Before Friday night’s bout against the Houston Aeros, the Chicago Wolves were 33-5-0-2 when scoring the game’s first goal. They were 24-3-0-2 when leading the game after the first period. And the Wolves, who had lost three straight, hadn’t lost four straight games since December. So when Chicago’s Jason Krog got his 34th goal of the season to put the Wolves up 3-0 at 17:41 of the first period, if you were one of the 10,211 fans in attendance, you might be forgiven for thinking the game was over.
Only it wasn’t over.
Playing like a team possessed, the Aeros stormed onto the ice in the second period and played one of the best periods of hockey they’ve played this season. Defenseman Brandon Rogers fired in a slap shot from the left circle at 9:52 of the second to make the score 3-1. And after Chicago left wing Jordan LaVellee scored 20 seconds later to make it 4-1, the Aeros hopped aboard the magic stick of right wing Joel Ward and got right back into the game.
Receiving a cross-ice pass from left wing Petr Kalus, Ward rifled a shot from the right face-off circle to make the score 4-2 at 11:05 of the second. Then, skating and sliding through the traffic, Ward got to the right of the goalie and slipped the puck through open space into the net to make the score 4-3 at 15:46 of the second.
Chicago held this 4-3 lead into the third when Wolves right wing Darren Haydar was sent to the penalty box for slashing at 8:34. Then right wing Joey Crabb was sent to the penalty box at 9:21 for holding, and suddenly the Aeros were on a five-on-three power play.
The magic appeared to still be there as Rogers tied the game at 9:43 (his second goal of the night). However, the goal was disallowed because left wing Peter Olvecky’s foot was in the goal crease and he made incidental contact with Chicago goalie Robert Gherson.
“[Referee Dean Morton] had told our team a number of times not to get their feet in the blue and make incidental contact,” Constantine said after the game.
So the Aeros reset and regained control of the puck after the face-off. Rogers was up top and passed the puck down to the magic stick of Ward who found center Marco Rosa open across from him, and Rosa proceeded to slap the puck in to tie the score at 10:21 of the third, wiping out Chicago’s seemingly insurmountable lead.
“It was a huge goal. We talked about it. We said that next goal is going to be huge. Who wants it? Who’s going to be the guy?” Rosa said. “We were throwing everything at them in the third period. We came out strong like we needed to, and so fortunately I was in position to give us the tying goal.”
The full comeback succeeded just over a minute later when center Serge Payer won a face-off in the Chicago zone, fed the puck up to defenseman Jon Awe at the blue line, and Awe fired a rocket toward the Chicago goal.
“I’m a shooter, not a passer,” Awe said. “So I’m thinking to shoot it at all times. I had a little lane and I put it through and luckily it went through the net.”
That little lane, it should be noted, was temporarily occupied by right wing Danny Irmen, who was able to deflect Awe’s shot just enough so that, at 11:34 of the third, the puck flew past the goalie to give the Aeros the 5-4 lead.
“To be down 3-0 in any game is a hard,” Rosa said. “We showed a lot of heart tonight. When you’re down three goals to start off the first period it’s not easy. You want to stick to the game plan, but it’s hard not to change things because you feel like things aren’t going the right way and you want to do something different because [it’s] three nothing. But we stuck to our game plan which is what we needed to do.”
As the clock hit 00:00, the crowd was on its feet, shouting, and stomping, and shaking the Toyota Center as the guys hugged each on the ice and headed off for their lockers.
Then the guys hit the bus for the trip to San Antonio and a game with their cross-state rival Rampage on Sunday. Barry Brust blocked 36 of 38 shots. Ryan Hamilton scored two goals, and Danny Irmen got the other, as the Aeros won 3-2.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
The Aeros record is now 38-25-2-3 (81 points) for the season. With 12 games remaining in the season, the Aeros are now tied with the Milwaukee Admirals in the standings and have climbed to within one point of the third place Rampage, with the second place Rockford IceHogs only three points ahead.
If the Aeros finish in fifth in the West, they will probably qualify for the playoffs and become the fourth seed in the North Division, where they would face Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. If they can find a way to stay in fourth place of the West, they will face off with the Wolves. But there’s still the chance they can move up to second place and get the home ice advantage. Or, since the division is so close, there’s also the chance they will still miss the playoffs.
Friday night was only the second time this season the Aeros have come back from a three-goal deficit. The first time happened on February 22 when they came back in Syracuse to beat the Crunch 5-4.
The Aeros now have a record of 9-22-1-1 when the opponent scores first, and they are now 5-13-0-1 when trailing after the first and 4-17-2-0 when trailing after the second. And to show the importance of offense, the Aeros are now 30-1-2-2 when scoring three-plus goals in a game.
Marco Rosa now has a point in five of his last six games (two goals and seven assists for nine points).
Thursday night’s hero, Anton Khudobin, was pulled at 8:37 of the first period on Friday after allowing the short-handed goal that put Chicago up 2-0. (In fairness, Khudobin blocked the initial shot, but the goal scored when the puck reflected off of Brandon Rogers’s skate.)
Joel Ward set his season high with this two goals and the assist (3 points). “It’s kind of rare to chip in with goals,” he said. “I’m happy about it. I’m glad the team won both games against Chicago, that’s a huge confidence booster for us. They’re the number one team in the league.”
“Joel just had a lot of magic tonight in his stick,” Constantine said. “That’s why we put him out there.”
Many of the 10,211 in attendance had yet to find their seats when the fun started on Friday night. Right wing Matt Kassian got into a bit of a tiff with Chicago center Andre Deveaux that had them sent to the penalty box for fighting at 2:28 of the first. And despite the goals, the Aeros kept with the hitting throughout the first period, which included more fights, several roughing penalties, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Chicago.
Awe, who spent time with the Wolves last season, made it clear this was part of the game plan: “I know what kind of team they are. You get on them, you hit them a lot, and stuff like that, and they get down, and they start yelling at the refs – and you can see out there they got a couple of minors from yelling at the refs – they’ll hurt themselves. And that’s what you got to do. You got to keep playing hard against them.”
Coach Constantine credited the crowd for helping with the victory: “I think the crowd added some energy in the building tonight which energized us. And then you get some momentum and sometimes that’s just hard to change in hockey. The momentum started to change our way in the second period and we carried that through to the third.”
More good news: the Lady Dynamics were present. And forget what I’ve said about their short skirts. Friday night they wore black biker shorts and tight black tops. I think I have a new favorite Dynamic uniform. Thank you, ladies.
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I spoke briefly with Erik Reitz and Nolan Schaefer after Friday’s game. Reitz said his ankle was better, but he’s still not able to skate. Schaefer is able to skate, and he thinks his groin is improving, but as he said, he’s been thinking that for a couple of weeks now.
As for Reitz, the last word out of Minnesota is that as soon as he’s healthy enough to skate he will be on his way up to the big club.
And speaking of the Wild, for any of you who are wondering, Benoit Pouliot score his first two career NHL goals in the Wild’s 5-4 loss to Calgary on Saturday night. I wouldn’t be expecting his return to Houston anytime soon.
The Aeros play four more games to finish out the month. They’re at home on Tuesday and Friday against playoff competition Peoria Rivermen, then they play the Wolves in Chicago on Saturday and another competitor for a playoff spot, the Milwaukee Admirals, in Milwaukee on Sunday. The Aeros are three points up on Peoria, and they are currently tied with Milwaukee. -- John Royal