Aeros Hockey: Welcome to the Spotlight, Matt Hackett

Matt Hackett asked just one thing of his coach yesterday afternoon. That one thing was for Mike Yeo to let him play in the game against San Antonio, just hours away.

This was a rather brave move for the Aeros' rookie net minder as just the night before, he'd been beaten up by the same Rampage team, giving up four goals on 13 shots in just under 30 minutes of play. But as Yeo said after yesterday's game, the AHL is a developmental league, and it's important to the development of younger guys that not only do they get to play, but that the coach shows faith in them.

Yeo gave his faith to Hackett, changing his mind and removing the game's original starter, Josh Tordjman, from the lineup. And that move paid off as Hackett stopped 28 of 29 shots as the Aeros won the game 3-1 behind the play with Hackett and the assistance of Kris Fredheim and Jean-Michel Daoust.

"He wanted it. Badly," Yeo said. "He said, 'I'm ready for this. I want the game.'"

It's no secret that this has been a tough rookie season for Hackett. He's had moments of exceptional play, but his play has more often consisted of sloppy or careless play. But he spent last week working with Minnesota's goalie coach, Bob Mason, and it seems like it might have paid off.

Hackett shut out the Lake Erie Monster 3-0 on Friday night for the first shutout of his professional career. The game-winning goal on Friday came off the stick of Daoust, who scored a first-period goal on a penalty shot after he was dragged down from behind on a breakaway. And though Hackett let down on Saturday night, he came back in force last night.

The Rampage scored the first goal, but Fredheim tied it less than a minute later. And with it looking as if the game might be heading to overtime, Daoust got the pass from Chad Rau and put the Aeros up 2-1 with 5:47 remaining in the game.

"That was a very nice pass from Chad," Daoust said. "And I think that Robbie [Earl] created a nice turnover to make that play, too."

But the Aeros, who appeared to be playing some of their best hockey of the season in their Friday and Sunday wins, are nowhere without good play from their goalie.

The Aeros haven't always had that goalie play this season, and with primary goalie Anton Khudobin up in Minnesota because of the seemingly endless array of injury issues that the Wild always face, the Aeros are going to need Hackett to come through night in and night out.

"The next step for him is he's got to show that he wants that," Yeo said. "That he's the guy. The man, and take the wheel. I want to see some fight."

Hackett showed that fight to Yeo when he asked to play yesterday. And he's showing the fight in practice where he's working to improve his play. The season's been disappointing to him, as well, but it's his first as a pro, and there is the adjustment process that needs to be made.

"I think I'm adjusting pretty well," Hackett said on Friday night. "The first two games of the year, I played great, then I had a couple of rough ones and a couple of rough weeks. Practice with the boys has been helping me out, and coach has been helping me out a lot. To have Bob Mason, the goalie coach from Minnesota, down right now, is really helping me. But I feel like I'm progressing really well and I just have to keep going."

If he can just keep going, if he can just keep fighting, then the Aeros might actually stand a chance to make the playoffs. And making the playoffs is what it's all about.

The Aeros sit in sixth place in the AHL West, and they're sitting in sixth place with a record of 21-18-1-2 (45 points). They're one point behind Texas and Chicago, who are sitting in fourth and fifth place, and they're six points behind the Rampage, who are in third with a record of 25-14-1-0 and 51 points.

They play in Rockford on Wednesday night and Chicago on Friday. They'll return to Toyota Center on Saturday and Sunday when they host Grand Rapids.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Aeros have won eight of their last 11 games at Toyota Center, but they have now lost eight of their last ten games that have been played on the road....Yesterday was the eighth game between Houston and San Antonio this season, the fourth since December 27. The two teams now won't see each other until March 19. Each team has won four of the eight games....Robbie Earl had an assist in yesterday's game, giving him a point in six of his last seven games.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal