Hard as it may be to believe, especially with the temps outside and with football just now starting, but within a matter of weeks, players will be reporting to camp for the Houston Aeros. The Aeros have undergone some rather massive changes this off season -- as has the team's parent club the Minnesota Wild. While the team's head coach, Kevin Constantine, is the same, the Aeros have a new general manager, Jim Mill, who is also the assistant general manager to the Wild.
Mill is new to working for a specific club as he's spent most of his time since college in the employ of the American Hockey League where he started as a manager of hockey operations and within a year found himself the Director of Hockey Operations. In this position, he was in charge of player fines and suspensions as well as supervising all of the officials and linesmen, including the officials who were under contract to the NHL. He also helped coordinate the AHL All Star Game and helped the coaches with selecting the roster. He was also the guy who ran the Calder Cup playoffs.
His move to the Wild came about this off season, and it was a move he's been looking into making for the past six years or so. The Wild offered up just the right position and right environment at just the right time. "It was definitely part of a life long dream to be in the National Hockey League. Every kid who puts a pair of skates on at two years old dreams of either playing or being in the [NHL]," Mill says. "To me it was a dream come true."
Mill, along with Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, has been reshaping the Aeros roster from the one the fans grew attached to last season. And along with new players, Mill and Fletcher want Aeros head coach Kevin Constantine to employ a different style of play than what he's been using in Houston.
"We want them and expect them to be more puck attack, pressure the puck style, obviously more offensive and more aggressive." Mill says. "They're [the Aeros] going to have to play with what they have, but everybody's going to be in a similar system in the Minnesota organization. The players have to know what to expect when they get called up."
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Mill stresses that while players like Corey Locke, Matt Beaudoin, and Krys Kolanos are missing, players like Jon DiSalvatore, Peter Zingoni, Duncan Milroy, and Ryan Lannon will more than make up for their departure.
"Corey Locke had a breakout year last year, there's no doubt about that," Mill says. "But you also have to remember that two years ago in Hamilton he didn't exactly put up the numbers he put up last year. John DiSalvatore is a 20- to 25-goal guy and a 20- to 25-assist guy every single year [DiSalvatore's worst AHL season is 45 points]. Duncan Milroy went to the Calder Cup finals in Hamilton. He's a first-round draft choice. I hope he's going to have a breakout year. Peter Zingoni put up some pretty good numbers in Philadelphia. So when people say that we've lost skill, yeah, Corey had a breakout year...what we've added is some great puck moving and some great skilled defensemen. Ryan Lannon puts up decent numbers. He's just a good character/leader guy. Jamie Fraser is a quarterback/power play offensive defenseman. I don't know if we had that last year here."
Mill promises the people of Houston that this upcoming Aeros team will be competitive, and that it will win games. Otherwise, the organization will be cheating the league, the players, and the fans. "The players here have to be in a completive environment. And we're going to be competitive and we're going to win games. It is about development, and you can't develop players if you're not winning and being competitive," he says. "It's not a good environment for anyone and it's not fair to the business of the [AHL] and it's not fair to the fans. So we're going to win."
The Aeros season officially beings on October 2, and at that time, the fans will be able to see if Mill's vow of a winning team is going to come true. But with Kevin Constantine back coaching the team, the fans can at least be assured that the team will be competitive.