"Free Brusty," Aeros Fans Cry

It's safe to say that this season has probably not gone as Houston Aeros goalie Barry Brust intended for it to go back in September. Brust, who split the number-one goalkeeper duties with Nolan Schaefer for the Aeros the past two seasons, has undergone a season derailed by injuries and a seemingly inexplicable lack of confidence coming from the Minnesota Wild front office.

Yet as the Aeros prepare to play their final 27 games of the season, it's Brust who might end up being the difference between the team making the playoffs or staying home when the regular season ends.  

Brust played 28 games for the Aeros last season, earning a spot in the AHL All Star Game, finishing with a record of 9-9-3. But he suffered a broken bone in his right foot before the playoffs begun, and he watched from the bench as third-string goalie Anton Khudobin took over from him and Schaefer, who was also injured, and led the Aeros on a thrilling playoff ride. Schaefer departed for Russia and the KHL hockey league during the offseason while Brust attempted to recover from his injury. Yet it appeared that Brust, still under contract to the Wild, and thus the Aeros, would enter this season as the team's number-one goalie.

But the Wild had different ideas. They signed free agent goalie Wade Dubielewicz and the Aeros came into camp with Brust, Khudobin, and Dubielewicz, three goalies who had proven they could handle AHL competition. The thinking was that the Wild would be trading backup goalie Josh Harding and that Brust or Dubielewicz would serve as the backup there. Only the Wild never traded Harding, and Brust re-injured his foot in camp.

Khudobin excelled in camp and became the team's number-one goalie. Dubielewicz became the number two, and the injured Brust found himself at number three on the team's depth chart.  

Brust has spent the majority of this season either injured or with the ECHL's Florida Everblades, a team on a rung below the Aeros, ostensibly for the purpose or rehabbing his injury. In 16 games with Florida he has gone 9-3-0-2 while allowing only 2.24 goals a game. He spent some time in Houston around the New Year when Dubielewicz was in Europe playing in an international competition for Canada. But when Dubielewicz returned, Brust went back to Canada.

Now the time has come, however. Harding has been unable to play due to a hip injury, and the Wild's number-one goalie, Niklas Backstrom, has been ill, so both Khudobin and Dubielewicz have been in Minnesota. Enter Brust, who last Wednesday, in a game against Peoria, suffered a serious gash on his leg, yet stayed in the game for the Aeros and got the win. Brust received 30 stitches during the game; he was unable to play last Friday when a injury-depleted Aeros lost in Milwaukee. But he returned to mind the net on Saturday night as the Aeros won.

Brust, who has had his share of bad luck this season, says he's okay. "I would call it being hurt more than being injured," he said. "I only missed one game, so that part of it's not too bad. I'm glad I was able to come and help the team get some points, and I hope it continues."

And Brust's help the team can use. The team's record is currently 26-20-6-1 for 59 points, leaving them in fifth place of the AHL's West Division. This puts them five points out of the final playoff spot, and starting tonight, the Aeros play three home games that could help catapult them back into playoff contention.

The key, according to Brust, is the team putting together a run of victories. "I think anytime your team is coached by Kevin Constantine that you have a chance to be there," he said. "We are definitely going to have to put together a nice little run though, which we are fully capable of."

The nice little runs at the end of the season have become a staple of the Kevin Constantine Aeros. The team is currently 3-1-0-0 for their last four games, and Constantine feels that the team needs to put together a 10-game streak where they go 7-3 or 8-2. They play Grand Rapids tonight and tomorrow and division rival Chicago on Sunday afternoon. Thus is set up the perfect opportunity for the Aeros to make big strides towards that 10-game streak and the possible playoff berth.  

The Aeros fans who have been wanting the team to "Free Brusty" should now be happy since Brust is back in goal. And those fans and teammates holding out hopes for the playoffs should also feel better because one of the key ingredients to the past two Aeros playoff teams is fit, healthy, and ready to stop the puck.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal