The Aeros find themselves in the middle of a four-game stretch against the Rockford IceHogs. This stretch of games is important because Rockford is a division rival. But they're also important because, right now, these two teams are battling out it for positions in the playoffs. It's also important because Aeros coach Kevin Constantine believes that only one of these two teams will end up in the playoffs once the season ends.
"Both teams have been dead even for about two weeks in the standings," Constantine said. "Always hovering one, two, three, four games over five hundred. Somewhere in that range. They're both good teams. They both might make the playoffs, but maybe only one of the two teams will make the playoffs of the two. So it's kind of just a mini-playoff series."
The Aeros one the first of the four games 5-3 on Friday night, and lost in overtime 2-1 on Sunday afternoon. They play again tonight and Friday in Rockford before the Aeros return to host Toronto on Saturday night.
If the Aeros are going to advance to the playoffs, they're going to have to get good play from some of the guys no one much thought about before the season began, and at some point, the team is going to have to get healthy. Brandon Rogers fell prey to back spasms over the weekend and had to miss Sunday's game. It's possible that he might be able to return tonight, but the team also lost defensemen Jaime Sifers and Ryan Lannon to injuries on Friday night, and they join forwards Peter Zingoni and Andy Hilbert in the who-knows-when-they'll-return-to-action category. And it doesn't help that forward Carson McMillan is serving a suspension that was handed down by the league office last week for a sucker punch he delivered in a game against the Texas Stars last week.
But the Aeros are never down and out. Not when they have guys like right wing Jean-Michel Daoust on the roster.
Daoust was one of those new guys on the training-camp roster that nobody much thought about. At 5-7, he's the smallest guy on the roster. Yet whenever there's a confrontation of players on the ice, whenever there's a contingent of opposing players gathering about and getting upset, it almost surely is because of Daoust, a scrapper who is always in the middle of the action. But not just that, he's the team's leading scorer with 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points.
"With a little fluctuation here and there -- as it would with every player going through a season -- he's been a pretty consistent player for us," Constantine said. "Obviously he leads our team in points, so he's been a very productive offensive guy for us. He's just as good for us in terms of providing some energy, forechecking, and hitting. For a little guy, he's one of our top two or three hitters on the team. So he's not afraid to stick his nose in. And he's pretty trustworthy defensively. So there's no real hole in his game. He can play in the gritty areas, he can play in front of the net. He can make plays. He can pass. He's a pretty well-rounded player."
Daoust scored the Aeros only goal on Sunday. And he did it like he does everything. He was in the proverbial right place at the proverbial right time, getting his stick on a rebound to knock the puck into the goal.
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"All I remember was that it was a shot on net," he said. "And then there was a rebound on my blade and I just put it in."
He later took an opponent's stick to his eye, and he was in several little dust-ups throughout the game.
"I've always been like that," Daoust said. "I think that I don't want to stop. I don't want to back out."
It's that type of energy that the team feeds on, so while Daoust isn't the first player that most fans think of when it comes to the Aeros and their playoff chances, it's Daoust that may end up being the most important and essential. Just as long as he keeps pushing buttons and getting on edges.