Houston Aeros Face Off Tomorrow Against Chicago Wolves in First Game of Season

The Houston Aeros begin their 15th season this Saturday against the Chicago Wolves. On Wednesday, they had a media day session for all of us hockey folk – and it was nice to see the guys from Channels 13 and 39 and 790 The Sports Animal; where were you last year?

The good news for you Aeros fans is that, except for a couple of players, this year’s roster looks a lot like the one that won 45 games last season. Kevin Constantine is back as coach, and the heart of the defense is back, as well.

“We’re excited about starting another year,” Constantine said. “We want to try and build on what we did last year.”

What they built last year was a defensive-minded club that masked its lack of skill on the offensive side of the rink with a clamp-down style of play that made goals hard to come by for the opposition. Goalies Nolan Schaefer and Anton Khudobin are back, and Barry Brust is on his way down from St. Paul, having spent extra time in the Minnesota Wild training camp because of an eye injury to back-up goalie Josh Harding.

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And while defensemen Erik Reitz and Shawn Belle are gone, the blue line crew is mostly back intact, including Clayton Stoner, Brandon Rogers, Maxim Noreau and Paul Albers, with the additions of John Adams, Justin Falk and (pending contract issues) Mitch Love. And for you John Scott fans, don’t worry, he’ll be back at some point as well, but he’s out for several weeks because of a badly sprained ankle he suffered last week in a Wild preseason game.

“Our hope is that we come out of the gate better,” Constantine said, referring to the team’s slow start last year that had the Aeros playing catch up the entire season. “We built a solid way of playing last year….We want to keep that foundation, and at the same time work and improve in the areas we weren’t that good at.”

Like scoring goals.

So to fix that, the team made some significant upgrades, adding high-scoring wings Jesse Schultz from the Calder Cup winning Chicago Wolves, Corey Locke from Hamilton, Krys Kolanos from Quad City and (pending contract loan details with the Dallas Stars) John Lammers, who played in the ECHL last season – I saw this kid play last Friday and he really looked impressive.

“There’s always pressure to score. It’s a big part of the game,” Schultz said. “That’s what they want from us.” And Constantine thinks the addition of Schultz and the others will also improve the team’s woeful power play.

But Constantine is very aware of the main job of the Aeros, which is serving the Minnesota Wild. “We have a joint challenge of trying to win games and trying to develop players,” he said.

The Aeros were a competitive team last year. With the additions of Locke, Schultz, Kolanos and Lammers, the team should be even more entertaining to watch.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:

Center Bryan Lundbohm returns to the Aeros this year after a season in Europe with teams in Finland and Denmark. He’s one of the team’s older players, and he sees his role as being the wizened man keeping the youngsters calm and under control, much like Steve Kelly had with the team last season.

“I think I had pretty good success when I was here before,” he said. “I’m supposed to keep an even keel and to just be a leader.”

****************** Brandon Rogers is also optimistic about the season. “The core mentality stays the same,” he said. “If we can buckle down as a team defensively and add a scoring punch offensively, then it should only improve our ability as a team.”

And while he likes what the new additions bring to the team, he also feels that “we as defenseman have to also contribute offensively whenever possible.”

****************** Nolan Schaefer thinks the team is going to be good, as well. “I feel really good about this team. It’s pretty much the same bunch of guys, and we had really good chemistry last year,” he said. “The new guys that we’ve got are just great guys, and I’m sure they’ll fit right in.”

Schaefer’s job is the same as last year: stop the goals. And one of the things he’s going to work on is how he handles the puck, and he notes that he’s got to be better with preventing rebounds because rebounds usually mean scores.

Schaefer’s also aware that he’s aging as a goalie. “Leadership’s one for me that I’ve got to work on. I’m getting old to be in the AHL, so it’s got to be part of my game if I’m going to keep getting a job every year.” – John Royal

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