Aeros Take Two from Lake Erie Monsters

Aeros coach Kevin Constantine has stressed many times this season what the Aeros need to do win. The team needs good play from the goaltenders. The team needs to avoid stupid penalties. The team needs to keep a positive attitude. The team needs to execute.

The expansion Lake Erie Monsters visited Houston this weekend for two games. The Aeros won both games, 3-2 on Friday and 2-1 in a shootout on Sunday. And these two games were the perfect example of what happens to the Aeros if they do what Coach Constantine advises.

It’s hard for a team like the Aeros to win when surrendering the first goal of the night, as they did on Friday night. Especially when the team is as mentally fragile as the Aeros have been the past several seasons. And especially when that first goal comes less than a minute into the game on one of the flukiest plays in hockey.

Coach Kevin Constantine would say after Friday’s game that the goal was “disheartening, mentally and physically….but [the team] just kept going.”

The goal would come at 32 seconds into the game when Lake Erie left wing Cody McLeod would raise his stick high into the air to knock the puck to the ice. Lake Erie center Cody McCormick would then grab the puck and drop to the ice in the crease and slap it past goalie Barry Brust, who was just a tad slow on the fluky play.

After the game, Brust said, “They scored on the first shot, which you never really want to happen. It was a high stick. They got a bounce there. But we got a bounce later.”

The Aeros would indeed get a bounce later. Several. And these bounces would please the crowd of 5,129.

The bounces would start several minutes later when right wing Joel Ward would get his first goal of the season to tie the game at one. Lake Erie would regain the lead in second, but as Ward said, “We just executed a little bit. We just kind of stayed calm and didn’t panic.”

At 8:35 of the third period, left win Aaron Voros would tie the game with a shot from the upper edge of the end zone face-off circle – with Ward and Erik Reitz getting the assists. Then, at 14:03 of the third, right wing Petr Kalus would just kind of slide a shot under the Lake Erie goalie to give the Aeros the lead.

The Aeros were not out of the woods, especially when Voros would get nailed with a five minute major for high-sticking at 17:19 left in the game, meaning Lake Erie would be on the power play for the rest of the game. But Brust, in the midst of turning in another of the fantastic performance, would block several shots in the last three minutes, and Joel Ward would block a slap shot with time running out to preserve the victory on Friday.

Ward called the win “good for our team. It’s a real confidence booster.” He also said, “We’re just going to build off of this. We just want to win hockey games.” And Constantine called this the team’s best game of the year.

And while Friday may have been the team’s best game of the year, 3,335 fans on Sunday saw a return to the penalty-plagued Aeros that existed earlier in the season. Defenseman Erik Reitz, who has so often been the star this season, found himself in the penalty box three times on Sunday for penalties ranging from unsportsmanlike conduct to slashing to boarding. Rookie Cal Clutterbuck, recently returned from playing with the parent club Minnesota Wild, ended the first period by getting called for a charging penalty, which would be the first of his three penalties for the night.

But while the Aeros were often skating a man down Sunday, the penalty kill continued to improve and goalie Nolan Schaefer would continue this season’s Aero goalie tradition by turning in an excellent game, blocking 25 of 26 shots in the game, including several shots as time was expiring in regular action, and saving two shots in the overtime period.

Thanks to Schaefer’s play and a pretty wraparound goal from right wing Petr Kalus at the 2:26 point of the second period, the Aeros were able to send the Sunday game into overtime before winning on the shootout.

In the shutout, Schaefer would stop 4 of the 5 Lake Erie shots while Shawn Belle and Aaron Voros would score to give the Aeros a 2-1 advantage in the shootout, and the win, 2-1.

The Sunday win would increase the Aeros record to 4-5-1-0 after ten games.

Miscellaneous Game Notes:

The combo of Joel Ward, Aaron Voros, and Erik Reitz were involved in the first two goals of Friday night for the Aeros. Ward would score the first with the assist coming from Voros and Reitz. Voros scored the second with the assist coming from Ward and Reitz.

Reitz continues to be the team’s leading scorer with 12 points (4 goals and 8 assists).

Aaron Voros got a goal Friday night, and shot the winner in the shootout. Petr Kalus scored the game-winning goal Friday night, and he scored the Aeros only regulation goal on Sunday afternoon.

This weekend series was the first ever between the Aeros and the expansion Monsters. Lake Erie is based in Cleveland and is the primary affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.

The Aeros continued with the season long inability to convert on the power play, failing to convert on any of the nine opportunities over the weekend. This leaves them at 4 for 69 on the season.

The Aeros are 2 for 2 in the shootout this season. For those unfamiliar with the shootout, these are the basics: if a game ends in a tie, there is a five-minute sudden-death overtime period in which each team skates with one man down. If no team scores after the overtime, there is the shootout. This consists of a skater with the puck going at the goalie and trying to get the puck into the net. Each team gets to choose five shooters. One guy shoots for a team, then the next team gets a shot, and they alternate. The winner if the team with the most goals after five shots. If there is still a tie, they keep with the shootout until one team has an advantage. The winning team gets the victory; the losing team gets a shootout loss, and a point in the standings, instead of the loss and no points.

Aeros goalie Nolan Schaefer, after surviving Sunday, said the shootout “makes the game more exciting….I think it’s exciting and gives teams an extra way to get that point at the end.”

Aeros defenseman Shawn Belle is rather impressive in shootout opportunities. He was a perfect 5 for 5 in shootout opportunities last season – the only AHL player who was perfect on more than two shots. And he scored on the shootout last night. When asked about his secret, his answer was simple, and self-effacing: “I don’t think goalies realize it’s me coming down the ice. They haven’t seen me the whole game so they don’t know what to expect.” (As a defenseman, Belle doesn’t get many scoring opportunities, and most of those are far from the net.)

While Coach Constantine decries stupid penalties, especially at the end of the game, he was not angry with Voros after Friday’s high-sticking at the end of the game as he felt Voros’ action was accidental and beyond his control.

The Aeros out shot Lake Erie on Friday night 31-21, but were, in turn, out shot on Sunday 26-22.

Aaron Voros believes the team is beginning to come together: “The thing about a coaching change with a bunch of young kids is it takes awhile to get adjusted,” he said after Sunday’s game. “But I think we’re finally starting to come together and win the close ones.” He would also say, “I think we’re going to start winning the close games and pulling these things out.”

Shawn Belle concurred with Voros: “Good teams find a way to win. We’re taking a step in the right direction.”

The Aeros went 3 for 4 on this home stand, raising their record to 4-5-1-0 after ten games. The team could’ve easily gone 4 for 4.

Friday night was the team’s second annual Breast Cancer Awareness Night. For this game, the Aero Dynamic cheerleaders wore tight pink shirts, tight black shorts, and white, knee high socks. I far preferred this look to their regular uniforms.

And the season’s first video board marriage proposal was made on Friday night. The proposal was accepted.

I’ve also noticed that the Aeros are running advertisements for Buccee’s. And Buccee Beaver was at this weekend’s games. Can someone help me out here? I know of the gigantic Buccee’s on I-10 at Luling, about 150 miles out from Houston. Are there any of these places any closer to Houston? And if so, are they as overpriced as the one in Luling?

I’ve got to say that I think the Aeros, with their limited budget, provide a far superior fan experience than the Astros, Texans, and Rockets. The Aero Dynamics greet fans as they enter arena, and they dance in the Toyota Center aisles during breaks in the action. Try getting a Power Dancer into the stands. The music is not as loud and obnoxious as at an Astros game. Sure, you’ve got to pay the Toyota Center prices for food and drinks, but the food choices are plentiful, and it’s not as bad paying high prices for a good product as it is paying that money while watching an Astros game. I like the whole chuck-a-puck thing (during intermissions, fans get the opportunity to chuck a puck into a helmet at center ice for a prize).

And I think Aeros fans are more passionate and knowledgeable about hockey than fans of the Astros, Rockets and Texans are about their respective sports. I often get the impression at Astros games that the fans are there because it’s the hip thing (and that won’t be for much longer) and to get drunk, rather than to actually watch the game. And I just don’t think Rockets fans really care about the Rockets so much as they’re interested in the individual players. As for Texans fans, I think most fans just come out now to boo and scream about Vince Young.

The Aeros will play in Milwaukee on Thursday night and Quad Cities on Friday, then will return to Toyota Center for a tilt with the Worcester Sharks on Saturday night. – John Royal

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