Houston Aeros goalie Wade Dubielewicz has been all over the place recently. He's been traveling with the Aeros as they criss-cross the country. He's been to Minnesota and California with the parent club Minnesota Wild. Saturday night he backed-up the Wild in San Jose, then hopped a flight back to Houston so that he could start in goal for the Aeros last night.
The Aeros got the 3-1 win over a tired Abbotsford Heat team last night. But Dubielewicz faced 31 shots -- 14 in the third period -- and without his play, the Aeros might not have gotten the win.
But luckily for Dubielewicz, the Aeros, and the fans, Continental Airlines had only one seat available on his Sunday flight from San Jose to Houston, and that seat was in first class, giving the well-traveled goalie a chance to get some much needed rest.
"It's fine mentally," Dubielewicz said of his travels. "And physically, it's not that bad. I got lucky from San Jose back to Houston. The only seat left was a first class ticket, I got a first class ticket....I didn't sleep the night before very well either, so I had a good nap on the plane. So I can't complain."
And neither can the Aeros, seeing as they were outshot 14-1 in the third period last night by a shoot-first, pass-later Abbotsford team trying desperately for a win. But Dubielewicz said that he prefers to play teams like the Heat precisely because of their style of play.
"These type teams, if you're not efficient, it really is a long night for you. But if you can be efficient, and your team plays well, then it's a lot of fun to play these type teams," he said.
Luckily, the Aeros played good hockey in the first and second periods, jumping out to a 2-0 first period lead, and then a 3-1 lead after two periods. The first goal came about when Danny Irmen got loose in open ice with the puck and had Chad Rau trailing him. His path to goal appearing to be clear, Irmen tripped and started to fall face down toward the ice, but he was able to pass the puck over to Rau, and Rau, who had the wide-open net, didn't miss, making it 1-0 Houston at the 14:27 mark of the first period.
The Aeros then jumped out 2-0 at the 17:10 mark when Colton Gillies stole the puck, and, as he was falling face first to the ice, knocked the puck over to an open Nathan Smith who buried the puck in the net for the goal. Abbotsford scored at 1:51 in the second to make it 2-1, but the Aeros went up 3-1 at 10:43 as Cody Almond stuck the puck past the Abbotsford goalie during a scrum at the net which saw player after player flopping onto opponents in an attempt to get to the puck.
After that, it was just up to Dubielewicz to guide the team to the victory.
But all is not yet well for the Aeros. With the win, the team's record is now 24-19-6-1 (55 points) with only 30 games remaining in the season. The Aeros are sitting in fifth place; however, only four teams from the division can make the playoffs, and the Aeros are four points behind the fourth place Chicago Wolves, and five points behind the third place Milwaukee Admirals.
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"I can't really say that I've seen a division this strong one through six...." Dubielewicz said. "One through seven [counting seventh place San Antonio], very strong. San Antonio's no pushover...we're going to have to find a way to put together a good stretch. And it's going to have to be against good teams."
This is nothing new to head coach Kevin Constantine who noted that it has gone down to the end of the season for the Aeros the past two seasons as the West Division has proven to be the toughest division in the AHL. If the Aeros had had one more loss or one fewer point, it's possible that they would have been out of the playoffs in either of those years.
"We've got to somehow put together a 7-3 or 8-2 stretch," Dubielewicz said. "None of this 5-4-1 stuff. It has to be a 7-and-3 or an 8-and-2 or we're not going to make the playoffs. That's tough. But that's reality right now. I think we're starting to realize it."
But with only 30 games left, let's hope that the Aeros didn't realize this too late. The Aeros return to action at the Toyota Center on Wednesday night when they host the sixth place Peoria Rivermen in a game which neither team can afford to lose. Not at this time of the year.