R.I.P, Aeros' Playoff Hopes

It's all over for the Houston Aeros. Done. Finished. Kaput. No hope. The ship ain't sinking, it's sunk. There might be 18 games left in the regular season, but it doesn't really matter anymore.

The Aeros lost to the Texas Stars on Saturday night. They lost 5-2 in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicates. They lost because starting goalie Wade Dubielewicz saw three shots in the first period, and he allowed all three shots to go past him and into the net in an unmolested fashion. They lost because they didn't record their first official save until 2:05 had elapsed from the clock in the second period -- Barry Brust making a good save in an attempt to keep the team in the game. They lost because Dubielewicz had no help from his defense. They lost because they lost their composure -- the third period was a seemingly endless display of stupid penalties, cheap shots, and fights that needn't have happened. They lost because they made bad passes, and when they made great passes, they couldn't make their shots.

But ultimately, they lost because there's just so much that smart coaching, effort, and hard work can do for a team that has been hit by injuries, call-ups, and a lack of talent.

This past weekend was important to the Aeros. They played the Stars twice, Friday and Saturday. Two wins could have pulled the Aeros to within two points in the standings of the Stars in a battle for the last playoff spot in the West Division. But they lost 3-2 in Austin on Friday, and they lost on Saturday. With the losses, the Aeros record now stands at 28-26-6-1 (63 points), and they're only two points out of last place.

Aeros coach Kevin Constantine sounded defeated on Saturday night. He looked defeated. He said the right words. He made the right points. But he appeared to realize that for the first time in his professional coaching career, one of his teams was going to be missing out on the playoffs.

"Actually," he said Saturday, "I loved our first period. I didn't like the score [the team was losing 3-1 after the first], but I loved the way we worked, competed, and got scoring chances. I thought we, as a team, played really, really good. We gave up a few things. And it wasn't really entirely Wade's [Dubielewicz] fault, but we gave up a lot. We played really, really hard. I wasn't disappointed with the effort of the guys at all."

But that's been the thing with this Aeros squad all season. The effort is always there. The guys are generally in the position for good scoring chances. They outshot the Stars 9-3 in that disastrous first period -- they outshot the Stars 33-18 for the entire game. But Stars goalie Matt Climie, a hero for the Aeros in the playoffs last season, was just too good when he needed to be good -- which wasn't that often as the Aeros tended to screw up their own good shots and just made too many bad shots.

The team's only goals came through pure luck. The first goal, which briefly tied the game at 1-1 early in the first period, came when Jean-Michel Daoust fired a shot at the Texas goal which bounced off of the near post and directly to an onrushing Jamie Fraser who couldn't help but miss a wide-open net. And the team's second goal came late in the third with the game out of reach. The Stars were on the power play. With the puck coming his way, Climie skated way up toward center ice to play the puck. Jaime Sifers intercepted the pass and skated past a scrambling Climie to bury the puck for a completely illogical-sounding short-handed empty-net goal.

The Aeros will play out the remainder of the season -- including tomorrow night when they face division rival San Antonio in San Antonio and Friday when they host San Antonio. And knowing Kevin Constantine and the makeup of the players, they will play hard. The effort will be there. They will play like the rest of the season matters -- in a way, it does still matter as many of the guys will be coaching and playing for jobs next season -- but in reality, it's all over. It's going to take a miracle for the Aeros to reach the playoffs this season, and not even Disney or Herb Brooks can dream up a miracle that will keep this team on ice come playoff time.

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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