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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Some eye candy for Ms. Conduct

Here is the link to the Training Camp feature I wrote for the Houston Chronicle yesterday. They even sent a photog out to camp, and he took some great shots.

The article features about 30 of those pictures and I few, including this one,  that I think Heather will really enjoy.
Photo by Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle

On the road to OKC

Tomorrow is the first of two road preseason games for the Aeros. Friday, it looks like the young guns are going to carry the bulk of the lead against the Barons. And according to the Aeros' Pilot to Gunner Blog, the vets will get their crack at the Stars on Sunday in Cedar Park. The following is a quick look at how the lineup will look tonight. This is from Pilot to Gunner; they've changed their look, and if you don't follow them already, you should.


Forwards
Kris Foucault – Chad Rau – Justin Fontaine
Greg Stewart – Carson McMillan – Mike Kramer
Matt Marquardt – David McIntyre – Mike Bartlett
Mike Hoffman – Joel Broda – J.P. Martignetti
Extra Forward: Aaron Boogaard


Blueliners
Chay Genoway – Kris Fredheim
Kyle Medvec – Sam Lofquist
Jamie Fritsch – Wes O’Neill
Extra D: Tyson Dowzak


Goalies are Darcy Kuemper and Dennis Endras


I had a nice 15-minute sit down with Aeros coach John Torchetti after practice Wednesday. He is ready to go, and has been ready to go since the rookie camp. Then he got MORE ready to go after Traverse City, Then he got ...well, you get the idea. 


He said right now it is hard because the guys get two preseason games and then they have to wait a week before they play another game. Then they have to wait another week to play yet again. The AHL slate is like that just about every year, so it's not a surprise to see so few games early on. But when you are itching to get things going and wanting to see what you've got to work with, I can understand the (good) anxiety. 


We also talked a little about when the team would make its first cuts and how many players he'd like to have for Game 1. He was understandably vague on those fronts, and he said right now there was still no news about any AA (CHL/ECHL) affiliation. He politely deferred to Jim Mill, who is coming down this weekend for camp and the preseason games. 


I hope to talk to the big boss after Sunday's game, and maybe we'll have more of an update on those fronts. 
Until then ... 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Aeros turn things up a notch...


Monday was for intros and more players started trickling in on Tuesday. But today, the Aeros got down to business with a nice practice, followed by a break and then a hard-fought green vs. red scrimmage.

Just two days before their first preseason game against the OKC Barons, the Aeros worked through a little bit of everything. 2-on-1s, faceoffs, breakouts - you name it, they did it. And right now is the time when everyone looks big, everyone looks fast and everyone knows what they are doing with the puck.

Former Aeros defenseman Steve Jacques attended, and those words came right out of his mouth. I talked to Aeros PR guy Rich Bocchini and play-by-pay man Joe O'Donnell. All looked to be in mid-season form, based on the number of ice cream sandwiches missing from the inventory.

(I tried to get a picture of that, but I don't want to give away TOO many team secrets. Instead, I hope you like my arsty iPhone picture of the stick rack .... )

But on a serious note, Torch was raring to go and had the boys at a pleasing pace well before the first player left the ice.

"That was a really good pace we had out there today," said Torchetti. "We have to keep the guys sharp. I was really happy with them today. Right not is is about getting the systems down and seeing what the players can do."

Two guys that stood out to be were forward/defenseman Mike Hoffman and Mike Kramer. Both goaltenders looked good during the scrimmage, and unless I missed anything, Kuemper didn't let anything by for the green, including a great stop on Jon DiSalvatore.

Speaking of Sal, I talked to him before the scrimmage, and he said expectations are way up top for the team that includes a key group of returning players.

"All of the pieces are there, and then you add another year of maturity to our defensive core and our second and third-year guys," said DiSalvatore. "We’re all really excited about the personnel and the foundation."

The team will practice tomorrow, bus to OKC and spend the night. I assume they'll skate there Friday morning in advance of the first preseason game Friday night. I did not get a great look at the lineup, but it looks like the main veterans will be hanging back for this one.

A lot of the fringe guys, especially those on tryout, will get a chance to shot what they've got against the Barons.

A few assigned players had not yet made it done. Missing Wednesday were veteran Jeff Taffe and rookie Kris Foucault. Both are expected soon, and Foucault should be ready in time to catch the bus to OKC.

That is all for now; I look forward to hearing your thoughts and expectations for the 2011-12 team.

Non offensive Funny of the Day - Pun Intended

Every morning I try to read as much hockey news as possible. Without fail, this time every season produces some big laughs as far as headlines are concerned; this year is no different.

Check out this headline from a Northern Colorado paper about the signing of a new player for the Colorado Eagles. You can always tell when the interns are getting to re-write teams press releases. To be fair, we're talking about the ECHL, so many of the TV interns actually do a better job.

This is an exception:


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Some familiar names on Camp List

The Aeros released their training camp roster today, and there are some interesting tryout names on there. The one that sticks out the most is RW Aaron Boogaard, who will wear No. 29 at camp. This is not his first camp with the team, but it is his first since the death of his brother and former Aero Derek. The Wild say that want to help him get his hockey career back on track. We certainly, too, wish him the very best of luck.

Some other names on the camp roster include (camp number in parentheses)

D - Wes O'Neill (2)
D - Mike Hoffman (32)
F - Greg Stewart (10)

F - Matt Marquardt (11)
F - Mike Bartlett (21)

To be sure, these are depth guys, but they all have AHL experience and could be on the short list of players that will be on the final 23-25 guys that make the Aeros.

Wes O'Neill spent some time in Bridgeport last year, but Aeros fans may remember him from his days with the Lake Erie Monsters. He is a tall blueliners (6'-4") and had his best year two seasons ago with the Monsters. In three years in Cleveland, O'Neill scored four goals added 24 assists in about 150 games. Definitely a stay-at-home guy.

Mike Hoffman is an veteran guy that played in Germany last season. (This is not the Mike Hoffman that played for the Calder Cup Champion Binghamton Senators last year.) This Hoffman is another big, tall d-man that has bounced around quite a bit in the AHL. Before playing overseas, he's suited up for AHL Cleveland, Toronto, Manchester, Portland, Chicago and Hartford.

Greg Stewart and Matt Marquardt spent some time last season with the Oklahoma City Barons. Stewart is a veteran AHL winger, a tall (6'-2" LW) that has never put up 20 points in a season. He is tough, and his best year was his 07-08 campaign with the Hamilton Bulldogs. That year he scored 10 goals and finished with 137 PIMs. Last year in OKC, Stewart finished with 16 points in 74 games and recorded 108 PIMs. Marquardt is a former 7th round pick of the Blue Jackets, and he is another guy that's had a few OK seasons in the AHL. Last year with the Barons, he scored five goals and added seven assists in 63 games. Before OKC, Marquardt played for Springfield and Providence.

Mike Bartlett's name should sound familiar, too. He played for the Milwaukee Admirals last year, so maybe Jerina can give us the real scoop on this guy. Looks like he's bounced around in the AA level for awhile before a pretty decent run with the Admirals in 10-11. He had 18 points during the regular season before putting up a pretty decent playoff run with Milwaukee. In 13 playoff games, he scored two goals, added three assists and added 8 PIMs. Those numbers were well above his regular season averages.

Not all of these guys will make the team ... but these are definitely five players to keep an eye on in the two weeks of training camp.

(Just a quick update here on the status of Jordan Hendry. As many of you already know, he did not make the  cut on his tryout with the wild. The organization, however, is working on a two-way deal with the veteran defenseman. Heather reported that the other day, so this is definitely another training camp story worth watching.)


Training Camp Roster

From the ace Aeros staff, we get a peek at all the players vying for a spot on the Aeros roster, or even just hoping to make a good showing in order to get a call-up during the season from the CHL or ECHL.

Here's the list of players at training camp this week:


#
Skaters

2
Wes O'Neill
D
3
Jamie Fritsch
D
5
Jeff Penner
D
7
Kris Fredheim
D
8
Kyle Medvec
D
10
Greg Stewart
LW
11
Matt Marquardt
LW
13
Kris Foucault
LW
14
Jon DiSalvatore
RW
16
JP Martignetti
F
19
Jarod Palmer
RW
20
Chad Rau
C
21
Mike Bartlett
RW
22
Jeff Taffe
C
23
Tysen Dowzak
D
25
Warren Peters
C
26
David McIntyre
C
27
Carson McMillan
C
29
Aaron Boogaard
RW
32
Mike Hoffman
D
36
Mike Kramer
F
37
Justin Fontaine
RW
39
Chay Genoway
D
41
Jed Ortmeyer
RW
52
Sam Lofquist
D
56
Joel Broda
LW
61
Tyler Cuma
D



#
Goaltenders

31
Matt Hackett
G
34
Dennis Endras
G
35
Darcy Kuemper
G

Aeros Training Camp Schedule (Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center unless noted)
Weds., Sept. 28 - 10:15 a.m.
Thurs., Sept. 29 - 10:15 a.m.
Fri., Sept, 30 - Preseason game at OKC (7 p.m.)
Sat., Oct. 1 - 6 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 2 - Preseason game at Texas (5 p.m.)
Schedule subject to change

--------------------------------------------------------

I bolded ones that seem to me to be pretty sure bets to be on the team out of camp. A few guys, like Almond, Wellman, Kassian, Bulmer, and Bagnall are still up in Minnesota either injured (Kassian, Almond, Bagnall) or playing some more pre-season games. 

Not much room on the roster for extras, as you can see. 9 (+4 in MN) forwards, 5 (+1 in MN) defensemen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Aeros Training Camp starts TODAY

I'm not sure whether to say, "Can you believe it's here finally?" or "Can you believe it's back already?" Dunno about you guys but I'm still getting over last season, though every day I get a little more ready to tackle a new season.

But today I'm ready, especially now that I'm done moving into a new (to us, old otherwise) house, which has drained me dry the last couple of months. The serendipitousness of all that settling down the day training camp starts isn't lost on me. Thank you hockey gods and house gods....

We haven't gotten a training camp roster yet to see who's been invited in, but camp will be kicking off with the majority of the big players already in Houston, which is the first time I've seen that since I started covering the team.

But Yeo wants "his team" and only his team up in Minnesota to get them firing as a unit before the season starts. It's kind of a bummer for the guys who miss out on another week of NHLer perks, but the benefit of having most of the "glue" guys here from the start of Aeros camp can't be understated.

(Update: I added Kyle Medvec, who I left off below, and Russo reports that the Wild/Aeros are signing Aaron Boogaard to a two-way AHL deal. Aaron, if you aren't familiar with him, is beloved former Aero/Wild Derek Boogaard's younger brother, and has spent a good chunk of his career in the Penguins system.)

Here's a little on the guys coming down from Minny, some of whom you know, some you don't:

Kris Foucault (foo-coh): Left Wing, sizeable guy fresh out of Juniors (Calgary Hitmen). Here's some video of him:


David McIntyre: Center, second year pro, 30 points with the Albany Devils last season and a Colgate graduate. Solid follow on Twitter if you're into it: http://twitter.com/DaveJMcIntyre

Carson McMillan: Center, third year pro, bad ass. You know him, but maybe you didn't know he played with Foucault for the Hitmen back in 08-09.

Jarod Palmer: Center, second year pro. 9 goals last year, most during a hot streak at the beginning of the season that I completely jinxed. Scout's honor, no more asking players about their scoring streaks. Maybe I'll start asking about scoreless streaks and see if the jinx works in reverse.

Chad Rau: Center (think the Wild have a Center fetish?), third year pro, 40 points last season and just keeps getting better. Lady Byng-worthy discipline with only 14 PIM in 84 games (through regular and post season play).

Tyler Cuma: Defense, when his knees are healthy. If you're the praying type, pray for the kid's knees. Love to see him get through a whole season healthy. Should be an asset having him back on the blue line again.

Chay Genoway: Defense, small (5'8") offensive minded. First year pro. I think the hope is that he fills the rather large void left by Max Noreau's departure. Genoway was the fourth highest scoring defenseman in the history of North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey. Was also captain of the Sioux hockey team.

Kyle Medvec: Defense, tall at 6'5", so imposing presence with hopefully a long reach, which I find delightful in defensemen. Just finished his college career at the University of Vermont. Believe he's a stay at home guy. 

Darcy Kuemper: Goalie. Adorable. Won every award possible for his final season with the Red Deer Rebels (WHL). But he's got an uphill battle for a spot in Houston, as Dennis Endras and Matt Hackett are also headed for Houston and Darcy has the least experience of the three. He may get to enjoy the porous defenses of the ECHL for some or all of this season.

Matt Hackett: Goalie. Showed tremendous growth last season and plays a consistent game for such a young guy. Took on a huge load after Khudobin was traded last season and went (almost) all the way with it. His spot in Houston is secure barring a major setback. Will be interesting to see how he handles not being the clear #1 here (because I don't think he will be if Endras is here).



On waivers for the purposes of sending them to Houston are:

Jon DiSalvatore: Right wing, Aeros Captain past two seasons, career year thanks to teaming up with Patrick O'Sullivan on the top line half of last season. He's on the second season of a 2 year deal.

Warren Peters: Center, versatile and gritty with enough scoring touch and hockey sense to make the third line a threat every shift. Also on the second season of a 2 year deal.

Jed Ortmeyer: Right wing, Mr. Clutch. Anything seems possible when Orts is in your locker room. Just when you think you're over-romanticizing his effect on the team, he does something awesome to remind you why you feel that way.

Jeff Taffe: Center. Jim Mill's answer to "How can we do this again without Patrick O'Sullivan?" Dude can straight up score goals, has deep AHL experience, and has gotten NHL call-ups pretty much every year he's played in the A.

Jeff Penner: Defense. Small guy with similar PP quarterbacking abilities to Noreau, so the Aeros should be set on the offensive defenseman front between Penner and Genoway. We got a brief look at him at the end of the season, but I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do when he's not just thrown into the mix mid-season like last year.

Dennis Endras: Goalie, with 3 years of pro experience in the DEL with the Augsburg Panthers. I think the Wild is nervous about having two very young goalies in Hackett and Kuemper as their only insurance against a major injury to Backstrom or Harding. Endras is a solid, sharp goalie and if he's on board with being in Houston (he paid a visit late last season to check it all out), he should be a real asset to the Aeros and push Hackett to stay hungry.

Signed to an AHL deal is:

Kris Fredheim: Defense, and one of my favorite defenseman last season because I almost never had to think about him. And if you're thinking about stay at home defensemen too much, they're probably not doing their jobs. It's a thankless role, so lemme just say, "Thanks, Kris! I really think they should have thrown you a two-way deal."

Potentially signed to a two-way deal is:

Jordan Hendry: Defense. He was trying out with the Wild and the expectation is that, if he's game, he'll sign a two-way deal to provide depth for the Wild and be a very good stay at home d-man for Houston. Young guy still, but with a good deal of NHL and AHL experience under his belt. We'll let you know as soon we hear anything further on that.

So, these guys and a several more should be on the ice starting at 3 p.m. today down at the practice rink in Sugar Land. Hitting the 100 degree mark today, so skip out of work early and check the boys out while you cool off.

Hockey is BACK!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Buc-ees preseason spectacular!

Man, has it really been three weeks since anyone posted a damn thing on this blog? Ms. Conduct moved, I have a new baby boy and John ... well, he's working really hard right now. The summer is flying by and hockey season is less than a month away. The Wild start training camp soon, so there will be cuts and news that affects the Aeros in the not-so-distant future. Things will pick up, I promise.

There are a few things that are worth mentioning before camp(s) start, so I will give you those and my reaction here.

First, one notable name on the Wild's camp roster is Jordan Hendry. He was on the 'Hawks Stanley cup team a couple of years ago, and Aeros fans might recognize him from the Rockford IceHogs. He is just on a tryout, so it remains to be seen what he will do if he does not make the Wild. My guess is that he'll sign a two-way deal. Russo had this to say on his blog about two weeks ago.

I think he'd be an OK stay-at-home veteran guy for the Aeros. The battle for the blueline jobs in St. Paul will really be fun to watch this year ... talking about the fringe guys, too. Could be some tough decisions for Yeo & Co. in the early goings.

Secondly, the Aeros will not have a home preseason game for the second year in a row. (Last year, they had one scheduled, but something that makes the ice work and stay safe failed ... ) The Aeros will play one game at OKC on 9/30 and then wrap things up at Texas on 10/2. Home preseason games are far less exciting for us media types because there never seems to be ANY communication between the front office and SLICE folks about where to put the media. Three years ago, I sat in a closet (it had a window) to watch the game with Brent Hughes, who, at the time, was the coach for the Corpus Christi Rays. Sometimes we sit in the stands, and one time I was the announcer for the green vs. white scrimmage game. I think that was the year the Aeros played their preseason games in San Antonio in Beaumont and Laredo.

I think having a home preseason game is far more important for the hard core fans, and I hate to see them go without. It's also nice to have a warm-up game for the game ops people that will surely give us much to talk about on this blog.

I know this is pie in the sky, but I really wish they would do a round-robin preseason "tournament." You get all four teams to play each other in two locations and you rotate the locations every year. You get to hype up what otherwise would be a meaningless set of games and you could get the fans competitive juices flowing a bit early.

Let's say Cedar Park and San Antonio are the "host cities" ... you could do all the games in three days. No team would have to pay more than two nights at a hotel and that is the key, I think, to making this work.

2011  Buc-ees Preseason Spectacular Schedule of Events





Friday, Sept. 30
Game - 1: Houston at San Antonio, 7 p.m. - Ice Center at Northwoods
Game - 2: Oklahoma City at Texas - 7:30 p.m. - Cedar Park Center

Saturday, Oct. 1
Game - 3: Oklahoma City at San Antonio - 7 p.m. - Ice Center at Northwoods
Game - 4: Houston at Texas - 7:30 p.m. - Cedar Park Center

Sunday, Oct. 2
Game 5: Houston vs. Oklahoma City - 3 p.m. - Ice Center at Northwoods
Game 6: San Antonio vs. Texas - 7 p.m. - Ice Center at Northwoods


Everyone gets three games and you could actually have a mini competition with standings. You get media out and a chance to hype up what would otherwise be a forgotten weekend in the news cycle.

Some might call this a bit too much work for the preseason. Maybe it's too costly and maybe you risk injury with a third game. To me, I think it is well worth the risk and think the preseason games would benefit the on-ice product for the early part of the regular season, too.