The Houston Aeros started their Saturday morning by waking up in a Chicago hotel. They woke early, took a bus to the airport, and flew home to Houston, where they went directly to Toyota Center for a little practice and some lunch, and then they hit a downtown hotel for some sleep and rest.
They were coming off losing to the Milwaukee Admirals on Thursday night, and losing to the Quad City Flames on Friday, and if the team would’ve come out for Saturday’s game lacking in energy, playing sloppy, and just generally looking lethargic, it might have been understandable to the crowd of 8,112.
Luckily, the Aeros didn’t have to worry about the 8,112 fans being in an understanding mood. Not after the Aeros played the Worcester Sharks to a 1-1 tie through two periods then discovered another gear in the third period and dominated the Sharks, scoring four goals to win the game 5-1.
Left Winger Peter Olvecky said it was simply a case of “everybody wanted to win.”
And it looked like everybody wanted to win in the third when the team would score two goals within 40 seconds. The first would come off of the stick of right wing Petr Kalus, with the assist from Olvecky and Erik Reitz, then Moises Gutierrez, freshly arrived from the Texas Wildcatters and playing in his first ever AHL game, would score off a face-off. That would make the score 3-1, and the Aeros would be set for the night.
“The third period was great for us,” Olvecky said after the game. “It was a tough game for us. Three games in three days.” But even playing a third game in three days, Olvecky and his teammates seemed to have that something special.
Center Morten Madsen got his first goal of the season minutes later to put the Aeros up 4-1 as he would score on a power play. The scoring would end at the 16:21 point of the third when the team’s leading scorer for the season, defenseman Erik Reitz, would score on another power play to put the Aeros up 5-1.
“Tonight,” Reitz said, “everything in the third period just came together. It’s really great to see the guys score and getting confidence.”
But as good as the third period was for the Aeros, they might not have been in position to win the game if not for the outstanding work in the goal of Barry Brust in the first two periods. The Aeros were out shot 29-18 after two periods, but Brust, who would end up facing 35 shots on the night, was able to stop all but one shot.
Coach Kevin Constantine was effusive in his praise of Brust: “You always have to give yourselves a chance to win. And when you have a team that isn’t offensively explosive normally, you have to get it done by either by being really disciplined…or great goal tending….Tonight, our goalie gave us chance to win it.”
Brust took a more self-effacing view of his play, noting after the game, “I had a strategically placed horse shoe.” But as to his teammates, Brust, who had the Thursday and Friday games off would say, “The guys are in great shape….It’s not really easy playing three games in three nights. Last night [Friday] was a tough battle, and I think we carried that over tonight.”
Some Miscellaneous Game Notes:
The Aeros are now 5-7-1-0 for the season, and they are in seventh place of the West Division of the AHL’s Western Conference.
Saturday’s game was the Aeros’ Fourth Annual Military Appreciation Night. The Aero players dedicated the game to Sergeant Omar Mora, Jr., who died in September in Iraq. Erik Reitz believes this might also have played a part in the team’s play: “I think it was just a matter of guys really wanting to win tonight at home. Especially for the person we were playing for, Omar Mora. It really helped us to realize how special it is for us to play in front of those people. I think the guys really took that to heart.”
Sergeant Mora’s family was at the game, and they participated in pre-game ceremonies.
If Sergeant Mora’s name sounds familiar, it might be for the opinion piece to the New York Times he co-authored shortly before his death questioning America’s role in Iraq. He was also a new U.S. citizen, having become so only weeks before his death.
Before Saturday’s game, left winger Aaron Voros and goalie Nolan Schaefer were called up to the parent club, Minnesota Wild. Also before Saturday’s game, center Marco Rosa and right winger Moises Gutierrez were called up from the Aeros’ ECHL affiliate Texas Wildcatters. Both players received extensive playing time Saturday night.
Because of injuries to Steve Kelly, Cal Clutterbuck, Benoit Pouliot, and Serge Payer, Constantine went with a younger lineup, including Rosa and Gutierrez. Constantine thinks the energy of the younger guys contributed to the victory, saying after the game, “We played with a younger lineup....Our guys had a youthful feel…That made it kind of fun.”
While this was his first game as an Aero, this was not Gutierrez’ first game under Constantine, as he was also a member of Constantine’s Everett Silvertips team last season.
And because of the injuries, Constantine has guys having to play out of position, especially defensemen Shawn Belle and Paul Albers who have moved up to forward positions (Belle started at left wing on Thursday and Friday and Albers started at left wing on Saturday night). They are able to make these moves because Constantine says he has the team “playing a different style of play. A simpler style of play. Simpler for guys to play in different spots.”
Coming into the game, the Aeros ranked 29th in the AHL (out of 30 teams) in converting the power play, having converted only 5 of 81 chances. The Aeros were 3 of 6 on the power play Saturday night, including two power play goals in the decisive third period. The team is now 8 for 87 on the power play this season.
As to the Aeros improved power play performance on Saturday, Constantine said, “We are getting better. It is a combination of learning what to do on a power play, finding the right people to play on the power play, and guys getting used to certain roles on the power play, and guys getting used to each other.”
Defensemen Erik Reitz had two more points Saturday, a goal and an assist, to give him 14 points for the season. Reitz is still the team leader in points.
Left Winger Peter Olvecky scored a goal and was in on two assists for 3 points on Saturday. That doubled his point total for the season. The 3 points was also a career high in a game for Olvecky.
Coach Kevin Constantine was very happy with how his guys handled playing this game, especially seeing as how the Aeros have performed in similar situations this season. “I thought the impressive part of the win was playing our third game in three nights, and our travel, and the fact the last time we did this, going to Iowa, and coming back we had really one of our poorest outings so that stage was set for us to potentially have a really poor night.”
The crowd of 8,112 was easily the largest crowd of the season. And Toyota Center was alive.
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To show their appreciation for the military, the Aeros Dynamics cheer squad wore camouflage shirts and tight black biker shorts. The camouflage didn’t work however, as they were still quite easy to spot throughout the arena. It’s a look, however, that I would be happy to see them repeat this year.
The Toyota Center sound crew also tried to give some appreciation to the military, but I don’t know if the Village People’s “In the Navy” was the best way to do that, especially since, even with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I don’t think the Village People could get into the military.
The Aeros have six days to recuperate before playing again. They play next on Friday night in Peoria, then Saturday in Chicago. The next home game is on Tuesday, November 20, when they take on the San Antonio Rampage.
In fairness to Worcester, it should be noted that they were playing their third road game in four nights, and played in Houston on Saturday after having played in San Antonio on Friday. – John Royal