Aeros-IceHogs: Rockford Now Up Two-to-One

“I’ve got to be better and we’ve got to be better,” Houston Aeros goalie Barry Brust said last night. “That’s the bottom line. We didn’t get the job done tonight.”

The Houston Aeros lost Game Three of the first round series to the Rockford IceHogs last night by a score of 2-1. And if you want to argue that the team, as a whole, needs to get better and didn’t get the job done, many would agree with you. But one person did get the job done last night. Barry Brust was bombarded with the puck the entire night, with the Rockford IceHogs outshooting the Aeros 34-16.

Sitting at his locker, and newly returned from the Minnesota Wild and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, team captain and defenseman Erik Reitz would not let Brust shoulder the blame for the loss: “We rely a lot on our goaltenders,” he said. “That can’t be the case. We got to win a game and let him take a day off. Take the offense to them.”

And that the Aeros did not. The team’s one goal came just 5:01 into the game when center Marco Rosa slapped a shot from up high past Rockford goalie Corey Crawford for the 1-0 lead. The lead was short-lived however as Rockford right wing Kris Versteeg slapped a laser of a shot past Brust at 11:06 of the first.

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And 1-1 is where it stayed for the next 47:08 of the game when Barry Brust made a great stop of right wing Derek Nesbitt’s shot. “I think I had it,” Brust said. But the puck stuck between Brust’s skate and the net post, then squirted free and into the goal for the 2-1 Rockford lead.

Yet, despite their poor offensive play, the Aeros nearly took the lead twice in the third period, the first time coming at about 4:50 of the third period as left wing Colton Gillies faked and froze goalie Crawford out of position, only to have his shot clang off of the post and back out into play.

“I kind of faked shot first to get the goalie down and freeze him a little bit. And then I tried for the goal,” Gillies said. “I was kind of hoping it would go post in. But that’s the luck of the draw sometimes.”

Then, at 12:03 of the third, the puck squirted free from under goalie Crawford’s glove as the Aeros and IceHogs swarmed about the net. Center Marco Rosa was able to get his stick on the puck and knock it in, only to have referee David Banfield whistle the play dead, claiming that the puck was frozen.

The Aeros would get a power play opportunity with under a minute left in the game, but even with six skaters on the ice against Rockford’s four, the Aeros weren’t able to get off a shot that could have sent the game to overtime. This was fitting, somehow, seeing as how the team couldn’t get off a shot for most of the rest of the game.

“We’ve got to go back to our game,” Reitz said. “We played too cute tonight. We’ve got to get it behind them. We had way too many turnovers in our neutral zone.”

But perhaps the loss was best summarized by Aeros coach Kevin Constantine: “I don’t think we were that great tonight, really.”

The Aeros are now down 2-1 in the series to the IceHogs. Game Four will be at Toyota Center on Thursday night at 7:05.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:

Okay, I recognize that many of you probably stayed up late to watch the Rockets choke away another playoff game Monday night. And I realize that the Astros were playing down the street at MMP. And I know the Aeros didn’t know until the last moment who they would be playing, and when they would be playing.

Yet, knowing all of that as I do, I still want to know where the frak all of you were at last night. The announced attendance was 2,289, but I think that was a bit of a stretch. There’s just no legitimate excuse for missing a playoff game, especially when you look at the fact that, unlike with the Rockets, there’s actually a chance of the Aeros actually being able to win a game. I’m disappointed, and frankly, a little pissed.

But I want to say this: Those of you who were in attendance were fantastic. You were loud. You made the place seem alive. I just wish you would have had a little company.

******************* While not angry after the game, Constantine was clearly not pleased with his team. “I’m not sure we played hard enough, or crisp enough, or sharp enough, to really deserve to win,” he said at one point. “To me, this had a regular season feel to it,” he said at another point, “like we were just kind of plodding through another game.”

******************* Defensemen Jon Awe and Shawn Belle and left wings Ryan Hamilton and Matt Kassian were all scratches last night. But only Hamilton is injured, and he is suffering from what the Aeros would only say were upper body issues. Awe, Belle, and Kassian were healthy scratches.

******************* The Aeros have now scored the first goal in 59 of their 113 all-time playoff games (IHL and AHL). They are now 45-14 when scoring this first goal. And they now hold a 31-29 record all-time in home playoff games. And they are now only 4-8 when hosting AHL playoff games as the lower seed.

******************* I know the Rockets played a very late game on Monday night, and I know they probably hung around a long time bitching about the officiating, but just as there is no excuse for the lack of fans, there is also no excuse for the sorry shape of the ice last night. It looked at times as if the players were swimming in water instead of skating on top of frozen water. Yes, the Rockets are the primary tenants of the building, but the second-class treatment of the Aeros and their playing surface is inexcusable. – John Royal

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