Senators And Bad Officiating Have Aeros On The Edge Of Defeat

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John Royal
Jean-Michel Daoust about to tie Saturday's game at 1-1
The Houston Aeros play in hockey's top minor league. The players take the game as seriously as those who play in the NHL. And the stakes can be just as important, what with promotions and careers riding on each shift a guy takes on the ice.

But since the AHL is a minor league, the Aeros find themselves facing minor league problems. Like traveling to Binghamton, New York, a small town closer to Scranton, Pennsylvania than New York City, to play the Binghamton Senators for the AHL Calder Cup title in a building that probably looked modern in the early 1970s, but which featured a smaller rink that appeared to negate the Aeros speed advantage.

The worse thing about playing in a minor league, however, is that the officials are minor league. And while the Aeros' run to through the playoffs has seen nothing but awful officiating featuring missed goal calls, phantom penalties, and general mistreatment of players, the officiating was so bad over the weekend that not only did the Aeros lose games four and five of the finals to fall behind the Senators 3-2 while possibly losing two key players due to injuries, the Aeros finally lost their cool and decided to make their thoughts about the officiating known far and wide.

"If you didn't ask me about it, I was going to ask you if you wanted to ask me about it," Aeros head coach Mike Yeo said after the team's 4-2 game five loss on Saturday. "But certainly we took some penalties we shouldn't have taken. But at the same time, I think that some were either called that shouldn't have been called, or I think that there were some penalties that should have been called that were not called."

The criticism seems mild until one realizes that Yeo never speaks about the officiating. He doesn't believe in pinning losses on anybody but his team, or giving credit to the opposition for playing a superior game. But after center Cody Almond was lost to a leg injury on Friday night and defenseman Jared Spurgeon was lost on Saturday, both times with not a whistle to be heard or a penalty given, Yeo couldn't take it anymore.

"The one thing that you ask [of the officials] is don't just manage the game," he said. "As soon as it's 4-2 in power plays you know that they're going to call one. At the same time, we're dominating puck possession time, and I think that, minus last game, we've dominated puck possession time in the entire series, yet they have 21 power plays to our 17. And we're not known as being an undisciplined team. That's not because we're being undisciplined, they're doing the same stuff after the whistle that we're doing, both teams are doing that stuff. But the play between the whistles, when you're actually playing, when you have the puck that many times, you're team should be on the power play more than it should be short-handed."

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John Royal
Matt Hackett can do nothing but watch as the puck goes past him for a Binghamton score
Not that officiating is what cost the Aeros games four and five. The Aeros lost game four on Friday night by a 3-0 score in a game that featured a Houston squad that just didn't seem to give a damn. The Senators played as if it was a game seven, whereas the Aeros played as if it was just another early-season game.

But on Saturday night, the Aeros put out the appropriate effort, playing as if they too were playing in a game seven. Jean-Michel Daoust, who had been little seen in the playoffs, sparked the Aeros on Saturday night, scoring twice as he starred on a revamped fourth line featuring Pascal Morency, a right wing who hadn't played since the regular season ended, but was forced into action because of the injury to Almond. Their efforts weren't enough, however, as the Aeros lost 4-2.

The action, and awful officiating, returns to Houston tomorrow night as the teams play game six at Toyota Center. While the action might be returning, it's questionable whether Almond or Spurgeon will be able to return. But whether those two play or not, the Aeros will not stand a chance if they return to the style of play they exhibited on Friday night.

"One thing is, I know for sure, we're a tough team to play against at home," Yeo said Saturday. "I know that they're a very good road team, and we're going to be expecting them to play a great game, but we seem to have a little bit more jump at times, we seem to have a little bit more speed, a little bit more physicality, and a little bit more just of every shift, every guy going out and doing things the right way. That's probably not uncommon for a lot of teams, but because of the way we play at home, because of things that we've seen for the most part in the series, and because of the fact that we worked so hard this year to get home-ice advantage, we still are very optimistic."

As of Saturday, the Aeros were reporting that over 7,000 tickets had already been sold for tomorrow's game, so the Toyota Center should be loud. And that's just what team captain Jon DiSalvatore wants.

"Bring it! Bring it as loud and as crazy as you can bring it," DiSalvatore said Saturday. "We're excited to get home and play for them. They've been great all year, and we expect them to be a huge boost for us coming home."

And no matter what happens Tuesday night, no matter how bad the officiating, don't litter the ice with trash and debris as the Binghamton fans did after an imagined bad call on Wednesday night. Leave the officiating battles to Mike Yeo.

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