No sport combines sheer brutality and sheer athletic grace like hockey. And on Saturday night, when the Houston Aeros defeated the Springfield Falcons 2-0, no other player provided a better example of this dichotomy than Aeros right wing Petr Kalus.
Meeting for the only second time ever, the Aeros and the visiting Springfield Falcons continued with the physical brutality from their first meeting one week before. That previous game had featured Aeros goalie Nolan Schaefer being ejected from the game after he charged across the ice to get into a confrontation with Springfield goalie Devan Dubnyk, who himself had leveled a cheap shot against Aeros right wing Cal Clutterbuck.
It was Clutterbuck who provided the early energy lift to the Aeros on Saturday when he delivered a vicious but legal hip check to Springfield’s Liam Reddox, a hit which would send Reddox to the locker room for the rest of the game at 7:42 into the first period. Just over two minutes later, Petr Kalus found himself with the puck in the Springfield zone, where he broke away from a Springfield skater, slid to his left then to the his right and, with just the goalie to deal with, sent a backhanded shot past the goalie for a highlight reel goal that would put the Aeros up 1-0.
As to Clutterbuck’s early play, Coach Kevin Constantine said after the game that the hit “was probably the most important thing on [Clutterbuck’s] mind, getting his game back and providing the team with some energy.”
The Aeros had led the previous contest with Springfield after one period, and Springfield’s response had been to ratchet up the physical play. Constantine said he and the team were prepared this time: “we knew it’d probably end up being a pretty physical game. We were just a little more ready to handle it.”
One of those prepared to handle things was Kalus who, at 5:56 into the second period, found himself being sent off of the ice for five minutes with a major penalty for fighting with Springfield’s Marc Pouliot. And just as they had done in the first period, the Aeros dominated the second period, out shooting Springfield by a large margin.
Petr Kalus cemented the win at 8:47 in the third with another highlight-reel shot, this time stopping, bringing the puck back toward his body, spinning slightly, darting around a Springfield player and heading straight toward the goalie before unleashing the shot for his second goal of the night.
Brutality and beauty. Grace, speed and fists. It’s what helps to make hockey so great. And on Saturday night against the Springfield Falcons, Petr Kalus was the epitome of hockey.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
Goalie Nolan Schaefer got his second shutout of the season, both coming at home. He stopped 21 Springfield shots on the night. This was also Schaefer’s tenth career AHL shutout.
Asked about his game, Schaefer said, “I feel pretty good. The team’s playing better and I’ve got more confidence in my [defense] and in the guys. It makes you feel good as a goalie and you can go out and play the angles a little bit better.”
With regards to the physical nature of the game with Springfield, he said, “It came from some of the stupid stuff from last game. I kind of started a big scrum. The guys still had a few bad feelings from that game, and it just kind of carried over tonight.”
The Aeros out shot Springfield 35-21 for the night, and seemed to be pressing the action for most of the night.
The Aeros had quite an adventure in making it to the game. They played Friday night in Des Moines, Iowa. They trucked down to Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday morning and caught a flight to Dallas, where they stranded for awhile before making it to Houston late in the afternoon. They acted like it was a road game by checking into a hotel for a quick break, then hitting Toyota Center for some lunch and practice before the game.
Petr Kalus, the night’s offensive hero, said all the travel was tough on the team. “I was just kind of tired before the game,” he said sitting at his locker. “But I just kind of pushed myself, and I felt very good tonight. But we had a very tough day.”
Cal Clutterbuck acknowledged the tiredness of the team, which has spent most of this month on this road. “Everyone’s tired. Everyone’s thinking about Christmas, whether they want to admit to it or not. But I figured I just got to go out there in the first period and give it everything I got early.”
The Aeros record is now 15-12-1-2 for the season, including a record of 8-2-0-1 for the month. The team has also started to win on the road, and it went 4-2-0-1 on the recent road swing.
Coach Constantine attributes this improved play to many things, including the return of defensemen Erik Reitz and Clayton Stoner, left wing Benoit Pouliot, and center Serge Payer from injury.
“It’s a combination of a lot of different things,” he said after the game. “We got our captain back. [Erik Reitz] coming back was helpful. We got [Pouliot] back from injury. That was helpful. Our special teams have started to climb….Our penalty kill’s been real real good. And the guys are a little more comfortable with our system. We finally figured out how to win some games on the road. It’s just a lot of really little things.”
This was the fourth two-goal game of Kalus’s career.
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The Aeros have not lost a home game in regulation since October 30, 2007.
Saturday’s attendance was a season high 10,137.
The Aeros play their final home game of 2007 tonight, with game time set for 7:05. The Aeros will be taking on their cross-state rival, the San Antonio Rampage. The Aeros have three more games on the road this month, including a New Year’s Eve tilt in Des Moines and a New Year’s game in Peoria, Illinois. That Peoria game will be one of only two road games for the Aeros in January.
Finally, an apology. At the Aeros last home game on December 1, I heard it announced that the new Miss Aero would be crowned at the December 22 game against Springfield. I even confirmed with this some of my friends of mine on the Toyota Center video crew. If you were at Saturday’s game, you realize that there was no Miss Aero contest. So, I apologize for telling you that. I don’t know what happened. – John Royal