they've gone full-out in practice like this all season, will help them out. But who knows?

One other thing that bothers me is possible lineup tinkering. I can understand trying to find a way to get Marco Scandella out on the ice, but I'm not sure on how I feel about breaking up the forward lines to bring in somebody else. I think those four lines have incredible chemistry and all seem to work well. But Yeo said on Tuesday that the lineup we saw against Peoria won't necessarily be who goes out agains the Admirals, and that things might change from game to game. I'm not the coach, and I think Yeo's earned our trust this year, but still, I have to admit, I'm troubled.

That said, prediction time. I see the Aeros winning this thing in six. I think they lose the first game because of the rust, but win games two, three, and four before losing game five to send it back to Milwaukee.

I know the Aeros record against the Ads isn't that great this season. But their record against the Rivermen wasn't that great either. The thing I'm looking at is that Milwaukee, this season, didn't really face the Aeros roster as we know it. That last game, on April 1, was especially not representative of the team as, if I remember, there were only five d-men available with Max Noreau and Justin Falk being called up to the Wild. Matt Kassian also didn't skate, and the team was beat up and tired. And I'm sorry, but with Jared Spurgeon back, the possible addition of Marco Scandella, and with Max Noreau, Drew Bagnall, Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, and Jeff Penner, I just don't think you can say that Milwaukee should have the advantage on the defensive side.

Another thing that works in the Aeros favor is the incredible depth of this team. The Ads just can't concentrate on shutting down the first and second lines because, as this season has shown, the third and fourth lines have shown the ability to score goals. And as Warren Peters said, all of the lines, but especially the third and fourth lines, are more than willing to go in and do those things that get the trash goals.

And as with Peoria, Milwaukee's dealing with an uncertain goalie situation in that their number one goalie has been injured, and the last I heard they're still not sure what his status is for this upcoming series, though I'm sure that like Peoria with Ben Bishop, if it gets down to elimination time, Mark Dekanich will find some way to get out there between the pipes.

So those are my thoughts. The Aeros winning in six, which would work for me since I will be there should that happen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It's Like Christmas

I went out to SLICE today to watch the Aeros practice and to see how the team's looking after a week off without playing an actual game. They learned last night that they'll be facing Milwaukee starting Friday night, and Mike Yeo and the coaches were putting the guys through the mill.

Yeo said after practice that there's a good chance that there will be some personnel changes once the series starts, and to not expect the same lineup as was out there for the series with Peoria. He didn't want to give out any details -- in case there's anybody from Milwaukee reading -- and he also said that it's possible that the lineup might change from game-to-game.

One of the things I'm interested is in all of the time off the team's had this month, and how they stay sharp and in game condition. It will be 10 days between closing out Peoria and playing game one against Milwaukee. And in the month of April, the team's played only seven games.

"It’s impossible to keep that edge the entire time," Yeo said. "We’ve been off for a long time, and we still have a few days to go. It’s impossible, and I don’t think it would be productive for us, too. So certainly there was a drop in that level, and we had a couple of days off after we won in Peoria. But then we picked things up for a couple of days, gave another day off, and as this week’s gone on, we’ve kind of started slow and we’re building towards the end of the week, so hopefully we’re ready to peak come Friday."

I also asked Matt Kassian about this. And I wanted to speak to Kassian about this because he missed a lot of time in March because of an injury, so he's had less game action than most of the team these past couple of months.

"A lot of it comes down to how you practice," Kassian said. "We’ve been a team this year that’s always practiced hard, probably a lot harder than most teams, if not all of the teams in the league. We go hard. And we do it for a reason. We do it for our conditioning, and we do it for situations like this, where maybe – for me as a player, I’ve been out for awhile – to not only get back in shape but mentally be at a pace to where things are happening at a speed you’re used to out there. So it’s the same for the whole team. When you go in a stretch where you’re not playing for seven or eight days, you might have some rust, but at the same time, you work so hard in practice that you try not to get any rust at all."

I also thought Kassian was a good person to talk to because he was on the team two years ago that advanced to the Conference Finals, and I wanted his opinion on the differences between the two teams. And Kassian delivered some good analysis, specifically about the differing mindsets of the two teams, a difference between expecting and hoping.

"I think we expect to do good things, whereas before we kind of went out and it happened," he said. "And we did them and it was because we worked hard. I think now, it’s having knowledge of what we’re capable of, and knowing that we have a good team and if we play we’re going to have a really good chance of doing well."

The team is going to begin prepping for the Admirals, a team they've seen a lot this season, but the big thing I got from Yeo, Kassian, and Warren Peters, is that it's not so much about what Milwaukee does, it's about what the Aeros do. It's about the Aeros concentrating on their game, playing their system, their process. Peter's thoughts on this were, I thought, important seeing as he was a key cog to a Texas team that went to the Calder Cup finals last year.

"You can’t occupy yourself too much with how they’re going to prepared, what they’re going to do," he said. "We know what to expect, as I’m sure they do as well. We definitely have to take care of ourselves first, before we can start worrying about what other teams are doing.

"If you’re stressing and your wasting energy on trying to decode what they’re going to do, it’s pretty tough. You’ve just got to go out there and play your game. Like I said, have confidence in your players and your teammates, and the system that we play, and the way we’ve shown we can play."

And Mike Yeo added this.

"Today we start with a practice. We’re focused on ourselves, and our systems, and making sure that the details are there, and our execution and the speed at which we do it. Tomorrow, there will be some special teams and some areas where we have to focus up on them, and some adjustments that we might have to make. And then come Friday, again, it’s a matter of getting ready for ourselves. We’ll have our pre-scout tomorrow, and go over exactly what to expect of Milwaukee, but again, we’re a team that’s gotten this far by focusing on ourselves and what it is that makes us successful. And after we cover that meeting tomorrow, the majority of it will be with what we have to do."

And the strength of this team, I think everyone will agree, is the incredible depth of this team. Sure, there are two lines of high-scorers that the other teams focus on and have to stop, but the Aeros also have third and fourth lines that, while their focus isn't scoring, aren't afraid to take a shot if the opportunity comes. And more importantly, all of the lines, especially three and four, have those guys who will go behind the net, bang in the corners, and hang out in front of the net, just hoping to get that trash goal.

Kassian laid out the importance and the quality of the depth when it comes to the playoffs.

"It’s huge. A lot of times in playoffs you have teams that will, especially if you have home ice advantage, will try to match-up lines. You look at us, we have the Gillies/Peters/Ortmeyer line out there. It’s a shutdown line, but obviously they’re an effective scoring line as well. As a shutdown line, other teams will do that to us, and it helps when you have so much depth that it doesn’t matter who you’re throw out there that you’re able to get the job done.

"It’s not like, as far as fourth line’s concerned, it’s not like we’re concerned about going out there and scoring goals and making a difference or being a difference. We’re concerned about going out there and doing our jobs, which is don’t get scored on, create energy, be hard on their skill players, be hard on their defensemen, and get offensive zone time and take the puck to the net when you get the opportunity. If the puck goes in, that’s a bonus.

"But when you look at playoffs and teams that are successful, that’s what happens. A lot of times you have your big players being big players, but you have guys who aren’t known for the big goals, and guys who aren’t known for the huge plays, that’s when they step up their game and have an impact.

"Look at McMillan with his overtime winner the other day. Obviously he had a good year and had a decent amount of points, but at the same time, he’s not a guy who would be the first player you’d pick to score an overtime winner. But he goes out there and goes hard to the net and bangs it home.

"For us, as far as we’re concerned, as a team, it’s not about any one guy, it’s about everybody. And any one guy is going to be a hero that night. Whether it’s Hackett in net, or Tordjman if he’s in net, or O’Sullivan – obviously he finished out the series for us with a huge goal – but at the same time, the goal before that, to pull us even, is Drew Bagnall who hasn’t scored all year. He steps it up, and scores a huge goal for us."

Peters weighed in on the subject, with the concentration on the difference his line makes.

"As far as my line goes, I’ve got two great linemates," he said. 'Ortmeyer with all of his experience. But he’s got some ability, and he’s got the ability to put the puck in the net. And Colton plays hard, and he goes in the hard areas, and in playoffs, you get rewarded a lot of times when you do that. And we’ve got three guys that don’t mind going in front of the net, getting banged around in order to get a second chance."

And I asked the guys about how much fun the playoffs are for them. And once again, Matt Kassian came out with some great analysis. And I've got to apologize. We get to speak to Kassian a lot in the tunnels after the game and during practice, but because of time and space limitations with our respective outlets, we don't often get him for quotes, but the guy is just fun to talk to, and he gives really great answers, like this answer to how much the playoffs are.

"The games mean something," he said. "Not that they don’t in the regular season, but they mean that much more. Hockey, and sports in general, it’s just a metaphor for life. The winning, the losing, the ups and downs. Some moments are bigger than others. Playoffs it’s like a honeymoon, or a wedding, or an anniversary. It’s a big thing. A big event. It just means that much more. It’s like a kid’s first Christmas, or as a kid, it’s like Christmas. You’re just so excited, you go to bed at night and you can hardly sleep because you’re just that excited to go out because it means you’re working for something. It’s so much fun, especially when you have the crowd behind you.

"The loudest I’ve heard the crowd all year was that game we won in overtime, when McMillan scored. It was electric. The crowd was great during the game, but in overtime, they kicked it up another couple of notches and it was just unbelievable. So much fun."

So there you go, some notes and quotes from today's practice as the guys prep for Game One in Milwaukee on Friday night.

Monday, April 25, 2011

And The Winner Is...

The Milwaukee Admirals just took down the Texas Stars 3-2 in double overtime. Milwaukee wins the series 4-2, and that means that they'll be the team facing the Aeros. And since Milwaukee finished the season with more points, and since they're the number one seed, they will have the home ice advantage.

The series starts on Friday night in Milwaukee, and because of the travel distance involved, it will feature the 2-3-2 format.

The series schedule is as follows:

Fri, April 29: at Milwaukee, 7:00.
Sun, May 1: at Milwaukee, 5:00.
Tue, May 3: at Houston, 7:05.
Thur, May 5: at Houston, 7:05.
*Fri, May 6: at Houston, 7:35.
*Sun, May 8: at Milwaukee, 5:00.
*Tue, May 10: at Milwaukee, 7:00.

*if needed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Aeros sign Bulmer, Jobke

I haven't gotten real excited about reporting this because, honestly, I'm not sure we'll see these guys play unless the Aeros are hit with a rash of injuries.

But the Wild have signed LW Brett Bulmer to an entry level deal and he's joining the Aeros on an amateur tryout, along with D Colton Jobke.

Bulmer's still a wee tot at just 18 (though turning 19 next week) so he'd have to make the Wild next year to turn pro. I'd expect him to spend another year in junior. He's not a huge scorer but he's got a mean streak, so I kinda think they've got power forward (think Colton Gillies) designs on him. We'll see.

The Aeros also signed Jobke to an ATO. He's undrafted but the Wild like him and are keeping him in the bullpen, so to speak, while he comes up in juniors.

However, in an interview with your hero and mine, Kevin Falness, over at Wild HQ, Yeo basically said these guys aren't exactly locks for the playing roster. Sure, the AHL is a development league, but a good bunch of the guys on the current roster ARE developing and they're not going to sit a Nate Prosser or Casey Wellman in the playoffs for a kid fresh out of junior. (Should add, he wasn't that direct about it, but this is me reading between the lines.)

So, like I said, nothing to get excited about here -- unless you're one of those guys.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

No Respect, No Respect

Dear AHL,

You suck. I caught your Morning Skate post on the website this morning, and noticed your three stars. I know the Aeros only won by a 2-1 score last night, but you would think that the first team to advance to the next round of the playoffs, and the first team this season to do so in a sweep, would merit at least having one guy, like say Patrick O'Sullivan, as at least the third star.

Then again, I guess netting the game-winning, series-clinching goal isn't as important as a guy getting three assists to take the playoff scoring lead.

So, once again, you suck.

Honey Badgers

(If you're sensitive to a few F and S bombs, skip the video, but it's really funny...)

- watch more funny videos

I'm ripping this off from one of my favorite hockey bloggers, Katebits, who writes about the Sabres. Her take is that Nathan Gerbe is a honey badger, but I watched this and thought of the Aeros.

They stuck their head in the "house of bees" last night, kept getting stung, but they didn't give a shit! They were hungry! Nothing can stop the Aeros when they're hungry.

I have to confess, I couldn't even watch the game last night. I fully intended to dish out my $10 or whatever to AHL Live. But 7 p.m. rolled around and I thought, "John's there to report it. I've got him and others on Twitter. I've got the scoresheet. Why do I need more?"

Truth is, I knew it was going to get ugly and be stressful and even NOT watching, my palms were sweating and I was clicking refresh on Twitter and on the scoresheet over and over and holding my breath those final 28 seconds of sheer OMGness.

It was the digital equivalent of watching the game with my hands over my eyes and peeking through my fingers. I'm a wuss and the first to admit it.

I still can't bring myself to close the tab in my browser with the scoresheet on it though. I've even refreshed it a few times just to make sure it's still the same. That actually happened, right?

Couple of awesome things:

Not one person picked the Aeros in 4. Except maybe the team itself. However, I did jokingly pick them to win in 3, so if we're playing by Price is Right rules, I win.

Also, you're probably aware that the Maple Leaf Pub is hosting watch parties for away games, but you may not be aware that they even rented the space next to the bar in an effort to make the experience more comfortable, as it's not a huge bar to start with.

So if you're like me where you don't dig a super-crowded bar scene, you might check it out next round... if you don't just go ahead and drive to Austin (*ahem*)....

I remember back when they won in 2003 and Mr.C and I ventured out to SRO for those games. It's pretty fun to be with a bunch of people all pulling in the same direction when big shit goes down with your team.

Meanwhile, we can all relax and the boys can rest up and probably spend the day, like John, wondering what the hell there is to do in Peoria besides the strip club. Or maybe that's enough. I dunno.

Also, here's John's piece for the Press. Go check it out, honey badgers, so they'll want to keep running Aeros stories!

Thoughts and Notes From A Sweep of Peoria

Before we go further, one thing needs to be said. We've said a lot of very good and well deserved things for Mike Yeo and the Aeros coaching staff for what the team has done this season. But I think we really need to give a shout out to GM Jim Mill for his work in assembling the pieces on this team. Jon DiSalvatore, Drew Bagnall, Warren Peters, Jed Ortmeyer and on and on, these were guys that Mill brought onto this team, and they've all played very, very key roles.

That said, as Yeo and Mill said after the game, this is only round one, there is still a lot that needs to get done. But the team has this confidence about itself. They know they're deep with four lines that can score goals. And they have brought in to what Mike Yeo is preaching about the system and the process.

Peoria dished out some punishment in this series, and they especially dished out some punishment in Game Four. The recipients of that punishment were Jon DiSalvatore, Patrick O'Sullivan, Robbie Earl, and Casey Wellman. The four guys who have that special on-ice talent. The goal was simple: to get the guys to feel the punishment so that they wouldn't finish their plays, or else would try and retaliate and end up in the penalty box. And that didn't happen.

"They really stepped up the physical play in the third period, and I’m really proud of the guys the way that they continued to go out and execute," Yeo said after the game. "They were getting hit, and they were getting hit hard. But that’s character. To me, that’s the ultimate hard player. The ultimate warrior. It’s easy to go out there and hit people and be tough like that, but to me a real tough player is a guy who will go out and make a play knowing that he’s going to take a hit and do the right thing for his teammates."

And that's the thing about this team. These aren't selfish guys. They're about winning games and not letting down their teammates. I think Drew Bagnall summed it up pretty well:

"I think – [Peoria's] a good team. They have some guys that can really bang," he said. "They tried to go after O’Sullivan and Robbie Earl and Jon DiSalvatore, our high end guys. I just have to give them credit because they didn’t take penalties. They sucked it up. And I think we were just very unselfish. We just knew that we were going to have to take stuff from them. And we knew that we would get them back by shaking hands with them at the end of the series.

"Our third line, Gillies, Ortmeyer, and Peters, they didn’t score a whole lot for us during the season, but in this playoff series, they were great, and they really shut down [Peoria’s T.J. Hensick]. It was great for us."

But this is only one series. The team is not done, and they're not satisfied, especially Mike Yeo.

"It feels great, but I can’t say that I feel satisfied right now," Yeo said. "It’s a step in the right direction. We’re a quarter of the way to our goal, and I’m very pleased with the way our team responded to a very tough team to play against. They came at us hard, and for the guys to keep their focus, and for the guys to fight through some adversity, some deficits we had to fight back on. For us, the ultimate picture, the ultimate goal, is to keep getting better. And I think that we did that these four games.'

I think it's good that the Aeros aren't satisfied. How often do we hear about teams that are just happy to make the playoffs? But not this team. And I'm looking forward to where they might end up.

A real quick trivial matter: Peoria scored the first goal in every game. And they lost all four games. And in none of the games did the Aeros ever look panicked. These guys just seemed to have the attitude that if they just went out and did their thing, then the other team would break. And break Peoria did.

And here's a special shout out to Darryl Sydor. Bagnall and Yeo said the team was aware of Ben Bishop's tendency to go out and play the puck. But it was Sydor who kept on the guys about it, reminding them to take a chance if the opportunity came. And Drew Bagnall took that opportunity.

"Just the way it happened – we had talked a lot about him playing the puck, and we talked that maybe, if you get that chance – this is something Darryl has talked to the defense about a lot, you fake like you’re going hard around and then you put it on net and maybe you can catch him cheating a little bit," Yeo said after the game.

And how about Drew Bagnall? Just think what it does to a team to have a guy who hasn't scored a goal the entire season be the guy who makes the tying goal in the most important game of the season?

"Certainly, you get a goal like that, it puts doubt in their minds, and the momentum that it brings to your team is huge," Yeo said. And Peoria never looked the same after that goal. Sure, they hit and played head hunter, and the game was tight and one of those things where you chew your fingernails up to your knuckles, but you just had to sense that things were going to go the right way for the Aeros after that.

Next stop? Who knows? The Stars are up 2-1 on Milwaukee, and the Aeros will get the winner of that series.

As always, thanks for sticking with us at T3I.

Photos From Game Four

Here are a few photos from tonight's game, none of which can compare to the photos below which came from a professional. (Speaking of which, here's a link to more of Todd Quinn's photos from the game. And thanks to Todd for the use of his photos at T3I and for the link.)

Photo number one is of Jon DiSalvatore getting roughed up a bit in the second period.

Here's the reaction after Drew Bagnall's goal. It's not much, but I've got to admit, I was in shock after that, trying to believe if what I just saw had really happened.

Here's Patrick O'Sullivan with the kill shot.

Matt Hackett working in the third period.

And here's the team celebrating after the win.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A View From The Press Box

The Aeros took a licking tonight. They took the licking, but they kept on ticking, getting the 2-1 win over Peoria to sweep the Rivermen and move on to the next round of the playoffs.

I'll try to get on with quotes and photos later tonight, but I can't promise anything since it's been a long day, and I'm really tired. That said...

Drew Bagnall admitted he was lucky on his goal, a shot from around center ice that tied the game in the second. But while there was luck involved, it was a designed play. Bagnall and Mike Yeo said after the game that everyone knew of Bishop's tendency to play the puck, and that Darryl Sydor had been preaching to the guys that if they got the chance, to fake going hard around the glass then throw it to the net in the chance that something would happen. And what do you know, something happened. Good scouting from the staff.

Yeo was proud of the way that guys like O'Sullivan, DiSalvatore, Earl, and Wellman responded to the pounding they got. Knowing they were going to take the hit, they kept executing the system and made the plays that needed to be made.

Still, the hockey gods were smiling down on Houston. I don't know if you could tell over AHL Live, or from what Joe O'Donnell was saying on the radio, but it's impossible to describe just how close Peoria was to sending the game to OT there at the very end. Twice in the closing seconds the puck hovered on the ice, in empty space, inside the blue box, just millimeters away from that red line. And nobody was able to knock it in. Hackett said he thought he had the last one smothered in his chest, and was shocked when his teammates were screaming that the puck was behind him.

But sometimes, the hockey gods really do smile on you.

A quick bit of trivia: I have now travelled to three Aeros playoff games where they had the chance to clinch a series and advance. And they've won all three. I think the Aeros/Wild need to keep that tidbit it mind.

And one more thing, the Houston Press is kind of close to killing Aeros coverage because they don't think anybody in the city gives a damn about hockey -- they're giving me the playoffs to get numbers up, or no hockey coverage next year. So please go over and read the story I've got there tomorrow. Make sure to click on it if you can. Leave a comment if you want. Don't do it just for me, but do it so that the team can continue to get some coverage while the rest of the city's media covers losers like the Astros and the Texans.

Aeros down 0-1 after first period: Photos!

In-game photos courtesy of Todd Quinn/ProHockeyNews.com

Aeros "system" puts Rivermen on the brink

I saw the first two games in person, and I thought it was incredible how they just kept coming back every time they allowed a goal. They won Game 1 fairly easily, and Game 2 was way more of a grind.

The Aeros took a 2-0 lead in the series with Carson McMillan's first career playoff goal.

Then, in Game 3 on Monday, we saw the Aeros overcome 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to take a 5-3 win. The question now is, Is there anything Peoria can do to stop the Aeros and their machine-like style? So far the answer is no. Everything Peoria has dished out has been answered two-fold. Simply astounding that the Rivermen have had absolutely no answer to this point.

As ICEVET would say, serious Aeros fans have seen these series go either way. The side that leads 3-0 gets a convincing win and moves on; I can easily see an Aeros blowout tonight. Then there are times, like the Aeros in 2009, where there is zero quit. The Aeros won back-to-back games over the Moose after Manitoba took a 3-0 lead that year.

The Aeros were just too exhausted to get a third win to force a third straight Game 7.

What do you expect out of the game tonight? Is Peoria going down in four or five games, or are we going to see Game 6 Friday night at Toyota Center?

I am assuming that John survived the threat of bad weather in Illinois and made it to Peoria. He'll give us some real time updates on Twitter I am sure.

Looking forward to the game tonight; hope you are too.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Aeros Win 5-3, Go Up 3-0 On Peoria

Peoria had the 2-0 lead after one period, and the 3-2 lead after the second period. But the only score that counts is the score after the third period, and the Aeros scored three times in the third, including two goals from Colton Gillies, to get the 5-3 win.

The Aeros are up 3-0 in the series, and tomorrow night they go for the sweep.

Aeros down 3-2 at the 2nd intermission

Photos by Todd Quinn/ProHockeyNews.com

A little taste of what's gone on in Peoria for the first 2 periods....

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Have A Little Faith, Baby

The Peoria game plan was simple tonight. Hit the Aeros. Hit the Aeros again. Keep hitting the Aeros until they gave in because they're a soft team. And Peoria did hit the Aeros tonight. And they kept hitting the Aeros. And the Aeros might not be the world's most physical team. They may rely on skill over brute force. But if the Aeros have shown anything over these last several months, it's that they'll take the pounding and win the game because while you're pounding them, they're playing smart, sticking to the system, and playing the game.

They're doing things the right way. And that led to the Aeros getting the tough 3-2 OT win tonight.

It's also the game the Aeros were expecting.

"It was exactly what we expected it to be, a real tight checking, close game," head coach Mike Yeo said. "Hard fought by both teams. I thought Peoria gave us what we could handle tonight. They played a great game. They were physical, and they were aggressive. They had some good chances, and I thought [Hackett] had to play great for us in order to give us that chance to win the game."

We watch the Aeros a lot, so we know that this team is more than just Patrick O'Sullivan and Robbie Earl and Jon DiSalvatore. We know that Warren Peters and Jed Ortmeyer and Jared Palmer and Carson McMillan will grind away and grind away. And when you're not looking, when you're focused on the glamour guys, pow, they attack.

It's easy to forget about the depth that this team has. The third line consists of Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters, and Colton Gillies. Think about that.

"It’s roles," Yeo says. "It’s doing different jobs. Sully does his job on the power play to equalize there and sets up Chad Rau and Rauser buries it. But you need guys – I thought the penalty killers did a great job despite the fact they got the one goal tonight. I thought our penalty killing was great in key times for us.

"And then you’ve got guys like Carson McMillan and Jarod Palmer who are playing on the fourth line, but they were kind of bouncing around tonight. Palms goes out and scores right after they score and really gets the momentum back in our favor. And those hurt for that team. I know it hurts when you’re on the other side. And then both of those guys contribute and do a good job of creating a turnover in the neutral zone and find a way to get her in the net."

We like to talk about the jump the team made with the arrival of Patrick O'Sullivan and Jed Ortmeyer. And there's a lot to that. O'Sullivan's arrival especially, with his ability to score almost at will, opened things for Jon Disalvatore and took some pressure off of some of the other guys to be the go-to guy. But it was also at about that this time that Robbie Earl went to Mike Yeo and asked what he could to do to make the team better. And Casey Wellman got healthy.

And then there is the Ortmeyer factor. A factor which is also shared by Warren Peters and DiSalvatore. They're veteran guys who have been around, and they know what it takes for a team to win. We've been told by several guys just how much it means to see the effort that Ortmeyer goes through to just to be able to play every night. And then the guys see DiSalvatore and Peters willingly planting themselves in front of the goalie game after game, shift after shift, doing the dirty work that makes it that much easier for their teammates to get better chances at scoring.

And there's this. We always hear about the guys who are supposed to the NHL stars and can't make it and get sent back to the minors and who go into sulky malcontent mode. Patrick O'Sullivan did not do this. He's gone out there and played hard and worked every shift.

As such, the Aeros now find themselves up 2-0 in the series. They're not in the clear yet, though. I doubt Peoria's going to give up. And there are now three games in three nights for the Aeros to play next week in Peoria. But while we all complain about the number of three-in-threes the Aeros played this season, you can't help but wonder if that's going to be to the Aeros advantage next week.

But we're just going to have to wait until next week to find out, I guess.

Now on a humorous note...One of our more frequent commenters, I'm talking to you B2Bomber, jokingly jumped on the "negative waves" that Andrew was sending about the team, and he was using a movie reference. I caught it, Andrew didn't.

For those of you who didn't catch B2B's reference, he quoted a character named Oddball bitching about the "negative waves" that Moriarty was spreading. This comes from a vastly underrated Clint Eastwood movie of the late-1960s called "Kelly's Heroes," and the character of Oddball is played by Donald Sutherland. I did a Youtube search, and came up with this clip. So, enough with the negative waves about the Aeros already. Have a little faith, baby. Have a little faith.

One Defibrillator, Please

Few points since I haven't written over here in a while. I get pretty wrapped up in my PHN writing during the playoffs, so I apologize for the lack of the usual Ms.C nonsense and drama.

I'll give it to you by the numbers to start:

# of times I said "F**k" over the course of tonight's game - 47,000 (don't judge me)
# of times I've almost cried during the series - 2
# of wicked shiners Colton Gillies has - 1
# of earplugs I had to wear because the audio was DEAFENING - 2
# of fans cheering the Aeros on tonight - 5,000+
# of fans Carson McMillan told us it sounded like - 10,000

And that brings me to what Andrew said about the energy of the crowd tonight. I remember round ones of old and usually they are sparsely attended, only by the diehardiest of the diehards, it seems.

But folks are coming out, and they're folks who know hockey enough to really get after the other team at just the right time. That was as loud and jubilant and INTO IT as I've seen a crowd all year. I'm not sure how you can complain about attendance when the building had that kind of energy.

I'd love to poopoo the wave because the wave is never ever cool. But honestly, that late in the game, it's all about keeping the energy up and the crowd in it.

I wish I could say I have warm fuzzies crawling all over me right now thanks to the amazing atmosphere (which even Mr.C, who is as stuck in the Summit-era days as much as many of you long-timers, said it reminded him of those days).

But the reality is the next three games are going to be a one hellacious grind and I just hope the guys survive in once piece.

Anyway, here's my gamer with some quotes and whatnot.

Friday, April 15, 2011

View from the Pressbox - Aeros take commandnig 2-0 lead with OT winner from Carson McMillan

First of all ... that prediction earlier today was for you Joe O'Donnell. Love my awful track record in that department, eh?.

Now let's talk about some hockey. Hats off to all 5,283 of you who were in the stands ooohing and ahhing and chanting "let's go Aeros" without the assistance of some scoreboard telling you to do so.

Very nice. The building was alive tonight, and I literally got goose bumps. Why do I love playoff hockey? That's why.

What a night by Jake Allen, but the Aeros were going for the kill after a little bit of a lapse there late in the third period. And for the game-winner, how about a little patience from Carson McMillan to not only wait for Palmer to join the play, but to keep his stick on the ice (or very near it) when that puck floated just to the left of the Peoria netminder.

Game. Set and a 2-0 lead in the match.

Game's 3-5 switch to Peoria now, and the Rivermen are going to have to win at least two of them to send the series back to Texas.

The PP wasn't great, but they got one goal when they really needed it. Mike Yeo was very complimentary of the PK, even with the one goal against in that department.

Look, the key in this game - and the series so far - is the Aeros ability to bounce back when they allow a goal. The Rivermen had two one-goal leads Friday for a total of what? Less then 100 seconds?

We are seeing the fruits of leadership, systems and a confident goalie right now. The Aeros need to keep that up early next week.

Aeros Beat Peoria 3-2 In OT (A Few Photos)

You've got to love playoff hockey. Especially playoff hockey that goes into OT, and especially when your team is the one that comes out on top. And tonight it was the Aeros who came out on top 3-2 in OT with Carson McMillan netting the puck at the 11:34 mark. That puts the Aeros up 2-0 in the best of the seven. And here's a good note: the Aeros are 5-1 all-time in playoff series when they go up 2-0. I'll come in with quotes and a story later, but I thought I would throw up a few photos from the OT.

This first photo is the closest that I have to Carson McMillan's game-winner. There were a lot of bodies in the area, and this is the closest to a clean shot.

Now we know the puck's gone in because Jon Disalvatore reacts.

Here's more of DiSalvatore reacting. He has spoken to me about how important it is to him to get out of the first round of the playoffs. And the odds of that happening are getting better and better.

Here's a big group hug as everybody skates out to the ice.

And here's Jared Spurgeon, Matt Kassian, and Carson McMillan skating off. I just love the smile on Kassian's face, and it looks like McMillan has the puck in his glove and is kissing it.

Game 2 Prediction, history not on Aeros' side

Response in the playoffs is paramount; it's all part of the cat and mouse (chess?) game that makes this sport so engaging at this time of the year. One team wins, the other makes adjustments and it really is interesting to see what that team does the next time out on the ice.

My opinion is that hockey is the most fun sport to watch at any time. But during the playoffs, even the casual fan is drawn in. Peoria has to win this game if they want a chance in this series. Going home down 2-0 will force them into the mentality that they'll have to win all three games just to get a chance at advancing.

I've said it before, and I will say it again: that would not be impossible, just not likely.

Historically/statistically, whatever ... if the Aeros win tonight, they are all but a dead lock to win the series. In 17 years - 15 of which included the postseason - they have never lost a series where they took a 2-0 lead at home. Once, they won the first two road games at Chicago in 2000 and then lost the next four.

But history also says they will not win tonight, and that is my prediction as well. Ten times before the Aeros have won Game 1 at home. Six of those times they drop Game 2. Statistically, that is not all that bad, but I think this series will go seven games and the Rivermen are going to steal at least one here in Houston.

Tonight is the night, and I say 3-1, Peoria with Jake Allen getting the No. 1 or No. 2 star of the game. Predicitions are nothing but senseless fun, what is your prediction for the game tonight? What about for the rest of the series?

Another feel-good hockey story

This is a great read. I think we need to hear these kinds of stories as we settle down to follow our favorite teams for the playoffs.

Synopsis: boy with medical problem loves team. teams moves. boy wants to be in the city with his favorite team. No-luck parents have problems getting work and getting new house. Charlotte Checkers give family new house.

Sports are big-business and sometimes fans are the casualties of that business. But sometimes the "corporations" do tremendous good for the community.

Here's a big hats off to the Charlotte Checkers for this story.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Today Could Be The Most Important Day Of The Series

That title might be a bit melodramatic, but there is some truth to it. The Aeros played a very good game of hockey last night, getting over some early nerves before getting aggressive and dominating puck play.

Jed Ortmeyer told us after Sunday's game that some of the most important time during the playoffs comes between games. It's about the mental and physical recovery. About putting the last game behind you, not getting to high or too low, and getting in the mindset to go back out and play another game that, just happens to be the most important game you've played that season.

The hard thing, he said, is for the youngsters to realize that it's a best-of-seven series. If you win, you've still got three more wins to get. If you lose, well, you're still good, unless it's game seven.

That said, the Aeros are on the plus side because they got that game one win last night. They're in the driver's seat for this series. And now it's important to make sure they stay there. Which means that they cannot allow Peoria to accomplish it's main goal of these first two games, and that's getting a split.

"“We talked about that,” Ortmeyer said. “When you’re a road team, their goal is to come in here and get a split. And that’s a win for them, especially having three in a row at a home. But for us, we can enjoy this game, but we have to come to work tomorrow and be focused. We have to have a better start, and play with the same intensity and same discipline that we played tonight and make sure that that game on [Friday] is a turning point for this series, for sure, going in there for three. We’ve got to be focused and ready.”

Mike Yeo also spoke about the importance of denying Peoria the split, but I'm going to make you go over to the Press to read that. Needless to say, Peoria is gearing up for tomorrow, and their aim is going to be doing anything possible to get a win so as to gain the advantage going back to Peoria.

So that brings us to today. And how the Aeros adjust to last night and prepare for today. There are some veteran guys in the Aeros locker room. Guys who have been through this before. So let's see if they can guide the team through this minefield.

Rivermen played "their worst game of the year?"

Reports from the Peoria side of the barn are in, and Rivermen head coach Jared Bednar said things went south quickly after the Aeros tied the game in the first period.

"We started freewheeling, went off on our own agendas," he told the Peoria Journal-Star. "It was one of the worst games we've played this year, if not THE worst."

I don't know about that. They were a few bounces and missed open nets away from tying the game and/or taking the lead in the second period. At the top of their to-do list for Friday will be to stay out of the penalty box. The Aeros are going to grind them down with three good lines, so if Peoria wants to even this thing up, they are going to have to stay out of the box and score a couple of PP goals of their own.

The PJ Star's Dave Eminian also reported that defenseman Tyson Strachan and winger Stefan Della Rovere missed the third period with upper body injuries. They NEED those guys in order to have a shot in this series. Eminian said Peoria played "bewildering defense," and I think that has a lot to do with the Aeros depth and ability to play within their system.

Some of those missed chances were just Peoria missing chances. But some of them were missed because the Aeros were taking their space away and forcing rushed chances and bad angles. We'll see how this all pans out Friday. In closing, here is an interview with Della Rovere after Peoria's Game 1 loss at Houston:

Aeros 4-1 Over Peoria (WIth Some Photos)

The Aeros tonight played one of the best games I've seen the team play this season in their 4-1 game one win over Peoria. They dominated puck possession for most of the game. They were hitting. Attacking. This is the type of game that Mike Yeo wants his team playing on a consistent basis.

Before we go further, here is Heather's game story.

Heather has the quotes in her story -- I'll have some in my story in the Press tomorrow. And Andrew really hit the good points in his post below.

Yeo, Hackett, and Ortmeyer were all in agreement that the team was a bit nervous to start the game, but that once Peoria scored that goal everything just fell into place.

Once again, we witnessed a fantastic performance on the part of Robbie Earl who just continues to raise his level of play. And what a great game from the Gillies/Peters/Ortmeyer line. And Ortmeyer's second period goal was just one of those things where I turned to Heather and Andrew to ask if I just saw what I thought I saw, only they were turning to me to ask that same question.

Here are some photos from the game. First off we have a shot of Jed Ortmeyer, which I really like, and which happened by pure accident.

Here's a photo of Matt Hackett taking a brief moment to relax late in the third period.

This is the end of the game.

Here's Robbie Earl getting a moment of recognition as the second star.

And for the second game in a row, here's Warren Peters as the number one star.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

View from the Press Box - Aeros take 1-0 lead against Peoria

I can just about promise you that Dean Arsene won't be minus-2 on Friday, and Graham Mink REALLY wants that stupid penalty back that he took right in front of the referee with the game tied 1-1.

Earl's goal started a series of events that led to a dominating win over the Peoria Rivermen, who will have to win four of the next six games to beat the Aeros in the playoffs for the first time.

The Aeros won the game 4-1 and lead the series 1-0 because of timely goals and the ability to respond when maybe they didn't have close to the kind of start they really needed. But, as they did so many times later in the year, they fought back, rebounded after Cracknell's goal just 76 seconds in, and dominated the game.

The Gillies, Peters, Ortmeyer line was beautiful tonight. Hackett rebounded nicely after allowing the early score, and the Aeros kept the Rivermen off the board by sending them to the penalty box time and time again. If you want to know how to beat Peoria, this is the game you want to play.

Sure, the Aeros were far from perfect. The Rivermen have a great penalty kill and after Earl scored, the Aeros got off just three shots on their remaining five power plays.

The Aeros have won six straight series in which they have won the first game, and they improved to 17-10 all time in Game 1s. They are 12-3 in such games at home and are 2-0 against Peoria in Game 1s at Toyota Center.

The Aeros better be ready for an all out blitz on Friday. Peoria knows that going home down 2-0 pretty much means they are going to have to win all three of their home games. While such a feat is not unprecedented, it is not likely.

Fans, you saw a great hockey game Wednesday night. It would be most enjoyable to see it repeated in less than 48 hours.

Aeros vs. Rivermen - Head to Head

Here is a quick look at some head to head statistics that might give you an idea of which team is strong in what department. The one glaring area where the Aeros trail is both playoff experience and Calder Cup experience. Peoria has three key players with AHL Cups: Graham Mink, Dean Arsene and Nathan Oystrick.

Overall Record
Edge, Aeros (46-28-1-5) over Peoria (42-30-3-5)

Home Record
Edge, Aeros (21-16-0-3) over Peoria (20-16-2-2)

Road Record
Edge, Peoria (22-14-1-3) over Houston (21-16-0-3)

Goals For
Edge, Aeros (240) over Peoria (223)

Goals Against
Edge, Aeros (212) over Peoria (218)

Power Play
Edge, Aeros (20.2 percent) over Peoria (19.5 percent)

Penalty Kill
Edge, Peoria (84.8 percent) over Aeros (81.0 percent)

Penalty Minutes
Edge, Aeros (16.1/game) over Peoria (20.1/game)

Record in one-goal games
Edge, Aeros (21-8-1-5) over Peoria (19-7-3-5)

Predictions for this series
Heather Galindo, Pro Hockey News/T3I - Rivermen in six
Andrew Ferraro, Houston Chronicle/T3I - Aeros in seven
Patrick Williams, The Hockey News - Rivermen in seven
Dave Eminian, The Peoria Journal-Star - Aeros in six or seven
Shaun Bill, Pro Hockey News - Rivermen in five
John Royal, The Houston Press/T3I - Aeros in six

Only one of us predicted a series shorter than six games, but that is exactly what is going to happen if one of these two teams gets down in a 2-0 hole. That three in three looming next week pretty much guarantees a six or seven game series if these guys split this week at Toyota Center.

Ultimately, I think the Aeros have the upper hand because of their depth at forward and a confidence that I have seen in no Aeros team since 1999. Even the 2003 team had a few glaring holes and the Wild even made their big playoff run that year. Guys like Ortmeyer and DiSalvatore and Noreau seem to be hungry. Players like Robbie Earl and Chad Rau are just getting better all the time. And, with the return of Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella, this team is solid on the blueline.

This is going to be a great series, but neither team should be able to dominate because of the unfortunate scheduling in Peoria.

Letter from Dave Andrews - No more four games in five nights

You can read the letter here, but good news for AHL fans.
No more four games in five nights, as next year's AHL schedule will be reduced by four games to 76 regular season games.

This is a tremendous development, a positive thing for EVERYONE (players, fans, coaches and bloggers).

The AHL regular season schedule will last a week longer, and the first round of the playoffs will be reduced to a best of five.

The only potential negative with the latter is the formatting of that five game series. To save money like the ECHL does, we might see a 2-3 format, which benefits the lower seeded team. That will all be hashed out later, though.

Here here to the AHL for getting this right!
We'll try to get some comments on this from Mike Yeo after Game 1 tonight.

The Playoffs Begin; Game 1 tonight at Toyota Center

NOTE - now updated with Game 1 notes (scroll to bottom) from www.theahl.com

This first-round series is about two really good teams with a chance to go all the way in 2011.
Peoria was built to win and win big. As the year wore on the Aeros added to an already talented roster and found two pieces (Ortmeyer and O'Sullivan) that make them one of the most dangerous teams in the postseason.

The Rivermen started hot, and limped in to the playoffs. They did earn their way in, but they were under .500 in their last 40 games. The Aeros have been on fire since New Year's Day. They have the momentum, and for now the health and depth to get this done.

To me, the wild cards are the two rookie goalies. Jake Allen was amazing up until the New Year. He'll get the bulk of the playing time with Brontosaurus Ben Bishop out. For the Aeros, Anton carried the load until traded, and now Matt Hackett is the No. 1 goalie in H-town.

I hope you will take a look at and comment on my two stories on chron.com today. The advance story looks a bit deeper at the two teams and has some decent quotes from Ortmeyer (John used some of the same for his piece yesterday). The matchups article breaks down the basics, and I even provide for you a prediction: Aeros in seven games.

Big picture wise, I cannot recall a year where so many teams have a good case for going all the way. Just out of the West alone, Milwaukee, Houston, OKC and Lake Erie will be interesting to watch. On the right coast, Charlotte, Wilkes-Barre and Hershey will make some noise too.

And in the NHL; wow. Anaheim/Nashville will be fun. Even Chicago/Vancouver will be a bit more interesting than it looks on paper. Look for the Red Wings to go down in Round 1, and out East? Will Washington choke again? Are the Bruins for real this time? Will Tampa Bay do some damage?

No matter how you look at it or who you cheer for, the next nine weeks or so are going to be absolutely fantastic!

Aeros vs. Peoria; Game 1 notes

Game 1 – Peoria at Houston, 7:05 p.m. - Toyota Center
Both back in the Calder Cup Playoffs after missing out in 2010, second-place Houston and third-place Peoria kick off their West Division semifinal tonight at Toyota Center… These teams are meeting in the first round for the third time in the last six years, with the Aeros prevailing in a four-game sweep (2006) and a seven-game marathon (2009)… Houston was just 2-5-1-0 through its first eight games of the 2010-11 season but collected points in nine of its next 10 outings (7-1-0-2) to climb into playoff contention for good… Aeros captain and former Rivermen forward Jon DiSalvatore led the team in goals (28) and points (61) while playing all 80 games; DiSalvatore’s career-high 28 goals marked the eighth consecutive season in which he scored at least 20… Former AHL rookie of the year Patrick O’Sullivan led the entire AHL in scoring after the All-Star break with 41 points (16-25-41) in 29 games… Houston rookie goaltender Matt Hackett, who assumed the bulk of the workload after Anton Khudobin was dealt to the Boston organization at the NHL trade deadline, finished 23-16-4 (2.37, .916) in 45 appearances overall and went 8-3-0 in his last 11 outings down the stretch… Peoria posted a 4-1-1-0 mark in April to secure a playoff spot and climb to third place in the West… Three-time AHL All-Star T.J. Hensick paced the Rivermen with 69 points (21-48-69) despite playing only 59 AHL games in between NHL recalls to the St. Louis Blues… Graham Mink, who netted a team-best 24 goals (24-26-50), is a two-time Calder Cup champion (2006, 2009) with the Hershey Bears… Peoria forward Nicholas Drazenovic closed the regular seasons by scoring a goal in three straight games (3-1-4) and six of his last eight (7-1-8)… The Rivermen finished in the AHL’s top 10 in both power play efficiency (19.5 percent – eighth) and penalty-killing efficiency (84.8 percent – sixth).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Fearless Prediction: Aeros in Six

So I should probably do one of those preview, prediction things for the playoff series starting tomorrow. I hate writing those things, but what the hell, right?

For those interested, I think the lines will look like this.

1. Almond, DiSalvatore, O'Sullivan.
2. Wellman, Earl, Rau.
3. Gillies, Ortmeyer, Peters.
4. Palmer, McMillan, Kassian.


1. Noreau, Bagnall.
2. Spurgeon, Falk.
3. Prosser, Scandella.

But I reserve the right to be very wrong about all of that.

I'm sensing this gloom and doom from the fandom, and I can't quite understand why. I understand the Aeros had their difficulties with the Rivermen this season, but the worst of it came during the first two months of the season when the team was still figuring out itself and Jed Ortmeyer and Patrick O'Sullivan had yet to arrive.

This team has some incredible depth with two lines of legit goal scorers. The third line with Peters/Ortmeyer/Gillies can work the spaces and put the puck in the net, and with Kassian healthy and teamed with McMillan -- I'm guessing they'll be teamed up -- the team will have some physical guys who can make sure Patrick O'Sullivan and Robbie Earl won't have to fear for their heads.

The defense has been troublesome lately, but there have been injures and there have been a lot of guys up in the NHL. So with the addition of Spurgeon and Scandella, I think things will be much better.

Everybody seems to be worried about the match ups with Peoria. And Mike Yeo and the guys will be worrying about that as well, and how to manage them. But here's the thing, the important thing for the Aeros is their game. They need to concentrate on their game, on doing their thing. It's along the lines of what Jon DiSalvatore talked about last week. The team has to concentrate on those things that it can control. And what it can control is the way they play on the ice.

It's also like Yeo said on Sunday. Just do things the right way and things will work out.

"We’ve got guys that are going to go out and do things the right way, but I think we’ve got a great understanding of what our game is," Yeo said. "I think that we should have confidence going into game one that if we go out and play our game, then the right things are going to happen."

And the thinking has to be in line with what Jed Ortmeyer told us. It's about how the team handles itself after the game that's most important. How they recover, and how they focus. And it's that message he's preaching to the kids.

"It’s the first one to win four," he said. "You need to understand that you’re not going to win every game, and you can’t get too down on it. It’s about recovery – mentally, physically. And being ready to go for the next night. You never want to lose two in a row, so for us to instill that on these young guys and the rest of the group will help us to go a long way."

And yes, I know you're all worried about Matt Hackett. Just remember, you were all worried about Anton Khudobin two years ago, too. The guys believe in him, and he one of those guys who, if he gets in a zone and gets his confidence then he could be very very good out on the ice for a nice long run.

So my prediction? The Aeros win it in six, on home ice. But I could be wrong.

Throwing a few more articles at you...

Just a little cross promotion here if you guys don't mind:

I wrote my playoff preview for my own mothership, Pro Hockey News, so if you're interested, it's right here. Now, don't go flying off the handle when you see my prediction.

I'm generally of the opinion that predictions are pointless, particularly in a series like this where both teams are very strong in a lot of the same ways. In all honesty, I think it could go either way quite easily, so I picked Peoria to hopefully get some reverse mojo going.

But Peoria's game does honestly scare me a bit. I think the Aeros are going to have to be very patient in wearing them down and very tough and determined to win all those puck battles.

I think a lot also rides on goaltending. Ben Bishop is out with an injury and nobody's saying when he's going to be back. If he misses all or most of round 1, then I think that makes the series favor Houston. Jake Allen's a good goalie, but I don't think he's that much better than Hackett, and their backup isn't as good as Tordjman.

And in that 3 in 3 stretch next week, I'm not sure you want to play the same goalie all 3 days. That's a real grind, mentally and physically.

So yeah, I said Peoria in 6, but I'm never right about anything, so don't sweat it.

Here's a link to the Peoria side of the series preview. 

Also, here's my story at InGoal Magazine (which, if you're into goalies, is just chock full of goalie goodness every single day) on the media day skate with the Aeros coaches and a few players. That was a lot of fun and I appreciate the chance to get whiplash watching pucks fly past me into the net. :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lots going on today in Aero Land

Today the Aeros practiced at noon in advance of their first-round playoff series against the Peoria Rivermen.
They are 8-3 all-time against Peoria in the playoffs and have knocked the Rivermen out of the AHL playoffs the only two teams that side has qualified.

The Aeros swept as the favored team in 2006, the first time O'Sullivan was the team's best player. Then, in 2009, the Aeros upset the Manny Legace-led Rivermen in seven games.

Also today, Todd Richards was dismissed as Wild head coach
. That was not a surprise at all. I don't know if Todd will get another crack at the NHL anytime soon. Likely path will have him back in the AHL, probably sooner than later.

And then here is a great read from a Houston Chronicle blogger about Matt Kassian's role as a practicing Christian off the ice. For those of you who don't know, Matt's mom, Mary, is a Christian author and motivational speaker. Matt leads a bible study for the guys that want to participate, and here is my favorite quote from the read:

"The Lord says, 'Ask and you will receive,' so there's nothing wrong with asking for a win," said Matt Kassian. "Sometimes the Lord says yes, sometimes he says later and sometimes he says no, but the Lord has his hand in everything. It's tough because you want to feel like you're in control of how things turn out."

On a personal note, that is how I feel, too. My belief as a Christian is that I am not in total control. When I realize that - like when my baby daughter has two open heart surgeries - the pressure is off for focusing on the things that I need to focus on.

(Like being a better Christian in the first place.)

But I digress.

Some Game 80 Photos

I took some photos, of course, but instead of game action, I've got some other items. For instance, here's one of the team fans with her sign, at the glass after the game.

This photo below is one of my favorites. I just wish it wasn't through the glass. But I think the whole arena could see Jed Ortmeyer's smile after this goal. We asked after the game, and he noted that this was part of a joke that he had with Patrick O'Sullivan. Primarily, whenever's he on a line with O'Sullivan, he gets a goal.

And here is Robbie Earl. I think we've written nice things about Robbie this season, but I don't think we've said enough about just how good he's been this year, and how much he's elevated his game. I can't believe some of the defensive plays -- when he stole a puck off another guy's puck -- I saw him make in the third period.

Here's number two star Chad Rau bumping fists with Chilly.

And here's the game's number one star, Warren Peters, getting his moment in the spotlight after the game.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Aeros To Face Peoria; First Game On Wednesday

Sorry, I've been handling stuff for the mothership, and booking travel, so this is a bit delayed....

The Aeros put on a rather impressive performance today, defeating the Barons 6-3 in for win number 46. That number, Mike Yeo told us after the game, was the win total the team set for themselves on the day of game number one. So well done.

Today's game was more impressive when you consider that they still have many key players in Minnesota. Key players who, according to Yeo, will be arriving in Houston in time for practice tomorrow so they can be reintegrated into the team. Returning will be Jared Spurgeon, Max Noreau, Drew Bagnall, Carson McMillan, and Colton Gillies. Marco Scandella was already here, but though he's been injured, he's been skating with the team and will be ready to go on Wednesday.

The Aeros opponent will be the Peoria Rivermen. Games one and two will be in Houston on Wednesday night and on Friday. Games three, four, and five will be in Peoria next week. And, due to building availability issues in Peoria, the Aeros will be, are you ready for this, playing a three--in-three. That seems fitting though, that the Aeros would play a three-in-three (this will be the only opening playoff series featuring a three-in-three by the way). The games will be on Monday, April 18, Tuesday, April 19, and Wednesday, April 20. Should there be a need for games six and seven, they will be in Houston Friday, April 22 and Sunday, April 24.

Yeo said the team is healthy, and that it got through today's game with no further injury concerns.

And keeping with the precedent we set when T3I got underway, we will be in Peoria for games four and five -- well, we're still waiting for the Aeros to get us the media credentials, but all of the travel and hotel stuff is set. So stick with us for continued playoff coverage.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Brief Playoff Update (Saturday Night Edition)

As noted in the comments to the post below, Milwaukee defeated Peoria tonight. That means that the Admirals are officially the West Division's number one seed. And since they'll finish the season with the most points in the Western Conference, they'll have the home ice advantage throughout the Western Conference rounds of playoffs.

Oklahoma City meanwhile, defeated the Stars. This clinched the last remaining playoff spot in the Western Conference for the Barons. And since the Stars lost, there is no way for them to catch the Aeros in points, so the Aeros are officially the number two seed in the division, and will have the home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

What is not yet known for sure, is just who it is the Aeros will be playing in the first round. Peoria's season is done. They'll finish with 92 points. Right now, they're the fourth seed, and will face Milwaukee. With one game left, Texas is in third with 92 points, and Oklahoma City is crossing over to the North Division since they're in fifth with 91 points.

If the Barons beat the Aeros tomorrow, and if the Stars lose to San Antonio, then the Barons will leap frog Texas and Peoria and become the third seed, and they will be the team that Houston faces in round one. But if Texas gets the win tomorrow, they'll be the number three seed, no matter what, and they'll face Houston. If both Texas and Oklahoma City lose, then Peoria should have the tie breaker on the Stars which makes them the number three seed, which would mean the Aeros would face the Rivermen in round one.

And if Texas loses in OT or the shootout and OKC wins, that causes a tie between those two teams. And if Texas loses in regulation and the Barons lose in the shootout, then there's a three-way tie between Peoria, Texas, and Oklahoma City, and, well, frankly, my brain hurts.

All you need to know is that the Aeros are officially the number two seed and will be hosting two playoff games next week, probably on Wednesday and Friday.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Brief Playoff Update

The Stars and Rivermen won their games tonight. With those wins, both teams clinched playoff spots. Texas defeated Milwaukee, which means that Milwaukee has yet to clinch the one seed in the playoffs, which means that it's still possible for the Aeros get to spot.

The Aeros have yet to clinch home ice for the first round because it's still possible that the Stars can tie them when it comes to total points. And there's still one final playoff spot to be decided as Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Chicago are still battling with Abbotsford for the crossover spot into the North Division.

A Barons win over the Stars tomorrow night cements the number two seed, and home ice for the first round, for the Aeros. The Oklahoma City win would also guarantee that they get the cross-over spot. Milwaukee goes to Peoria tomorrow night, and if the Rivermen can defeat the Admirals, then the Aeros, amazingly, would still be in the fight for home ice throughout the Western Conference playoffs. The win would also guarantee that Peoria would be at least the four seed and not crossing over to the North. And the Rampage and the Wolves will be playing each other and hoping that OKC and Abbotsford lose.

Confused? I am. Kind of. But know this. If the Aeros can find a way to win on Sunday, then no matter what happens the rest of the weekend they will be the number two seed and have home ice for the first round.

Corey Locke, AHL MVP

Congrats to former Aeros Corey Locke who, today, was named the AHL's Most Valuable Player. He had a tremendous season with the Aeros several seasons ago, and he was a good guy for us to deal with in the locker room while he was here.

Congrats, Corey.

The Aeros Prepping For The Playoffs

My story in the mothership today is a brief primer on the Aeros being in the playoffs while taking a quick shot at the mediocrity of the rest of the city's professional teams. But my space there is limited, and there's a lot of important stuff that I didn't get to go with, and which, quite frankly, works a lot better over here.

So while the team was having it's media event yesterday -- hey, look, TV cameras -- I spoke to Jon DiSalvatore and Mike Yeo about the team's play the past couple of week and Yeo falling on the grenade and blaming himself because he stressed the wins instead of the process. We also spoke a bit about prepping for the playoffs and about how you can prep for the playoffs when what seems to be 3/4ths of the team is in Minnesota.

DiSalvatore thinks the big problem during the Oklahoma City series and the games that followed were that the guys got too caught up in all of the different playoff scenarios and started paying too much attention to the numbers and not enough to what they were doing on the ice. But he thinks it's something they've corrected.

"I think that what was happening is that we were just getting focused on some of the numbers games – there’s been a lot of number crunching that goes along with such a tight division – we kind of looked at some of those and maybe made some of those a little bit of a focus as opposed to the process and the fundamentals of our game that we needed to get to," he said. "But I think the last two games of the weekend we did that.

"The game in Milwaukee, we had a really solid start, and I think we were really happy with the start, and it just kind of fell apart for us a little bit. But then we really pulled it together in Chicago, and we got to a place we were really happy with going into this week and moving forward."

And I got Yeo to talk a little bit more on what he meant last week when he took the blame for stressing wins and points instead of stressing the system and the process. Essentially, with the quote to follow, he wants the guy's focusing on their shift. He wants them to win their shift, win their play. He wants them controlling the things they can control and not worrying about the bigger things.

"I think mentally, when you go into a game, it’s all good and well if things are going to according to plan," he said. "Maybe you score that first goal and you have a lead and things are going well. When you have that type of approach. But where I think that successful teams and good teams really separate themselves is the ability to get it done when things aren’t going well and you have to do a better job of focusing on your game and the little things that make you successful.

"When we went into those games, we were thinking about winning and getting points. If the other team scored first, or if we got a bad call in the second period, it really took us off our game and we lost our focus from there. But if we just concentrate on the focus, and the process as we like to say, and the next shift, and the next guy just going out and doing it the right way, we found it a lot easier to get back to our game."

The team was running through a full practice yesterday, which was kind of strange to watch seeing as how a lot of the guys who will be playing playoff games last week aren't actually with the team. Yeo said he was focusing yesterday, and he wants the focus on Sunday, to be on sharpening skills and getting the execution back after no games this week. Of course, that can be a problem with players missing, and Yeo addressed that issue.

"Certainly, chemistry-wise, our line combinations and power play units, everything is different because those guys are up there. So even on a day like today, when we’re working things, there’s different guys on the ice than they’re going to be playing with in game one of the playoffs. I think that one thing that we do have is a lot of consistency in the way we play the game. Line one is going to go over the boards and they’re going to play the same way as line two, line three, and line four. Because of that, I think guys can fill in different positions and read off of each other better than if we didn’t play quite as structured a game or as much of a team concept that we have."

I've spoken with DiSalvatore in the past, and one of the things he's talked about is that making the playoffs is great, but he's never made it past the first round and he would really like to advance. So I asked what he was telling the young kids, and about what he's seeing from the team.

"There’s a lot to that [to not just being happy to get there]. I know from my [experience] I get to share with the guys, it’s not every year. Just because you make it here the first time, and you’re on a team that’s special, it’s not every year that you get on a team like this. With the turnover in this league, it’s a special group, and it’s something that you want to take advantage of, and not take for granted thinking that every year you’re going to be on a group that has the potential to do what we have to do.

"Obviously it’s one game at a time, one series at time, and we don’t want to look too far ahead. But that’s kind of the thing you want to put to the young guys. But the young guys are just going to do what they do. They almost don’t care, which is kind of a good thing going into the playoffs. They’re just free."

It's going to be interesting to see what the team does on Sunday. Despite all of the call-ups, the two primary scoring lines are intact -- knocking on wood -- and Matt Kassian is back, which will hopefully offer up some protection for Patrick O'Sullivan and Robbie Earl. But some of the team's key defenders are in Minnesota, and the Barons really got to Matt Hackett. It's entirely possible that Sunday's game will mean absolutely nothing to the Aeros. Yeo has said he wants to go full out on Sunday because he doesn't want the guys thinking they can just flip a switch when the playoffs roll around, but if the seeding and home ice and opponent issues have been settled by game time, it's worth wondering, isn't it, whether it's really worth risking the health of some of these guys against a team that went hunting heads for last time out.