Broadcaster Al Michaels made his name calling the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey victory over the Soviet Union, crying out “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” as the U.S.A. pulled off one of the biggest upsets in sporting history.
Now, if I were to tell you that the Chicago Wolves, the team with the Western Conference’s best record, and the league’s highest-scoring offense, and the league’s second best power play, were defeated by a Houston Aeros team that had lost three of four and was starting a rookie goaltender, you would probably proclaim that the Aeros would’ve needed a miracle to win the game.
Well, as Al Michaels might say: “Do you believe in miracles? Yes.”
The Houston Aeros emerged from the locker room last night ready to hit. They came out with a sense of urgency that recently they’ve displayed only when playing from behind. They played like a team tired of being pushed around by the playground bullies, and no matter how hard Chicago hit, no matter how hard Chicago tried to instigate, the Aeros didn’t let it get to them. They kept their heads on the goal.
Defeating the Chicago Wolves.
Coach Kevin Constantine had joked after Wednesday’s loss that the funny thing about hockey is you just can’t anticipate the future. That one night you start a rookie goalie against a high-flying offense and you’ll end up with the rookie getting a shut-out. But joking as he might have been Wednesday, following Thursday’s 1-0 Aeros victory that was started by rookie Anton Khudobin, he looked like a man who had just had a huge load lifted off of his shoulders.
The game was scoreless through a period-and-half, but at the 11:08 point of the second, one of Al Michaels’s miracles happened when the Aeros scored the game’s only goal on the power play. Right wing Peter Olvecky, who earlier in the game had misfired on a penalty-shot, tipped in a Jon Awe slap shot past Chicago goalie Ondreg Pavelec.
And despite facing a flurry of 15 third period shots, Khudobin held the Wolves without a goal to guarantee the 1-0 victory in front of 4,445 fans.
Khudobin was a happy man following the game last night. “I thought Chicago played skilled hockey. Every time lots of shots. Every time lots of passes,” he said. “We lost last time….our team was tired maybe. But today we played all together. Today we played for each other. We helped each other.”
Khudobin is like his fellow goalies Nolan Schaefer and Barry Brust in that he shares his success with his teammates: “The guys blocked lots of shots….I helped team. They helped me.”
But Constantine was thankful for Khudobin’s play. “He was really good. He’s real excited to play, I’m sure. He’s been itching to play. He really stepped forward and did a good job,” he said after the game. “It was what we needed.”
“This is of course for me so important. This is a good game for me,” Khudobin said. “I’m happy. The guys are happy.”
And after last night’s victory, the fans were also happy.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
This was only Anton Khudobin’s fourth start, and it was only his eighth game of the season. Yet after sitting on the bench for most of the past couple of months, Khudobin blocked 26 Chicago shots.
“It was hard for me,” he said. “This is a bigger level.”
The shut-out was Khudobin’s first of the season. But it was the team’s ninth, and that ties the team record set in the 2004-2005 season by now-NHL goalies Josh Harding and Mike Smith. Nolan Schaefer has five of this year’s shut-outs, and Barry Brust has the other three.
The Aeros have the league’s second-best penalty kill. The Wolves have the league’s second-best power play. Something had to give. With the way the Aeros have been playing lately, it would be easy to think it was the Aeros who would give. Instead, the Wolves went 0-8 last night on the power play, including a crucial five-on-three power play late in the third period.
The Aeros, who have the league’s worst power play, scored the game’s only goal on a power play. And Peter Olvecky’s goal was his ninth goal on the power play this season. Olvecky also leads the team with a total of 16 goals.
The victory was important for several reasons. First, the team broke out of a mini-slump that had seen them lose three of their last four. Second, with the hard-charging Peoria Rivermen and Quad City Flames having the night off, the Aeros were able to put a little distance between themselves and their playoff competition.
“Our guys, as good teams should, really hate losing,” Constantine said after the game. “Right now, the games are so important in the standings.”
The Aeros record is now 36-25-2-3 (77 points). They’re now three points up on Peoria, and four points up on Quad City. The Aeros still hold the final slot in the Western Conference playoff standings. But with the victory, they pulled to within two points of the Milwaukee Admirals, who hold the next spot in the standings.
As of this writing, there is no news from Minnesota on who will be called up to replace Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster, who broke his leg on Wednesday night. However, Wild coach Jacques Lemaire doesn’t seem too thrilled with his options down here. And while the victory was nice, the trainer’s room looked like something from a MASH unit after the game.
The Lady Dynamics were in action last night, and they were wearing their short skirts – thank you. But only half of the squad was there, and I’d really like to know which idiot directed the camera guy to shoot the damn mascot during a break in the game in which “YMCA” was playing and the girls were dancing. Moron.
Now I need to talk to the sound crew again. Look, the next time I hear “How Soon Is Now?” at a hockey game, Alyssa Milano and / or Neve Campbell better be in the damn arena. (Speaking of which, does anyone out there have any idea about what happened to Neve’s career?)
And really, “The Final Countdown.” Does someone really think that’s a good choice for pumping up the crowd before the puck drops? I’m telling you, Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” is just the song you need.
As for the really big news…Miss Aero was named last night. And while all of the contestants were really quite lovely out there on the ice in their bikinis, the fan choice was Britany. And I can’t say that I disagree.
The Aeros return to action tonight against the Wolves, with puck drop set for 7:35. – John Royal
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