"We had a feeling in the locker room that we were going to get this thing done," Danny Irmen said from the Houston Aeros locker room after Sunday's 5-4 come from behind victory over the Rockford IceHogs. But midway through the second period, Irmen and his teammates might have been the only ones in the building thinking this as the team was losing 4-2 and looking badly as time clicked.
The Aeros had had an awful weekend, losing 6-3 on Friday night to the Quad City Flames and losing to the San Antonio Rampage 3-1 in San Antonio on Saturday night. Starting goalie Nolan Schaefer, who had carried the team with sterling play for most of the past month was having his second straight bad game and had been replaced by Anton Khudobin in the first period after Schaefer let in two very soft goals.
So with the team down 4-2 and a little over eight minutes left in the second period, the crowd of 4648 inside of Toyota Center could not be faulted for thinking the Aeros were about to lose their third straight game.
"We never really give up. That's how we play," Irmen said. "And we know we have a lot of offensive players, top of the line...players who can score at any time." Then, at 16:02 of the second, while the Aeros were on the power play, Krys Kolanos found Corey Locke, and Locke buried the puck in the net to make the score 4-3. And about a minute-and-a-half later, Danny Irmen fought and fought for the puck with Rockford defenders draped over him. With Irmen skating behind the Rockford net, he was able to locate Krys Kolanos, and at 17:41 of the second, the Aeros and IceHogs were tied at 4-4.
"Give credit to our coaches," Irmen said about that goal. "We work on that a lot."
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"We gave ourselves a chance for things to work out," head coach Kevin Constantine said, "Because we worked harder tonight than we've worked in a long time."
And they didn't stop working. With only seven seconds remaining in the second period, Jesse Schultz found Krys Kolanos heading toward the net, and just like that, the Aeros had taken the 5-4 lead, returning from the land of the lost and holding on for a victory that allowed the team to regain sole possession of second place with just 13 games remaining in the AHL regular season.
The Aeros are off for most of the week, and they won't return to play until Saturday night when they play the first game of a weekend series with the Peoria Rivermen at the Toyota Center. As it is, the Aeros are in second place with a record of 33-25-1-8 (75 points), and they are two points better than the third place Chicago Wolves, 35-31-2-1 (73 points). Peoria and Rockford are tied with 72 points, but due to having more wins, Peoria is currently in the fourth place slot.
"We were just way more energetic," Constantine said. And if they're going to make the playoffs, they're going to have to continue with being way more energetic.