Do you know why hockey’s like real estate? Because it’s all about closing. If you’re not closing in real estate, you’re not making the sale. If you’re not closing in hockey, you’re not winning the game.
The Aeros had numerous opportunities to close out the game Friday night, including seven power play opportunities during the first three periods. But the Aeros couldn’t close. They couldn’t get the puck into the net, and if not for the spectacular play in the net of goalie Nolan Schaefer, the Aeros would’ve been losers at the end of three periods on Friday night.
But Schaefer stopped every shot he faced, some in very spectacular head-shaking-in-wonder fashion, a total of 26 in all, and as the clock reached 00:00 to end the third period, the Aeros and Peoria Rivermen were tied at 0-0.
The game had been rough and physical, with the bigger Peoria squad trying to outmuscle the Aeros. But then, like Mitch and Murray sending Alec Baldwin out to the regional office to talk about the coffee being for closers, and Cadillac El Dorados for winners, and the third place prize being “you’re fired,” the Aeros came out on fire and 50 seconds into the overtime closed out the game by closing out their eighth power play opportunity of the night on a Maxim Noreau slap shot into the net, winning the game 1-0.
After the game, Coach Kevin Constantine sat in his office, contemplating the victory: “We’ve played a lot of hockey [6 games in 11 days] and I thought for two periods we played really good, then it looked like we ran out of gas in the third, but hung in there. So to get the win after hanging in there and making two important things count – one was Schaefer’s goal tending, and one was our ability to kill with two men short – it would’ve been sad if we would have survived all of that and not got a win. So it was nice to get that.”
Noreau’s game-winning goal was his first as a professional. How did the goal happen? Well, according to Noreau, “I just kind of closed my eyes and hoped it went in.”
This was also goalie Nolan Schaefer’s first game in weeks, as he’s been up in Minnesota backing up Josh Harding. And despite pitching the shutout (to mix up sports metaphors), this wasn’t an easy game for him because of problems with “just getting back into the rhythm trying to see a few pucks and feel it,” he said. “I made a few bad plays behind the net. The speed difference between the NHL and here is just a little bit different so you have to readjust your timing as a goalie.”
Schaefer contends that the hardest difference between the NHL and AHL is “probably the timing difference. Trying to get used to the different speeds. The NHL is like no other league,” he said. “It’s just a little bit slower here, so for a goalie you have to change your timing, and it takes a little while to get that back.”
Constantine was a little easier on Schaefer, saying “The goalie’s the number one penalty killer. And he [Schaefer] was really sharp. So that’s why we got that done.”
So, always be closing. Schaefer set them up and Noreau sealed the deal. They might not be getting the Cadillac out of the win, but they’re definitely not being fired. And as happy as Mitch and Murray might be, the 5,534 fans in Toyota Center were probably happier.
But Saturday night’s game with the Grand Rapids Griffins had a bit of a different feel. Alec Baldwin was gone. The Glengarry leads had been stolen. Al Pacino’s closed deal was no longer closed. Everyone figured Ed Harris as the thief, and the cops were all over the office. These guys couldn’t close a deal if their lives depended on, even with the Glengarry leads, and the Aeros that started the night before a crowd of 8,034 had the look of a team that couldn’t close a game, much less start one.
Coach Constantine wasn’t thrilled with the team’s early play, either, saying, “I thought the difference was last night we really started strong and faded a little and then got a win in overtime. Tonight I thought we started really poorly. I thought we got dominated early.”
Coming into the game, the Aeros had gone nearly two games without giving up a goal. And Nolan Schaefer looked sharp in the pipes as the game started. But at 18:21 in the first period, he gave up the team’s first goal since Wednesday night as Aeros and Griffins converged on the net in what appeared to be a rugby scrum.
The first period ended with the Grand Rapids Griffins up 1-0, but the Aeros would tie it up 5:00 into the second period when what appeared to be a Morten Madsen cross-ice pass hit a Griffin’s skate and went into the net. But 34 seconds later, the Griffins would go back into the lead when a slap shot would fly past Schaefer. But ten minutes later, the Aeros would tie the game as Joel Ward would celebrate his birthday by getting his fourth goal of the season.
Constantine was pleased with this effort, especially after the way the team started the game. “We had to recover from that, which is hard in hockey. So the hardest part tonight was the fight we had to get ourselves back to the lead…So I thought it was a lot of character.”
The Aeros would get back into the lead in the third period when Friday’s hero, Maxim Noreau, got his second goal in two nights, his second goal of his professional career, and his second goal off a power play, to make the score 3-2 at the 4:57 mark.
The score would stay at 3-2 Aeros for the next ten minutes, at which point the Griffins, acting as if Alec Baldwin had just paid a visit to their bench, scored to tie the game.
After the game, Nolan Schaefer summed up his night by stating, “I could have played a lot better myself. This shows we’re trying to work better together as a team.”
And working together as a team is what the team would do as once again, as on Friday night, the team closed out the game in overtime by scoring a goal on a power play. But there was a new closer tonight, with defenseman Jon Awe knocking in a slap shot off of a power play 1:30 into overtime, giving the Aeros the 4-3 victory.
Awe’s goal was his first of the season, and after the game he said, “It’s nice to get that monkey off your back. The first one’s always the hardest. Hopefully they’ll pour in from here.”
It’s not how you start the game that matters. It’s how the game’s finished. And the game was finished by closing out the victory. Alec Baldwin and Mitch and Murray would be pleased. Even with the Glengarry leads stolen, the Aeros found a way to close the deal.
Maybe they’re going to earn that Cadillac yet.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
The Aeros are back at the .500 mark, sitting at 10-10-1-1 on the season. But the team will be spending most of December on the road, and the Aeros haven’t exactly been the best of teams on the road this season.
As to his birthday goal, Joel Ward said, “It’s always a good feeling to get a goal.” But more important than the goal was the win. “I’m glad to get the win,” he said. “It was good to get the win.” And he believes the team will survive on the road. “We’ve just got battle through,” he said. “Don’t pressure yourself. Just play your game.”
Each team always distributes a set of game notes before the game. The game notes contain information on the team’s previous games, biographical and statistical information on the team’s players and pronunciation guides for the rink announcer. The pronunciation guide is generally limited to what are known as “foreign-sounding” names, like guys from Russia, Eastern Europe, etc. The Peoria Rivermen pronunciation guide helpfully provided us with the pronunciation for the foreign-sounding names of Glenn, Brooks, Porter, Reaves, Benson and Schwarz.
Friday’s game against Peoria was the first Aeros game this season which had been scoreless after two periods.
Center Serge Payer, who’s been injured most of the season, said after Friday’s game that he is much better and will be able to return to action next Friday. Constantine said that defensemen Erik Reitz and Clayton Stone are also close to a return, but left wing Peter Olvecky and defensemen Brandon Rogers may be out for awhile.
The Aeros have been a team in chaos this season because of injuries in Minnesota, which has necessitated the call-up of numerous Aeros, and because of injuries to the Aeros. But Constantine thinks that ultimately, this may work in the team’s favor: “The really positive, good thing from our injuries: younger and other players get experience and confidence. And so now you got them with confidence, and now you get other guys back….And we’ve learned that some guys play. And maybe we made wrong decisions in training camp with some guys that really belonged to be here. If we can ever get healthy, then all of this will have been a positive.”
Several cities in Canada may be willing to dispute this fact, but according to a video being run at Toyota Center that is touting the AHL All-Star Game, Binghamton, New York, which is hosting the game, is the center of the hockey universe.
The Aeros are still having trouble on the power play, converting only 1 of 8 against Peoria and 2 of 7 against Grand Rapids. They are now 17-141 for the season, and are still sitting in last-place in the AHL on the power play.
The importance of the power play to the Aeros is reflected by the fact that the Aeros are 7-3-0-1 when scoring a power play goal in a game, but only 3-7-1-0 when failing to score a power play goal.
The Aeros are now 2-6-0-0 this season versus teams from Illinois. Both of those victories are against Peoria. And with the 1-0 OT victory, the Aeros are now 2-10-0-1 on the season for games when scoring less than 3 goals.
The Aeros record for November was 7-5-0-1.
The next home game is Saturday, December 22 against the Springfield Falcons. Guys, you might want to attend this game because it is at this game that Miss Aero will be crowned. And she will be crowned by way of an on-ice bikini contest. If that’s not enticement to attend a hockey game, I don’t know what is. -- John Royal
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