Standing outside the Aeros locker room last night, waiting for the doors to open and go in for the interviews, it was still possible to hear the music being played in the Toyota Center. And just as the doors opened, the sound crew busted out The Beatles and "Help." If anything was apropos of the night, then that was it, for nothing seemed to fit the mood better after the Aeros 3-2 loss to the Manitoba Moose.
The beat-up team got even more banged-up during the game. The guys on the ice appeared to lose focus at key points. They just looked to be lacking a little something, something that could be provided if just the right person would come along to help out.
The game was scoreless after one period, but Manitoba took the 1-0 lead at 10:16 of the second period when goalie Barry Brust got caught behind the net on a power play. The Aeros tied the game at 13:35 of the second when Duncan Milroy slammed a rebound of a Jamie Fraser shot past the Manitoba goalie, but as has been the situation with the team all season, the Aeros promptly surrendered a goal to let Manitoba jump back into the lead.
"I think the onus is on me," Brust said afterwards. "I've got to come up with a save. The second goal, they got a big break and hit our d-man's stick and went right down the ice. The third goal, I thought I had it, but obviously I didn't. That's up to me. I've got to buckle down and be better."
The third goal came in heartbreaking fashion, just a minute after the Aeros had tied the game at 2-2 at the 15:27 mark of the third. The Aeros' tying goal was made by Max Noreau who fired a cannon of a shot from the top of the boards over the right circle.
That Noreau was in position to get the goal speaks volumes about Noreau as he took a puck off his right ankle early in the third that caused him to miss several minutes of action. Noreau was hoping after the game that the ankle was not broken; if it is, any shot the Aeros have of the playoffs is about nil.
Head coach Kevin Constantine wasn't willing to place the blame on Brust. He saw it as the team as a whole letting down and losing focus after a goal was scored, which is something the team's been battling all year.
"It's an old adage, the first shifts of periods, shifts at the end of periods, and shifts right after goals," Constantine said. "We just didn't get it done on shifts after goals. Every chance we had momentum, we just handed it back to them."
Noreau isn't the only injured Aeros. Brandon Rogers is out with a concussion. Andy Hilbert is out with a concussion. Carson McMillan is out on a suspension. Peter Zingoni is back, but playing on a hurt knee. As it is, Noreau is the team's leading scorer (16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points), which is just something the team couldn't overcome, no matter how hard they play on the ice.
There are now only 20 games left for the Aeros. And at 28-25-6-1 (63 points) the team seems adrift in fifth place of the AHL's West Division. The Milwaukee Admirals and the Texas Stars are hanging just above the Aeros in the standings, and the Stars, who dominated the early part of the season, are in a huge slump.
The Aeros will be facing them twice them weekend (including Saturday night at Toyota Center), and two wins over Texas could pull the Aeros right back into contention for that fourth and final spot. But playing for the playoffs is something that the Aeros can't do.
"For me," Constantine said, "the saying is, it's process, not outcome, meaning when you start worrying about your points, or the standings, or you start worrying about wins and losses, you're too far ahead of yourself. What we have to worry about is the process. What do I got to do? What is my responsibility on the team...those are things you focus on."
And maybe they can start by focusing on their play after they score a goal.
A MISCELLANEOUS NOTE: Continuing with the "Help" theme from above...a Milwaukee Admirals blog "Admirals Short Shifts" is tweeting that the Aeros have signed Tony Hrkac to a contract, and that he will join the team next week. The Aeros are not commenting on this report at the moment. You might remember Hrkac as the elder statesmen of last year's team -- he came out of a four-year retirement and left his college coaching job -- who helped propel the team on their playoff run last season.