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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year, Jed

Happy New Year, Jed Ortmeyer. You're the newest contestant on the Minnesota Wild wheel of recall.

Orts has been recalled to the Wild as Jarod Palmer is placed on the IR. Good for Orts, but damn it Wild, stop hurting your players already.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kassian To The Show

The call-up express that is the Minnesota Wild continues today as Matt Kassian has been called up to the Wild.  Jon DiSalvatore, who played last night, is on his way back to Houston. 

Does anyone know if the guys on the Aeros roster get to keep their frequent flier miles on United/American/Southwest/USAir/Delta from all of the trips back and forth to St. Paul?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pascal Morency injured in scary accident

Former Aeros winger Pascal Morency (he was a call-up several times from ECHL Bakersfield) was injured in a non-hockey related incident and will miss the rest of his season in Europe.

A Chris Jerina photo
Bridgeport writer Michael Fornabaio gives us the scoop here, and you can get more of the details from the sites he's linked to.

Basically he fractured his skull in a fall and is out for the season.

We certainly wish him a speedy recovery and offer a quick prayer for his life being spared. He's married and has a young son; hockey should be the furthest thing from his mind right now.

Godspeed, Pascal!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

DiSalvatore and Prosser Called Up To Wild

One of the things John Torchetti was lamenting after last night's 2-1 OT win over the Rampage was just the lack of continuity with the Aeros.  What with the injuries and call-ups, it seems as if the Aeros have new players, new line combinations, and new lineups seemingly every game, which makes it difficult for the guys to settle into patterns and learn the tendencies of their linemates.

It was hoped last night, what with some guys having been recently returned, and four days between games, that the Torchetti would be able to get the actual Aeros out on the ice, get lines back to what they were supposed to be when the season started, and get some continuity to the team. 

That's not how things are going to be however. 

Jared Spurgeon was knocked out of the Wild lineup last night be a vicious hit into the boards, so the phone call came down to Houston.  On their way to St. Paul are Jon DiSalvatore and Nate Prosser.  David McIntyre tweeted last night that he hopes to return to the lineup soon, but otherwise, there may be some more guys from the ECHL/CHL joining the team this week.

For you Wild fans, be nice to DiSalvatore.  He's the team captain, and he does all of the little things that help your team win. This year, he's been sacrificing points so as to get the dirty, unrewarded stuff handled, and he's a great locker room guy.  Here's a piece I wrote on him for AHL.com about a month ago.

And if there's anything we can ask for the New Year, it's that the Wild get healthy and become, once again, the Minnesota Wild, and not the Minnesota Aeros as I've seen them referenced in some places, because that will be for the better of both clubs.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Aeros Defeat Rampage 2-1 (IN OVERTIME!!!!!)

The Aeros did the unthinkable tonight.  They got the overtime win.

That's right.  You read that correctly.  The Aeros got the overtime win tonight, defeating the San Antonio Rampage 2-1 for their first OT win since March 15, 2011.  And boy, did it feel good.

"It's not even the New Year yet, so that's a good sign," head coach John Torchetti said shortly after the victory.   A victory powered by a pretty Jeff Taffe goal at 1:03 of the OT that came from the left of goalie Jacob Markstrom and was set up by a beautiful Jon DiSalvatore cross-ice pass from down low.

The Aeros tied the game in a most improbable fashion, scoring on the power play at 13:40 of the third period, Chad Rau taking a rebound and lifting it over the shoulder of Markstrom.

"It was good to see our power play," Torchetti said.  "It did a good job, got a big goal.  Got us back in the game, changed momentum.  I thought we played more of our style in the third."

The lone goal for the Rampage came at 3:31 of of the second period when San Antonio's Michael Caruso at mid-ice, hit the puck off of a stanchion and the puck flew past Hackett.  It was one of the goals that can kill a team, and in weeks past, it probably would have killed the spirits of the Aeros, but the veterans were back from Minnesota, and they were out in full force, as if willing the team to victory.

"Our leadership was fantastic tonight down at the end.  All of our leaders played huge roles.  Ortmeyer, Almond.  Strong penalty kill.  [Hackett] played big, Hack kept us in the game in the first."

The Aeros (17-6-2-7, 43 points) moved back into second place of the AHL's West Division with the win, bypassing the idle Abbotsford Heat, and they're one point behind the first place Oklahoma City Barons.  The Aeros return to action when they travel to San Antonio to face the Rampage on Friday night.  The Aeros return to Houston next year when they host the Barons on Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 5:05.

Taking A Look Back

The Houston Press loves it in when I do lists.  So for today's post, I take a look back at the year in Aeros hockey in list form.  Hopefully you'll enjoy it, and hopefully, it'll bring back some good memories.  (And yes, I use a photo from the bikini contest to open the post, but that's because I know that, with most readers at the press, a woman in a bikini is going to grab their attention, and I want readers).

So give it a read, let me know over there if I forgot anything, and let's see everybody tonight at Toyota Center.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Some Prodigal Sons Return

It's a Christmas Miracle...the Wild have reassigned Jed Ortmeyer and Jeff Taffe to the Aeros.  This means that a) either the Wild are actually getting healthy, or b) they're going to try some different Aeros next week.

Aeros return to action on Monday night when they host San Antonio at 7:05.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guns And Hoses

I heard someone ask last night about the Guns And Hoses intermission contest, and they wanted to know when it was scheduled.  Well, the annual tug-a-war on ice between Houston area fire and police departments will be this coming Monday night.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

And The Winner Is: The Bikini Contest Part Two

So here are the pictures from the second intermission, in which Miss Aero was crowned. Personally, I'm in lust with the young lady in the first photo, and I could swear that I remember her from last year's contest (yep, that's her on the far left of photo one). The winner is crowned in photo four, and poses with Chilly and the former Miss Aero in the final photo.


And what do you know? Heather was wrong. The winner wasn't a tall, leggy blonde.

View from the Press Box - Texas 3, Aeros 2

I thought the Aeros were going to send this one to overtime. They created, they buzzed, and they even worked a few passes up to the point.

But Tyler Beskorowany played a tremendous period and hockey game, sending the Aeros to back-to-back regulation losses for just the second time this season.

I thought the Aeros were OK in the first, and even though the shots favored the Stars, the Aeros won that period. Different story in the second.

Three huge, egregious mistakes cost the Aeros any chance of winning the middle frame. Cody Almond scored a pretty short-handed goal to give the Aeros their second lead of the game, but the last four minutes of the period were so horrific that ... that ... well, I will let Torchetti tell you how it went.

"We gave up one goal (the first one) behind the net; we had the puck twice right there. On the second goal, we were in the neutral zone, we went for a home run play,which we never do. Then on the third one, it's another neutral zone play, we needed to pull up there, but we didn't, and that made it a 3-on-2 off the shot and we lost our coverage. Just details, and it cost us two points tonight."

That pretty much sums it up right there.

Another point I would like to make is that the Aeros just keep playing worse the longer this injury saga lasts with the mother team.

Torchetti will not use that as an excuse; he just says that the players getting those minutes need to play better mentally. Well, they don't, and it gets to the point where Torchetti says, "OK, no more free ice."

I guess we'll see come Monday, but who can you afford to sit when Taffe, Wellman, Peters, Ortmeyer and Palmer are all more than 1,000 miles away?

Cody Almond's Shortie In Photos

The Aeros may have lost 3-2 tonight, but Cody Almond got them a short 2-1 lead at 16:06 of the second period on a sick short-handed goal. And as luck has it -- trust me, it was luck -- I have the photos of the goal.

I've got to go now, they're trying to pull the Toyota Center wi-fi on us, so look for more Bikini Contest photos later, and Heather should be writing a story on the game which will be posted later, as well.

Part One Of The Bikini Contest

Yes, tonight was the Miss Aeros Bikini Night Contest. And here are the photos from the first round of the contest. As Heather mentioned on Twitter, there was a "wardrobe malfunction" and I did get a photo of it. But I'm a gentlemen and I won't post it, despite the urging of Heather.

FYI: Check out the third photo and see if you can figure out what Chilly's looking at.

I'll post the photos of the winner, and of Cody Almond's sick second period short-handed goal later tonight.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rampage goalie gets down en route to 4-2 win

I know many of you do not have Twitter, so I am going to share this on our blog. The AHL is full of great characters, and we have several good ones on the Aeros (Matt Kassian, for example) ... But Jacob Markstrom  might be an instant celebrity thanks to this video from San Antonio's 4-2 win over Texas on Sunday.

Watch, enjoy and be sure to give him the business on 12/26 when the Rampage visit next Monday.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Aeros Do The Patriotic Things And Lose To The Americans

The Aeros saw an awful lot of this tonight, Matt Hackett, back turned to the bench, with the Americans celebrating a goal.

The good news tonight:  the Aeros didn't lose another game in the shutout.  

The bad news:  the Aeros lost 6-3 to the Rochester Americans, the team with the worst road record in the AHL.  And if not for a burst of scoring in the first five minutes of the third period, the score would have been much, much worse.

There's not much positive to say about this game.  Matt Hackett surrendered five goals on just 18 shots, including two first period goals while facing just six shots.  The problem wasn't entirely Hackett's as his defense was, for most of his two periods in the game, non-existent.  

More than anything, this game seemed to indicate, though not stated by John Torchetti afterwards, that the rash of injuries in Minnesota, which in turn is taking Aero after Aero away from Houston, is really just messing with the team.  Jed Ortmeyer and Chad Rau are the latest guys to catch a flight up to the big club -- this time, I believe, they had to fly to Vancouver to meet up with Mike Yeo and the guys.  Cody Almond came back down, and Aaron Lee was brought in from Rio Grande Valley to fill out the roster.

But just because there are guys injured in Minnesota doesn't mean that the Aeros should just be expecting to get free minutes on the ice because nobody else on the team is available -- every healthy player suited up and played for the Aeros tonight.  Torchetti made it clear that he's not happy with some of the things he saw on ice, and he was clear that there will be some roster changes forthcoming.

"You're getting free ice," Torchetti said.  "And some guys need to get some nights off.  That's going to be the bottom line after this next game.  It doesn't matter how many guys are called up.  We'll call up some guys from the other leagues that want to play hockey every night.  Some of these guys are getting free ice."

The Aeros did score first, taking the early 1-0 lead, but less than a minute later, the Americans tied it up.  Then Rochester scored just before the end of the first period to make it 2-1.  They scored 46 seconds into the second period, then made it 4-1 eight minutes later.  And by the time the Aeros skated out for the third period, with Darcy Kuemper taking over goalie duties with the Aeros down 5-1, it really just didn't matter.

Sure the Aeros showed some life in the third and made it look halfway respectable, but in the end, respectable doesn't cut it.  

The Aeros return to action on Wednesday night when they host the Texas Stars at 7:05.  And for the interested, Wednesday night is also the Miss Aeros Bikini Contest, so come out for that if not for the hockey.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:

That was the Aeros first regulation loss since losing in Toronto on December 3rd.  And it was their first regulation loss at Toyota Center since losing to Abbotsford 5-3 on November 10.  The loss also breaks a six game streak of earning a point.

With the loss the Aeros dropped into second place with a record of 16-5-2-7 (41 points).  The Barons grabbed a point in their shootout loss to Charlotte, so they're now 20-7-0-2 (42 points).

Facing A Face-Off

So kids, have you ever wondered what's it like to be part of a face-off? Well, since the Aeros are losing 3-1 midway through the second to the Rochester Americans, and since there doesn't really appear to be much worth talking about in the game, here's a few photos from the first period of Carson McMillan taking a face-off.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stop Me If You've Heard This One

The Aeros made it to the shootout tonight. Again. They lost in the shootout. Again. Final score 3-2 with the Barons getting the two points. The Aeros are tied for first (points wise) with the Barons, both having 41 points, though the Barons get first place because of a better winning percentage.

Aeros are 0-7 in the shootout this season. The record for consecutive shootout losses, courtesy of the AHL, is 0-8 by the 2008-09 Iowa Chops who finished the season 1-10 in the shootout for the season.

The Aeros return to Toyota Center to take on the Rochester Americans at 5:05.

Post Win Glow and Quotes

Ahhh.... everything is better in life when your team plays well and gets a decisive victory over a rival like the Stars. Your problems are a little smaller, your hair looks a little better, you feel a little smarter. It's been a tough week at Casa Conduct, so I appreciated this game tonight more than I expected to.

Mainly because I really thought the Aeros were in trouble this weekend. Luckily, they benefited from a week of practice time together and a little bit of rest and healing up and they were more cohesive than I can remember them being in a while. It helped that the Stars played into their hands and let the Aeros dictate the pace (except for those 12 minutes in the second that Andrew mentioned where the Aeros DIDN'T dictate the pace).

And how nice to see Ortmeyer back. Can we sign him to a "until you retire" deal? I think Torchetti would agree; as Andrew mentioned, he said a lot of really nice things about Orts and DiSalvatore after the game that I'll share a little later.

And Hackett... boy was he a confident one tonight. Entertaining to watch him be so loose. Reminds me of the couple of games after Khudobin was traded. Just had this extra kick in his game that's both sexy and terrifying. Shades of Brusty. That's pure compliment.

Didn't love Medvec's misplaced, post-whistle chippiness as he played forward, but thankfully the ref was calling almost nothing tonight (bless you!), so it didn't come back to bite him. Careful...

How freaking sick was that Rau goal?! Nasty nasty nasty. He deked 3 defenders and the goalie practically to Pasadena on that thing. It was a master class in absolutely taking over a moment in a game and just shoving it right up their noses.

And then Kassian with a laser right over Besko's blocker side. Nice shot, and no reaction from Besko to stick an elbow up or something. Guess he though Kass couldn't aim. Wrong-orowany, big guy.

Finally, yay for all the teddy bear tossing fans. Damn, that's so much fun. I pleaded with the ice crew to just leave the bears and let them pile up for a bit so we could enjoy the spectacle but I didn't win that argument. I guess the game has to go on. Fiiiine.

Before I forget, Wednesday's game is the Bikini/Miss Aeros/Whatever game, so if you're into that sort of thing, come see the tall blonde one win, like the tall blonde one always does. My favorite part is the always insightful interview portion of the evening.

"What do you like best about Houston Aeros hockey?"

"ALL THESE AWESOME FANS!!!! WOOO!!!!"

Oy.

Anyway, here are those quotes I promised from the always wonderful Coach Torchetti.

On Matt Kassian's goal streak:

"He's got to understand that he's got to be able to play. I mean, tough guys have to play in the NHL; they just can't play 3 minutes or 2 minutes. They have to be effective on the walls, they have to forecheck, they have to chip pucks deep, and that's what we're trying to get him to understand now. It's time for him to really be a 2-way player and be a tough guy, too... He's playing a lot of minutes, and he deserves it because he's working his butt off."


On Jed Ortmeyer:

"He's everything that a Houston Aero is. Character, he's a leader, he's physical. He does every little job possible and never says a word. Low maintenance, high character and just a great player to teach. And that's what he brings every night and that's what all these young guys should learn to be like, just like him."


On Jon DiSalvatore and his lack of scoring, but still playing as well as ever (after trying to figure out who "Jon" was that Andrew was asking about. "I don't know him as Jon, I know him as Sal"):


"Sal is what Orts is but he's got a C on his shirt. He's not worried about points. He knows that we need him to be a real strong defensive player, and he plays the system to a T, and that's all you can ask of your captain.


I know I probably take away points because I want him to play more defensively and, he doesn't have to worry about points. We know what he does on and off the ice. He's unbelievable in the locker room, and he keeps that locker room real straight.

And he keeps everybody understanding that, you know what, it's a privilege to play here. You don't just show up and win a hockey game. You have to play hard every night. We're trying to build our team towards the playoffs. So we want to play that type of hockey every night. That's the commitment that we get and you can tell it's because of our leaders."


That's it folks. The boys are leaving bright and early for OKC tomorrow, then back to Houston for Sunday afternoon's game vs. Rochester. Haven't seen those guys much, so it will be fun to get a gander at the Amerks.

Friday, December 16, 2011

View from the Press Box - Aeros 4, Texas 1

Well it was bound to happen sooner or later, but the Aeros finally beat the Texas Stars at home. Save for a bad 12 minute stretch in the second period, the Aeros controlled the game and probably could have scored two or three more goals. What stood out to me tonight was Jed Ortmeyer in his first game after missing six. He played well and helped set up Genoway's Teddy Bear goal. I thought Jeff Taffe recovered from a pedestrian first period. I really hope he turns things up a notch in the next few weeks. Broda's one-timer goal to make it 3-0 was a beaut, and you have to give credit to Justin Fontaine for threading the needle with that pass. The Texas defense has to knock that out of the way, but I am not going to lie ... I am glad they didn't. Hackett was one bad bounce from getting a shutout in his first game back. That goal by Fraser, I thought he had all the way. Just wasn't meant to be ... he seemed a little overly confident, but I guess he very well should be after his showing in the NHL last week. Glad to see him playing well (again) ... Things that won't show up on the scoresheet are all the shots Jon DiSalvatore and Ortmeyer blocked tonight. Jon was as solid defensively as I can remember, and he has really played above and beyond where he was last season. Sure, the points aren't there right now, but right now, Torchetti is asking him to play more defense, and he is doing that. Torchetti has some real nice quotes about he and Ortmeyer, and I hope Heather shares those with you on here later. In closing, I have to say the Aeros are real interesting this year. With all that is going on, it is so hard to beleive that for the next day or so, they will be the top team in the AHL. And if they can somehow figure out how to beat OKC tomorrow, they could stay that way for a bit. Oh, and to whoever hit me with the teddy bear tonight after Genoway's goal ... thank you. I am going to keep it tonight, and take it home to my two-year old. She will give it to someone who really needs it this holiday season. I tried to take one of hers and bring it to the game, but Ellie would not let me. She could not decide which of her "friends" to part with. It sure was fun having that conversation before I left.

Goalie of the Week

As you know, Darcy Kuemper was named the AHL Goalie of the Week for last week, after going 2-0-0-2. So here he is tonight, with Aeros president David Burke, being presented with his award. Congrats, Darcy.

Teddy Bears On Ice

We're in the middle of the game, Aeros up 3-1 with 8:11 left in the second. But I thought you might want to see some teddy bears on the ice, courtesy of Chay Genoway's power play goal in the first period.

Game Day Update - Aeros vs. Texas

I have to give John Torchetti some credit. The Wild organization is in the middle of its worst-ever rash of injuries, and the new coach never seems bothered about all the talent that is missing from the lineup.

Part of me thinks he's frustrated beyond belief, and he just doesn't want to say anything. But another part of me thinks he really is calm about the whole ordeal because he's got real good goaltending at his disposal.

The Minnesota Hospitals keep dropping like flies, and it looks like the Aeros are going to lose at least one more forward today before their game against the Texas Stars.

This kind of reminds me a little bit of what happened to the Ottawa and Binghamton Senators last year. Early in the season, a lot of guys got hurt and they kept getting hurt. Bingo never really had it's full roster until the playoffs, and we all say what happened when they had everyone together.

That was a scary-good playoff team.

And now, with the Aeros 11 games over .500 and with a ton of overtime/SO loss points, they have some breathing room. If Kuemper keeps playing as well as he has, the Aeros can win games 2-1 (or keep losing in the shootout). So long as the defense and goaltending keep getting better, the Aeros will have a fighter's chance while the work around the recall of Warren Peters, Casey Wellman, Cody Almond and the injured Jarod Palmer, Jed Ortmeyer and Dave McIntyre.

While I don't have much of a feel for the game tonight, I do think Saturday is an automatic loss at OKC. Sunday could go either way with both teams playing a third game in three days. Rochester has several players on recall to the NHL, and they are not very good away from home.

Back to tonight ... the last-place Stars are 2-0 against the Aeros at Toyota Center. But they are without Bachman, their clear-cut No. 1 goalie. Tyler Beskorowany has played the last five games for Texas, and he is 3-2 with all three wins coming against first-place teams (Charlotte and OKC).

For some reason, I think the law of averages play out here, and the Aeros get a win. I think they lose Saturday and pick up a at least a point on Sunday. I have no idea why I am this optimistic with all the regulars out of the lineup, but over the last several weeks, they just keep finding a way to get points.

Why should this weekend be any different?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Aeros lose another shootout, 3-2 to Peoria

Sorry for the late post gamer. Got caught up eating dinner and watching DVR'd episodes of Dan LeBatard is Highly Questionable (LOVE that show) and nursing a headache. You understand, right?

But frankly, the urgency wasn't there because we've seen this game before right? Like 6 or 7 times now? I guess the difference is that the Aeros actually put some pucks in the net on the shoot out, but I think Kuemper's gonna need a few shootouts to get better at them.

The Hensick goal, Walking Sunshine bit first and the game in shootouts for the goalie is to let the shooter make the first move. WAAAAY easier said than done but it was one of the extremely rare moments where he looked like a rookie. I remember when Hackett used to show a little more wetness behind the ears in shootouts, too. It's just something that gets better with experience at this level.

And other than that, he was the only reason this game wasn't 3-1 or 4-1 or, I dunno, EIGHTEEN-1.

Look, I appreciate that with a very thin roster, offensively, you have to just play a safe game. And I think that's why we're finding them stuck in the defensive zone for what can often feel like one long power play. So, for now, getting points is good enough in my book.

Though Joe tweeted after the game that Warren Peters made the interesting comment that, as long as the team is earning points, it's difficult to learn any lessons from the losses. That's a wise observation and something that's sort of flickered through my mind when we talk to Torchetti after these kinds of games.

But, speaking of Torchetti, it sounds like he anticipates some players coming back healthy and for him, the real issue is that guys aren't having to battle for ice time. The team is literally playing every healthy body on the roster and, if we assume that Palmer's absence tonight was an injury (honestly we forgot to ask afterward and Rich "didn't know"), if Taffe hadn't come back, they would have to call someone from ??? or play a man short. Oy.

At some point, you have to admit that there's some pretty significant adversity here, but it's hockey and nobody likes to admit to adversity. So, I guess getting the loser point is good enough for now.

But back to Torchetti, here's where he had to say about his irritation with some of the guys:

"Kuemps played a great game for us tonight (but) our whole line up didn't play tonight. We only had about, maybe... we just didn't have everyone going on all gears and we thought it was going to be an easy night. I think we're a little complacent... and that's going to change this week," Torchetti said. "Some guys are going to have to sit in the stands... which will be good."

Some good things happened though: Always great when Matt Kassian scores a goal. He honestly had 3 great chances around the net tonight where I thought he might double it up, but only that one off the terrific pass from Mike McKenzie went in.

Should be noted, BTW, that McKenzie was the other player on the Peter's 2 on 1 that forced Bishop to cheat a little and open up that 5-hole. So, McKenzie's just getting in there more and more as he gets comfortable with this team. Looking forward to more. I know they really liked him in Florida.

Of course, it was also nice to get two whole goals in the shootout. Twice though, Bishop teased shooters with a gaping 5-hole, only for the shooters to hit leg pad when they shot. Ah well. Maybe they were as distracted as I was by this:

Oh, Ben Bishop... do you even know what this does to a girl? (Photo by Chris Jerina)
The boys have 4 days to heal up, rest up, practice some POWER PLAY STUFF FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, and then back at it with games Friday, Sunday, and Wednesday. Meanwhile, if you want to see the Aeros play, just watch the Wild!


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Photos from the 1-0 Win over San Antonio

There was only one goal scored in tonight's 1-0 Aeros win. And that goal was the seventh of the season for Justin Fontaine. (Quick note: the Aeros last won 1-0 on February 13, 2010, a 1-0 overtime win over Grand Rapids).

I thought you would like some photos. I had the camera on Jon DiSalvatore, so what you get is him moving in for a rebound should there be one, his reaction to the goal, then two photos of Fontaine skating for the bench to be congratulated by those guys there.





More on Kuemper's first pro shutout

So, I gave Kuemper a nickname after we talked to him tonight, because seriously, the kid was just beaming. Same thing as two seasons ago when he was here, he just beamed after his first pro win. And now his first pro shutout.

Obviously there's some adrenaline and happy feelings after such a great game, but we've talked to quite a few players after really great games and none have ever come close to being as radiant as Kuemper is.

I personally just felt happier and more positive and nicer having been in his presence. Not only do I enjoy the heck out of his game on the ice, he couldn't be lovelier and more genuine off the ice. 

But as you guys who have been around a while know, it's been a while since I've been inspired to draw. I'll write until the cows come home but bust out the stick figures? Yeah, that's special sauce.

My apologies, Darcy, if this gets you grief in the locker room, but know that they're just jealous. I don't think anybody on the current team has ever inspired a stick figure. It's a rare and precious gift.

So, his nickname is "Walking Sunshine." Because literally, this is what I saw during our post game chat. Just Darcy in his goalie pants and skates and The Glow. Might have to throw a little 50 SPF on Sunday, as I'm quite fair skinned.

Happy Darcy said:

"It's been nice. I kinda got lucky. Hack got called up here, so I've been getting an opportunity to play a lot. I'm starting to feel really comfortable out there and just taking advantage of the opportunity."

How different is the playing style here vs. the ECHL?

"The difference is how crisp it is, and structured. Everything happens so much faster, because everyone's in the right position. And that first game was a bit of an eye-opener for me, but since then I've calmed down, relaxed, and gotten used to the pace. Every game I feel more comfortable out there."

Do you put more pressure on yourself to keep the score low knowing the roster is thin?

"No you can't think about that. You can't worry about what you can't control. What you can control is what you bring to the table every day. You've got to be at your best regardless of who's in the lineup and give your team the best chance to win. And you know, if it's 1-0  or 5-4, a win's a win and we'll take them all."

Are you tired? This is a lot of games.

"In junior I played 60+ the last two years, so I'm pretty used to going a lot. It's nothing out of the ordinary for me."

As far as how much more is going to be on Kuemper's shoulders, the Wild play in Arizona Saturday night and Hackett will either back up or play. Sunday is a day off for them, but I'd be surprised if they sent him back to Houston yet.

I think that will depend on what Harding hears from the team doctors, as he returned back to St. Paul on his own yesterday or today. They expect him to practice Monday but with Kuemps doing fine here, they can afford to keep Hackett up as insurance for the two ailing Wild goalies.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Aeros beat Rampage 1-0, AT HOME!

Well, gang, that was a fun one. Partly because the first period was SUCH a gong show. Both teams were putting on a hilarious comedy of errors, but something told me they'd get it together, and they definitely did.

The longer the game went, the more cohesive the play by both teams. And the lack of penalties made the flow enjoyable, as Ian Croft did his best Jeff Smith impression, God love him. And speaking of penalties, that had to be one of the least contentious games I've seen between these two teams. No fights, just a little rough stuff as San Antonio got (understandably) frustrated that nothing was going in the net.

Which leads me to the star of the night, Darcy Kuemper, who stopped 33 shots for his first pro shutout (he came DARN close in his last ECHL game). The kid just never gives up, has great visual attachment to the puck, tracks it through traffic, through bounces around the crease, and always finds a way to get in front of it.

That said, the team did an excellent job keeping shooters to the outside, clearing rebounds, and cutting off passes to the back door (though he had to make a couple of doozy slides to get them when they did connect). I wish the AHL kept blocked shot records, because I guarantee the rest of the team blocked as many as Kuemper stopped. It takes nothing away from Kuemps to say that the shutout was a team effort. Shutouts always are.

After the game, Coach Torchetti was verging on speechless in his delight at the wealth of goaltending in the organization.

"We know what (Kuemper's) got. He's a special kid. We're very, very, very lucky to have the goaltending that we have in this organization, and the work ethic of (Kuemper and Hackett). Very competitive."

He too, though, gave credit to the team for their role in the win:

"Our guys at the end, though, Peters, blocking shots, we were laying down. That's a lot of hockey for us right there. A lot of people don't think so, but I do. I know I'm tired. They worked. I'm proud. Our goalie did a great job. Special teams came up. We got a win from the special teams, so we're seeing an improvement there. It's just a big win for our hockey team. We don't care who's out of the line-up. We're just gonna keep coming."

 As Andrew mentioned in his post, it was a sure thing San Antonio was going to come at this game with both barrels, and Torch said the team was well aware.

"We understand there's a storm coming, it's just how you handle it. There's another term that we call it (ed. note: Damn these recorders. Love to know what they call it, in the hope that it's something more creative than "shit storm"), but we have to embrace it and understand it's coming."

He went on to talk about how some of the guys who are used to playing 10 minutes are now having to learn to play 16 minutes, 3 games in a row. So those guys are having to learn some lessons in consistency. You won't get to the next level by just showing up.

"We talked about it. And then we found that groove. I thought we did a way better job in the second period pushing the pace, straight up, and getting opportunities.... It's just nice to win," Torchetti said. 

"I thought we were going to the shootout," he laughed.

When asked aboutthe closed door, players only team meeting after yesterdays game, Torchetti said:

"There's a right of playing here. There's no free nights. And that's the bottom line. We thought last night that, overall, we had some guys who thought they were going to show up and get some points. We're playing Oklahoma City. To me they're one of the top teams in the league, night in and night out... That's why we brought in (defenseman Mike) Montgomery. I thought he did a great job for us. He was very good."

We also talked to Kuemper after the game but I feel a stick figure coming on, so I'm gonna go draw that and do another post with his interview.

That said, however, the Aeros are now tied for first place in the AHL, the Wild ARE in first place in the NHL. I think probably the only person whose mind isn't blown by that is Mike Yeo.

View from the Press Box - Kuemper records first pro shutout

Wow ... are you tired?
That is one of the questions Torchetti asked us after that game.
For the record, he said he was tired ... and I can see why.

The Aeros worked their (you know whats) off Friday, and earned two points in the every-so-tough Western conference. OKC just keeps on winning, so the Aeros needed every one of Kuemper's saves just to get out of the building with a win.

Even though they only scored one goal, I thought the offence was much better than it was the day before. I counted two posts and three REALLY good saves by Jacob Markstrom. Friday just might be the first of many good battles between those two over the next couple of years. That kid is really good, too.

Players blocked shots, and when they didn't Kuemper get the scrambly plays from making too big a difference. The Rampage has to be frustrated. They played about 100 times better than they did Tuesday and still got no so soup.

After losing 6-1 Tuesday, you knew San Antonio would come out flying. They did, and the Aeros survived the first period and won because of Kuemper and a pretty Justin Fontaine power play goal.

The Aeros get some much needed rest before Peoria visits on Sunday. That game will be a real test. The Rivermen loaded up on a bunch of high scoring vets and really haven't done anything with that talent. It will be interesting to see where their give-a-damn is after a 3-1 loss tonight in OKC.

Peoria is slumping big time right now, and they should be way better than they are. Will nice to finally be able to see them up close in the team's first meeting since last year's playoffs.

Enjoy the weekend, folks ... we'll talk more on Sunday.

Weekend Preview - Aeros vs. Rampage/Rivermen

I wish I could read this team better. I really do. I know their head coach, John Torchetti, feels the same way.

He says he has no idea why they are so much better on the road. He says he has no idea why they cannot (even come close) to winning an overtime game. He says he has no idea why they can't play a full 60 minutes on home ice.

Except he did give us a pretty darn good reason in his postgame comments on Thursday. Lineup continuity, or, more specifically, the lack thereof. I think he wondered aloud as to how many games this season they have had the same lineup.

Before I say anything else, we have to give Torchetti and Jim Mill their due. How this team is among the top three in the AHL is beyond me, given all the circumstances. They found the right guys to play the right way (hmmm, kind of like the team about 1,000 miles due north.)

Right now, the team is missing Matt Hackett, Nate Prosser, Casey Wellman, Cody Almond, Jeff Taffe, Dave McIntyre and Jed Ortmeyer. And yet they keep playing well enough to earn points even when they are not at their best.

They rise to the occasion despite faltering special teams and losing player after player after player.

They have lost eight of their 12 home games, and yet they are still have a ton of points and are in the top 10 in attendance. Why? Everyone is stepping up, and they have some of the best goaltending in the league. They are playing well enough not to lose, and they have taken advantage of the weaker teams when they have played them.

I would be a fool to say, for sure, that the Aeros were going to have a letdown this weekend. Yet deep down, I just don't see how they can keep it going. I would also be a fool to say, for sure, that they could earn four points against the Rampage and the Rivermen.

Injuries and call-ups are part of every AHL season, but usually they are spread out a bit more. The Wild have been extremely unlucky on that front, and that has tricked down to the Aeros. Seven regulars are out of the lineup, and six of them will be out for the next week or so.

That is going to make it tough this weekend and on the rest of this homestand.

But how can you pick against them when they keep getting points and staying right at the top no matter what is thrown there way.

Just imagine how fun it could be next spring when/if the Aeros have most of these guys in the lineup.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Aeros At The One-Third Mark

Let's give them something to cheer about.

After today's 2-1 shootout loss to the Oklahoma City Barons, the Aeros have now played 1/3rd of the season. While they're tied with the Barons with 35 points for first place (record with 14-4-2-5), it's probably safe to safe that nobody's entirely happy with the team's play, especially at home.

So after today's game, we asked John Torchetti about the team at the 25-game point, the play of Darcy Kuemper, having a roster full of new guys, etc.

On the play of the defensemen;

"You know what," he said. "Bottom-line is, our defensemen need to get the puck to the net. Our defenseman have got to do a better job breaking out. It doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup now. You’re in the American Hockey League. You want to get to the National Hockey League. You’ve got to be disciplined. You’ve got to come and be consistent every night, and that’s the difference in winning and losing. It cost us a point tonight."

[SNIP]

"All of it. Their D were just trying to shoot to get rebounds. Our D was trying to score. We don’t need to score from the point. Your job is to get the puck to the net. When you’re trying to score that means you’re going high, and that’s not going to work."

As for the state of the team as of game 25.

"I don’t know what it is, yet. I’d probably get a little better idea, but I don’t know if we’ve had the same lineup, twice. I know our team cares. I know it competes. I know it’s got good character. I know it wants to get better every day. And it’s our job to make sure we push them to that so that they’re ready to go to the NHL. And I hope they understand that that’s the main purpose behind our coaching staff.

"We don’t like to give up points to anybody. These are points that might decide home ice to whatever round it is because you know you’re going to be playing top teams you’re going to be playing them, and they’ll [OKC] be one of the top teams."

On the play of Darcy Kuemper, who joined the team on the last road trip.

"He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. We’re very spoiled here with our goaltending, I can tell you that. Very, very happy. He works hard, though. He comes to work in practice. He wants to start in every game, and that’s what you want. He doesn’t like to be scored on. He’s got all of the characteristics of [Matt Hackett]. He’s a bigger goalie. He takes up a lot of the net, but he’s really detailed. His movement’s good, and he’s in position for the second shot. I thought he was the difference in the game for us, to get a point tonight."

It's easy to be disappointed with the team. But I tend to agree with something else Torchetti said. The team is getting points. They might not get two points every night, but one point is better than no points, and of 25 games, there are only four games in which the Aeros have failed to get a point.

There are improvements that need to be made. Some of the play probably needs to be tightened up. Then again, the Wild, as seemingly happens every year, are full of injuries which have necessitated call-up after call-up after call-up from Houston. And the Aeros themselves are suffering injuries to key players. Jed Ortmeyer's suffering from a lower body injury, but his return appears to be more imminent than the return of David McIntyre who is suffering from an upper body injury.

So that's 25 games down, and 69 51 more to go.

Some Game Photos

I haven't done much with the photos this season, but I went down and took a few this afternoon and I thought I would share. So...

This first picture is of Tyler Cuma pushing the puck up the ice. Coach John Torchetti wasn't too happy with the D play today. He wants them pushing the puck up the ice. He wasn't happy with what they were doing with the puck, though. He doesn't want them acting as shooters. He wants them to put the puck on the net and let what happens happen. A d-man shooting the puck for a goal goes high, and he doesn't want the puck going high. He wants the rebound.


Here's a shot of Matt Kassian trying to get to some clear space on the ice.


Here is the result of one of the teams's scoring attempts in the second period. Which means there was no goal scored on this play.


This is Joey Martin, one of the new kids who has arrived in the past week or so due to the injuries in both Houston and Minnesota. Torchetti singled him out during our post-game presser and was very, very complimentary.


And here's Carson McMillan, one of the walking wounded who has just returned to play.

Aeros Lose 2-1 (Again) In Shootout (Again)

We'll put some quotes up later, but...The Aeros lost to the Barons this afternoon by the score of 2-1. The Barons scored in the second period, and it looked like another home loss for the Aeros until Jarod Palmer got a wraparound with 2:00 left in the third to tie it.

Neither team scored in OT, which means the shootout. And the Aeros are awful in the shootout. The Aeros actually scored once in the shootout, and it was Warren Peters getting the puck in the net. But nobody else had any luck and the Aeros got the loss.

For a day game, it was kind of quiet. The kids seemed to be at a lower pitch -- I didn't even wear my ear plugs in the third period. And neither team, to me, seemed to have any energy. So can we please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please stop these damn kiddie games, especially after most of them had left the arena before the third period was over.

With the shootout loss, the Aeros move to 14-4-2-5 (35 points) for the season, and as of right now, they're tied with the Barons for first place.

The Aeros return to action tomorrow night when they take on the Rampage at Toyota Center at 7:35.

P.S.: Jeff Taffe was unavailable today because he's been called up to the Wild, and if Cal Clutterbuck can't go for the Wild tonight, then Taffe might end up getting some action. And David McIntyre and Jed Ortmeyer are still aways from returning to action.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Aeros add McKenzie and Nolan to depleted roster

Oh hey! First off, apologies (though not terribly sincere) for not posting anything about the Aeros 0-4 white washing by the Marlies on Saturday. That was gross and frankly, I couldn't bring myself to rehash it here.

What happens in Toronto stays in Toronto. That cool with you guys?

But tonight, the team gets to move on from that ugliness to battle the Rampage on their home turf. Andrew predicted a 3-1 loss, but I'm not sure what to think. I do think this game could easily be an"overlooked" one. I don't get the sense that there's been an opportunity to hit the reset button. But then again, SA isn't very good, so this could be one the Aeros sneak by in.

But who knows. At least they're getting some help in the form of a new forward and a backup goalie (Hackett is still with the Wild, who play in San Jose tonight).

McKenzie
The first is Mike McKenzie, who is the son of well-respected TSN hockey writer Bob McKenzie. I've followed Mike on Twitter for a long time now and he seems like a good kid. And he's been a good soldier for the Everblades and Charlotte.

Russo is reporting that McKenzie has signed a 2 way AHL contract with the Aeros, so it appears he might be with them for the long haul.

The other is Rob Nolan, who has been in the cage for ECHL Chicago Express this season. It sounds like Backstrom is on the mend, though, so I anticipate Hackett being ready to go by Thursday or Friday, and I doubt we'll see Nolan play.

Anyway, we'll see how Andrew's prediction goes tonight against the sub .500 Rampage, and then it's the always-zany kids day game on Thursday. As Brusty told me once, something crazy ALWAYS happens in those games. It's a can't-miss game for me. Hope some of you folks can sneak out of work to catch it, too.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Aeros win 4-3 over Amerks

The boys in the bomber sweaters pulled another one out tonight against the Rochester Amerks with a 4-3 win in regulation.

Down early 2-0, they climbed back in the game with goals from Broda and Foucault within the first 3 minutes of the second period.

But the Amerks took the lead again just seconds after Foucault's power play goal, and would keep it for nearly 10 minutes. But eventually Fontaine tied it up as the Aeros took over the shot count lead and found their game.

Broda scored his second of the night and the game winner on a shorthanded chance (making that the 5th shorty allowed by the Amerks already this season) around 5 minutes into the third. Took some doing to hold it out at the end, but Kuemper was up to the task in his first AHL game since April 2010, making 23 saves in the effort.

This is the Aeros' 7th straight road win, 8th straight game to earn points, and puts them back at the top of the conference again. And they're doing this while massively depleted: No Wellman, Almond, McIntyre, or Ortmeyer, who was injured in Lake Erie. And McMillan is still out, too, though he is traveling with the team.

The team called up forward Joey Martin from ECHL Toledo yesterday as well, so he was able to practice with the team this morning.

Now it's a few hours over to Toronto (depending on the border crossing, I suppose) for a 3 pm (ET) game tomorrow vs. the Marlies, which is a little strange, but hopefully the guys from around there will get to catch up with family and friends after the game and will head home Sunday.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Almond Called Up

Just a quick note...

The Wild suffered some more injuries to their forwards in last night's shootout win over Edmonton. So you know what that means...

Cody Almond has been recalled from the Aeros and will be joining the Wild. I've seen nothing about the Aeros making any corresponding roster moves, but seeing as they've been playing virtually every available player on the roster, bringing in a healthy forward is hopefully high on some to-do lists, even if it is to just be a healthy scratch. Oops, my bad, I didn't see the news from yesterday about Harrison Reed being signed.

BTW: The Aeros defeated Lake Erie in Cleveland last night by a 2-1 score with the first goal from, that's right, Cody Almond. Chad Rau got the game-winner early in the third.