John Royal The Aeros are going to the playoffs
"We talked at the beginning of the year -- we tried to set a goal for ourselves," head coach Mike Yeo said after yesterday's win. "I asked the players how many wins that they think they could obtain this year, and we talked about it on the ice, our pregame skate in game one in Oklahoma City, and they came up with 46. So we went into the game [yesterday], and we needed this one to get it. That's a lot of days where you have to come to the rink, and you have to be ready to go, and you have to be ready to go at it the right way, and it's a lot of credit to those guys in there. You get 46 wins in a season and that's a good season."
But while the regular season is over for the Aeros, they're not done playing hockey. Not by a long shot. Because now it's time for the playoffs, and if you ask just about any sports fan, the most intense playoff atmosphere in any sport comes during the hockey playoffs.
The playoffs start for the Aeros, the number two seed in the AHL West Division, on Wednesday night as they host the Peoria Rivermen at Toyota Center. Game two will be at Toyota Center on Friday night before the series shifts to Peoria for games three, four, and five (if needed) in Peoria next week.
The Aeros played the Rivermen six times during the regular season, with Peoria winning three of the six games, including two games in Houston. But two of those losses came early in the season, before Jed Ortmeyer and Patrick O'Sullivan joined the team. Over their last 46 games, the Aeros went 30-13-0-1, and the Aeros finished the season strong, winning seven of their last ten.
"Confidence is a big thing," Ortmeyer said yesterday. "Once you get over that hump you start to get the taste of winning, and it becomes contagious. I think we added a little bit more depth to a team that was already good, and we won a couple of games in a row and guys started to get confident and comfortable with the system, and things kind of went from there."
Ortmeyer is going to be one of the keys to the team's success in the playoffs. Ortmeyer's one of the old guys of the group, and he's a veteran with playoff experience in both the AHL and the NHL. And since he's already assumed a leadership function with the team, he's going to be one of the first guys the team, especially the youngsters, will be turning to for advice.
John Royal Jed Ortmeyer with a big smile after scoring yesteday
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The Aeros will be in good physical shape heading into the playoffs as the team, for one of the few times this season, is healthy -- Marco Scandella, one of the few injured players, is skating with the team according Yeo and will be able to play come Wednesday. And they'll be in better shape with the return of several key players who were up with the Wild for the end of the Wild's NHL season. Max Noreau, Drew Bagnall, Jared Spurgeon, Carson McMillan, and Colton Gillies will be rejoining the team today -- the morning practice is being pushed back so that they can get in a full practice.
As for what sets the Aeros apart from their playoff competition, look to the intangibles.
"Character and leadership, I think," Yeo says. "We've got those things. And that's just not saying our older guys. I think we've got some young guys in leadership. When I talk about leadership, I talk about guys going out and doing things the right way. But we've got great leadership. We've got guys that are going to go out and do things the right way, but I think we've got a great understanding of what our game is. I think that we should have confidence going into game one that if we go out and play our game, then the right things are going to happen."
But will the right things happen? The Aeros will find out the answer to that question starting on Wednesday night.