The time has come Aeros fans. The time for the team's first home game of the season. They open the home portion of their schedule against the expansion Texas Stars at 7:35 p.m. at Toyota Center. They opened the season last weekend in Winnipeg where they split two games with the Moose.
"I saw for sure in game one everything that I've seen every year I've coached," head coach Kevin Constantine said of the team's 4-2 game one loss. "If you took a look at the game that would least likely predict where'll you be as a team as the season wears on, you can throw a game one out. It doesn't mean that you're going to be good or bad based on how you play."
But the team won game two of the season, and Constantine was happy with what he saw, saying "What I did like from the weekend was that there was a quick acceptance by the players that we hadn't played very good....we had an unbelievable positive response from game one to game two and we played a very solid game two and got a nice road victory."
As has been stated over the summer, the Aeros this season are a bit different from the Aeros of last season. There's been a massive roster changeover, and one of the things that Constantine is having to deal with this year is the AHL's Veteran Rule. It's a rather complicated rule implemented by the league to ensure that the younger players get plenty of playing time to aid in their development. Thus, a team can essentially suit only six veterans play a night -- veteran noted as one who has played over two hundred games on a professional level. And the Aeros are a team with seven such veterans.
"It may be something I have to manage for a month or so," Constantine said. "But in all honesty, if you took a look at the seven make-ups of the personality of those guys, they're really high character guys. And they won't like the nights we have to kind of use a rotation if there's no other issues [injuries, call-ups to the Wild] that help solve it, but I know they'll be good pros about it. It'll all work out. I don't think it's going to be as challenging as it may seem."
One of those veteran character guys is defenseman Brandon Rogers. "It's a good thing and a bad thing," he said about the rule. "Every now and then a very good player is going to have to sit if everyone is healthy. But it does happen all around the league, and that is kind of the nature of playing in the AHL."
And that's something that general manager Jim Mill is stressing to the players.
"You're going to hear this from me several times this season," he said, "that we're here to develop. We're here to develop a winning environment, and we're here to develop players. You're going to see that this year."
One of the developing players is rookie center Chad Rau. Rau spent the past several years playing hockey in college for Colorado College, and now he's in the pros and trying to adjust.
"It's just much more up-tempo," he said. "Guys are a little smarter, too. They know exactly where to go, and stuff like that. So it's kind of easier to read the play off of them, but to get in to those spots you have to go a lot quicker than in college. It's more physical. Guys are finishing more hits...and there's not as much space. In college I played on an Olympic-size sheet [the Olympic ice rink is larger], and here it's in NHL-size, so obviously it's quicker and bigger guys, so that limits your time with the puck."
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Then there's the obvious difference for the rookie who is from Minnesota and played college hockey in Colorado. "The obvious [first impression] is that it's pretty hot out there," he said. "I was sweating right away, taping my stick out there, before practice even."
And that's where crafty veteran Brandon Rogers come in.
"I was here in July," he said. "And I thought that was the absolute hottest that it could be. But the last couple of days here, it was just as hot. It's definitely a shock to all the new guys. It's like going out there to skate on your first day, and it is like skating in a sauna. It's good that we can get out there [Thursday], have another skate here this morning and get used to it. Hopefully then we can use it to our advantage."
Can they take advantage? Tonight is the night to find out.