The Aeros didn't have many returning players, or veterans, when this season started. But there was one key player that returned, defenseman Brandon Rogers. Rogers has never been the flashiest of players for the Aeros, but he's generally been a calming, steadying influence on those he's been out on the ice with -- he was generally teamed up with one of the really young defensemen.
The main problem coming into this season for Rogers -- and for the team as a whole -- was that it was well-stocked at the defenseman post. So stocked that a good player was going to have to sit in the press box every night because there just wasn't a spot on the ice for him. Another problem the Aeros had coming into this season was a lack of quality offensive players, especially at the center position.
Chad Rau and Cody Almond are natural centers, but they're rookies. So head coach Kevin Constantine decided to solve two problems with one move. Thus, hours before the October 24th game in San Antonio, Constantine asked Rogers to move up to the position.
"I don't even know what I said when he asked me that," Rogers said. But if Rogers is known for anything, it's for being a team player and willingly doing whatever is needed to help his team.
And it was a move, Constantine told us at the time, that allowed to get more of his best players into the game every night while providing a bit of a steadying presence at the position. Never mind that Rogers had never played up front in his entire life.
"I was more than happy to move back there if that was the spot they needed me to play to help the team," Rogers said. "I think so far the move's been fairly beneficial."
And Constantine agrees to the beneficial part.
"We've gotten what we thought we'd get from him as a center," Constantine said Sunday night. "One, is he's just incredibly responsible. If you look at every good team, you'd need different roles. One's a checking center that you can trust just to give you shift where you're not going to get scored on. I think he's done a great job of that at center."
Rogers hasn't racked up many points in his new position -- centers on checking lines generally don't rack up many points because they're out there to give the scorers a rest while making sure no points are scored against them. But anybody who has been watching Rogers has seen him growing into the role as the offensive quarterback -- the past two games he made some impressive plays in the corners and with the puck to set up goals on which he got the assist.
"I guess you could say after 25 games, or whatever it's been, that I'm starting to make some adjustments and be more comfortable out there," Rogers said. "The thing about playing center is you end up playing a lot in the d-zone where it's a lot like playing [defense] anyway. You kind of have to get one corner and then the other corner and support all over the ice instead of just the one spot."
The main problem the Aeros are having heading into the Christmas break is that their other lines are having problems scoring goals. Rogers and his line aren't expected to score, but the others are, and the production hasn't been there this season. Yet despite this, the Aeros are still in playoff contention. In fact, heading into this break, the Aeros are where Constantine's other Aeros clubs have been at the same point -- hovering around the .500 mark and sitting in the middle of the standings.
"That'll be all right if the second half goes like the way the second half went both years," Constantine said. "I mean, a chance to climb up in standings. At least we've put ourselves in a position to be competitive in the division. We've got to figure out a way now to have an even better second half because it's a good division and we've got to climb our way into making sure we're in the playoffs."
Rogers and the Aeros will return to play on Saturday night when they host the San Antonio Rampage at the Toyota Center with a puck drop set for 7:35 p.m. They probably won't throw out a burst of goals, but it'll be a good chance to watch one of the team's more under-appreciated players in Rogers. And it's always fun watching a guy dig around the boards and give everything that's he got to help his team get the win.