I thought that, with the Houston Aeros season now over, I would do one of those end-of-season award things. So here goes.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Krys Kolanos. Kolanos barely played in half of the team's regular season as he was constantly up and down with the Minnesota Wild. But he was a one-man scoring machine who could seemingly score from anywhere. His presence on the team served to open up for space whoever was playing on a line with him, and that in turn made the team that much better.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Matt Beaudoin. Beaudoin didn't make his first appearance with the club until December when the club signed him as a free agent to fill in due to injuries. And he made his presence felt right away. He proved to be an adept scorer with the innate ability to be in the right place at the right time. Head coach Kevin Constantine credited Beaudoin as one of the keys of the team's power play and Beaudoin, at times during the playoffs, was as unstoppable as Kolanos was during the regular season.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Matt Beaudoin.
FIND OF THE YEAR: Tony Hrkac. Hrkac had been retired for four years and was serving as a head coach to a newly born college hockey program when he received a call from the Aeros asking if he would like to give it another go. He joined the team in mid-March and took the rest of the regular season to play into shape, but he was a force in the playoffs, setting up his teammates for goal after goal.
FAN FAVORITE: Mitch Love. Love is a bit of a fighter. So much so that the Toyota Center sound crew even had a song cued up to play whenever he got into a fight, which seemed to be at least once a game. Love used these fights as chances to get the home crowd into the game, as energizing the fans also meant energizing the players. But he was more than just a fighter. While not an offensive threat by any means, Love was a solid player who, for the most part, didn't make stupid plays, advanced the puck, and kept the other teams on their toes.
BEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR: Game Four of the second round of the playoffs against the Milwaukee Admirals. This day was goaltender Anton Khudobin's birthday, and he shut out the Admirals to put the Aeros up 3-1 in the series. But the best moment came as the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to him after the game and he basked in the glow with a huge smile on his face.
INSPIRATIONAL STORY OF THE YEAR: Kurtis Foster. Foster only played in six games with the Aeros this season. But the fact that he was able to play any games at all was the remarkable thing as he was overcoming a gruesome injury from the year before that could have ended his career. He came to Houston for a rehab stint before going up to the Wild, and he immediately became part of the team, and a key part of the team as he contributed six points (1 goal, five assists) in those six games.
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MOST IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON: Way back on December 13, the Aeros got five goals on five straight shots in just over six minutes of second period action against the Hershey Bears.
But now the season is over, and at some point, the team will start preparing for next season. There may be some very big changes to come, however, as star forwards Krys Kolanos, Corey Locke, Jesse Schultz, and Matt Beaudoin are all free agents. The team's number-one goalie, Nolan Schaefer, is also a free agent. Tony Hrkac is supposed to be returning to college coaching, though there is talk that he might be up for returning for another season.
Little of that can be sorted until things are finally settled up in Minnesota. The Wild's head coach resigned at the end of the season, and the general manager was fired. The Wild have a new GM in place, and he's currently searching for a new coach. One of the top candidates is Aeros coach Kevin Constantine. The Aeros' GM is Tom Lynn, who was the Wild's assistant general manager. And until Lynn's status with the Wild is finalized, or until a replacement is brought in should Lynn depart, it is difficult for the Aeros to do much personnel-wise. And should Constantine not get the Wild job, and should a new GM take over the Aeros, it's possible that Constantine and his staff will depart.
So it shapes up to be an interesting summer for the Aeros players, management, and fans.