The Houston Aeros will finally hit the ice in Houston for some hockey this weekend, and this will be the first chance for the fans to see the new-look squad in a game situation.
The team actually opened up their season last weekend, defeating the Oklahoma City Barons 6-1 in Oklahoma City to start the year with the win. The Aeros will face the Barons again, in Oklahoma City, on Friday night, then host they host the Peoria Rivermen to open the home portion of their schedule on Saturday night.
Last Saturday's win set a number of firsts for the Aeros. Rookie goalie Matt Hackett earned his first victory, and head coach Mike Yeo is now officially 1-0 as a professional head coach. Plus, as anybody who watched the Aeros play last season can attest, it sometimes took the Aeros eight games to score a total of six goals last season.
Defenseman Brandon Rogers, one of the team's veterans, attributed the goals to the excitement the team feels this season which is partly a result of a regime change. Yeo and his assistants have helped to create new atmosphere about the team, and Rogers says that it's just more fun to be out on the ice.
"I think when you go in a different direction, as far as coaching staff, it changes everything," Rogers said. "You kind of come in with a different perspective. Those guys in the past did a really good job here, and I have the utmost respect for those guys, and I learned a lot from them, it's just now everyone's coming in with a new outlook on everything. It's different minds coming in, coaches with different perspectives on how to play the game, and I think that can be exciting when you change things and things are going one way for three years, and all of sudden some of those guys that were here have a sort of renewed view on everything and it just sort of helps the excitement level, I think."
Rogers describes the new style as more up-tempo than what the Aeros employed in the past. It's one that has the forwards attempting to create havoc on the forecheck and encourages the defensemen to get in the on the fun while in the offensive zone.
But the offense is nothing without outstanding play from the goaltenders, and the Aeros have youngster Hackett teaming up with AHL All-Star Anton Khudobin to handle the job this season. The reports from those who saw last Saturday's game against the Barons are that Hackett was outstanding in his first start, and at the moment, Yeo's plan is to rotate Hackett and Khudobin in the goal.
Hackett, like any good player, knows that he can't live on accolades and his play during the last game. If he wants to play, then he's going to have to earn that time every time that he goes out on the ice.
"It definitely feels good," Hackett said after practice yesterday, "but I've got to keep working hard and keep impressing the coaching staff and everybody so that I can get playing time because we have a great goalie here. Khudobin is a great goalie."
This is the highest level of hockey at which Hackett's ever played, so he's hoping to learn all that he can from Yeo, the coaches, and Khudobin. And he knows that he's got adjustments to make, like learning how to deal with the three games in three nights scenarios that the Aeros are going to be facing throughout the season.
"I just want to learn a lot," he said. "Anton will teach me a lot. I'm excited for this year to get to watch to him to see how he does, and how he reacts to certain situations, and I'll learn from that."
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Yeo was happy to open the season with the win, but that game is over and now he's got 79 other games to prep for with the most important game being the next game to be played. Still, he's happy to have gotten the win in his first time out as head coach.
"It was a relief, that's for sure," he said about the win. "I think I was going through some emotions in the game, that's for sure. We were far from perfect in that game, and there were moments in the game when things that we did, and plays that we made, kind of gave a lot of momentum to the other team, and felt like they were coming at us a little bit harder than they probably were."
But it's a game that's done and over with, and now he's got one of the AHL's infamous three games in three night scenarios to handle, starting Friday in Oklahoma City before the Aeros come home to open the season at Toyota Center on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Aeros fans might have to wait to see Hackett in the goal. He's getting the start in Oklahoma City on Friday with Khudobin starting on Saturday. Yeo says that he has yet to determine who will get the start on Sunday....For the most part, the team is healthy, but Peter Zingoni and Tyler Cuma will not be able to play this weekend because of injury....Saturday's home opener is at 7:35 p.m., and the Sunday afternoon game with Oklahoma City is set for 4:05 p.m.