The 6,566 fans at Toyota Center were just settling into the seats Saturday night when the Houston Aeros supposedly scored a goal three seconds into the game against the Rockford IceHogs. And the goal was scored by a line brand new to the team, a line acquired just that dayin a trade
with the Charlestown Chiefs of the Federal League. Of course, the Hanson Brothers weren’t really members of the Aeros, despite what the P.A. announcer said. And the goal didn’t really count.
Still, does anyone believe in omens?
As it was, the Aeros still managed to score the game’s first goal, and it happened 30 seconds into the first period when defenseman Clayton Stoner got a pass from center Marco Rosa. Stoner, who was at the top of the circle, fired a slap shot over the left shoulder of Rockford goalie Wade Flaherty to put the Aeros up 1-0.
“Stoner starting the game was a huge goal,” defenseman Brandon Rogers said. “Pretty much a laser and beat the goalie.”
But the fun wasn’t over. At 4:09 of the first, Rogers received a pass from right wing Cal Clutterbuck and slipped the puck past Flaherty for the 2-0 lead. And, in a bit of karmic payback, Flaherty was immediately pulled from the game, recreating almost to the minute the pulling of Aeros goalie Barry Brust from Thursday’s game against Rockford.
The irony wasn’t lost on Coach Kevin Constantine: “I thought it was kind of the exact opposite game. The other night, [Rockford’s] first couple of shots went in, and we couldn’t battle from behind. And tonight our first couple of shots went in.”
The IceHogs drew within a goal at 8:19 of the first, but at 13:53 of the second period, with the Aeros on the power play, Rogers received a pass from Rosa, and from the top of the circle, fired the slap shot past Rockford’s Mike Brodeur to put the Aeros up 3-1.
Rockford’s Tyson Marsh scored at 15:53 of the third to make the score 3-2, but it was a case of too little, too late, and the IceHogs were not able to even the score before the clock hit 00:00, giving the Aeros their eighth win in nine games.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
The Aeros record is now 35-23-2-3 (75 points) for the season, and they have 17 games remaining in the season. They still sit in fifth place of the West Division, four points behind the Milwaukee Admirals (37-25-3-2, 79 points), but only one point ahead of the sixth place Peoria Rivermen (33-26-4-4, 74 points). Every remaining game is a game within the conference, and with a team that is also battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning.
“I’m not going to say it’s going to be easy, because it’s not,” Clayton Stoner said about the rest of the regular season. “It’s a grind. We’ve got a lot of games. Not only are they division games against good teams but it’s also in a limited amount of days….I’m glad we’ve got such a good group of guys in here or else I’d be a little bit worried.”
Brandon Rogers' two-goal game was his first two-goal game at this level of hockey. Marco Rosa and Joel Ward also had two assists each in the game. Rogers was happy about the goals, especially the second: “Well it was more of an issue of the time of the game, and the score of the game if anything,” he said. “We’d been struggling on the power play the last handful of games. I was just excited to score at that time of the game and put another goal on the board.”
The Aeros had a really ugly loss the last time out, losing to these same Rockford IceHogs 4-0 last Thursday night. So they were eager to set things right on Saturday.
“The last game, no one felt good about it. It was very depressing actually,” Stoner said. “The coach didn’t get angry. He has faith in us.”
“It’s absolutely huge,” Rogers said about the game. “We were pretty disappointed with our effort in our game on Thursday. We wanted to make a concerted effort to come back tonight and play hard.”
Coach Constantine was far more pleased with what he witnessed on Saturday than with what he witnessed on Thursday, and he traced part of the team’s success to Stoner’s early goal. “That start of game is so critical,” he said. “The team, both nights, that had the better start won the game. That’s hockey.”
Clayton Stoner’s goal at the 30-second mark of the first period was the team’s fastest goal this season. The team is now 7-2-0-1 when it scores two or more goals in the first period, and this was the first time this season that three goals were scored by defensemen.
“I just think that right now, with the amount of injuries we have, we’re fortunate that we’re a team that seems to have different people step up,” Constantine said. “We just don’t seem to be the type of team that’s dependent on any one guy.”
.The Hanson Brothers aside, the Aeros have had several roster changes the past several days. Left wing Matt Kassian was called up to replace Steve Kelly, who was called up to Minnesota. And on Thursday night, left wing Benoit Pouliot was called up to Minnesota because of an injury to Kelly. So on Saturday, the Aeros called up right wing Ross Carlson.
I’ve got just a quick word for the Aeros music crew. You did a good job just before the teams came out for the pregame skate by playing “Black Hole Sun,” “Paint it Black,” then “Back in Black.” But as much as I like The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” I’ve got to ask: Is playing a depressing song from a band that makes The Cure sound like a party machine really the way to pump up the team and the fans prior to starting the game?
The Aeros play four more games this week. Tonight and Wednesday at 7:05 versus the Quad City Flames. Thursday at 7:05 versus the Chicago Wolves, and Friday at 7:35 versus the Wolves. And there will be some fun stuff on Thursday night as the Aeros hold the annual Miss Aeros Bikini Contest between periods of the game. – John Royal