Toyota Center was packed with screaming kids and befuddled adults yesterday. But the kids weren't there for a Hannah Montana concert. And Justin Bieber was nowhere to be found.
Instead, they were there for a strange day of hockey that kicked off an hour before noon at time when most of the kids should have been in school and when most of the hockey players were trying to figure out just why it was they had to play a game that early in the day.
But in the end, the Houston Aeros got the 4-3 shootout win over the Rockford IceHogs on a day when both clubs appeared to sleep through the first period. The Aeros appeared to still be sleeping through the second period, but they awoke in the third and sent the kids home happy from what will probably be, for most of them, their last-ever time to see a hockey game.
"It's tough to play those morning games," said Aeros head coach Mike Yeo. "You can tell, because even in the morning in the dressing room, trying to get those guys fired up, they just didn't have the same energy and emotion before the game that we normally do."
Yet lack of energy aside, the Aeros had the 1-0 lead after the first period when, for one brief moment, the Aeros awoke from their slumber, caught Rockford still napping, and scored at the 19:06 mark of the period. The kids, who had been shouting and chanting throughout the game, got even louder when Matt Kassian skated around the net for the wraparound only to have his shot deflected right to Jon DiSalvatore who found an open spot in the net and put the puck past the Rockford goalie.
"In the first period, we kind of came out -- whether it was preparing for that morning game or whatever it was, I wasn't real happy with our start to the game," Yeo said. "As far as the urgency of getting to it and doing it a certain way, we were okay in the first period, and probably scoring that goal reaffirmed that we're okay, just go play."
Neither team showed much energy nor urgency in that first period as the play was choppy and unenergetic. But as the game went on, both teams seemed to pick up on the energy of the kids who went ballistic every time a player was crashed into the boards or it looked like a fight would break out. Rockford fed off the energy more and were able to take the 2-1 lead after two periods.
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The Aeros tied it in early in the third, but less than two minutes later, Rockford went back up on top 3-2. It looked like the Aeros would get the loss, but with 1:19 left in the game, the Aeros tied it up when Cody Almond scored. The Aeros kept Rockford scoreless in overtime, then the game went to the shootout -- the second straight shootout for the Aeros -- and once again, the Aeros got the win as Casey Wellman and DiSalvatore were able to get the puck past the goalie.
"Once [Rockford] scored the second goal, definitely the switch went on that, okay, we've got a way that we're supposed to play," Yeo said. "We got back to it. It's amazing, just the results, when not only offensively, but defensively as well, both sides of the puck, when everybody's in tune and everybody's doing the same thing and they're all on the same page, we're pretty successful."
So the Aeros got the win and got to go home happy. The kids got to get out of school for the day, and they were happy. And my ears can now recover from all of the noise, so I'm happy. The only people who aren't happy are the players and staff of the Rockford IceHogs, but they don't really matter. Of course, seeing as the Aeros and IceHogs hook up again tonight at 7:35 at the Toyota Center, perhaps the Aeros should find a way to once again bring in an arena full of kids to pack the place.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: This game was the first time this season that the Aeros were able to get a win when trailing after two periods. And their 39 shots were the most since a 5-2 loss to San Antonio on October 29....And while I want to thank the Toyota Center sound crew for keeping the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus/Justin Bieber music to a minimum, I've got to question the playing of the Black-Eyed Peas' "My Humps." Not that there's ever an appropriate time for the Black-Eyes Peas, but listening to Fergie go on about her girlie parts in an arena packed with elementary school kids just seemed wrong.