Because the Houston Aeros prefer having easy access to the Toyota Center ice, they use the locker room that, during Rocket games, is used by the Power Dancers cheer squad. So the locker room tends to be a bit cramped under normal circumstances. This past weekend, with about eight more players than normal still hanging around the squad, the locker room was so crowded that not all of the players had lockers or places to sit.
But as disjointed and cramped as the locker room appeared, nothing compared with how the team looked on the ice as head coach Kevin Constantine juggled his playing roster from game to game against the Texas Stars on Friday and Saturday night.
The number of players benched and replaced was so large that it prompted one of my fellow press-row scribes to quip to the team's GM, Jim Mill, that there must have been a lot of injuries.
The problem wasn't injuries The problem was a large roster that Constantine was still trying to figure out.
"We purposely held guys around longer than normal just to be real thorough in evaluation of who we want to play and who should make the team," Constantine said following Saturday's 2-1 shootout victory. "There's a negative to that as it's kind of hard to become a team and work with individual guys. The positive of that is that your decisions are better."
After Saturday, Constantine should be sure of his decisions in regards to several of his players, particularly rookies Chad Rau, Cody Almond, and Carson McMillan.
Rau scored his first professional point on Friday night as the Aeros scrambled to get back into a game controlled by the Stars, and on Saturday McMillan, on a line with Almond (and both playing in their first professional game), fed veteran Peter Zingoni for the Aeros' only regulation goal.
"We did a great job, and I give a lot of credit to them," Zingoni said. "It's their first pro game. They did an awesome job....It was a lot of fun playing with them....they gave a good impression for the coach and the staff."
Constantine said after Saturday's game that the roster would be smaller coming into this week, and several players were released on Saturday while, with injuries to two of the Minnesota Wild's top skaters on Saturday, the Aeros lost Andy Hilbert and Nathan Smith to the big club.
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"There's a lot of newness here," Constantine said of the roster. "New management, new players, getting used to things."
The implication being that it's going to take awhile to get the squad settled. And Mill agreed, saying on Saturday that "the guys are trying to adjust. Specifically at the [AHL] level, if you're asking me or any other GM or assistant GM, scout...or anybody else, they're going to tell you that for that first month, you're pretty much going to stay in flux. You're trying to adjust to putting a bunch of new players together. That does take time. And that's what we're doing right now."
Come Friday night's game with the San Antonio Rampage, there will probably be a little more room in the Aeros locker room. The newness, the adjustment, that's still going to be going on for a bit longer. But at least it looks like the rookies have things figured out.
ODDS & ENDS: The Aeros split the weekend series with Texas, losing 3-2 on Friday and winning 2-1 in the shootout on Saturday. The team's record is 2-2-0-0 (4 points)....We were informed during Saturday's game that forwards Simon Ferguson, Gregg Johnson, and Matt Fornataro were being released from their contracts, though this does not yet appear to be official....The Aeros do not have a captain this season. The team is instead going with three "alternate" captains which will be rotating among the team's veterans...With Hilbert and Smith going to Minnesota, the Aeros do not have to worry about the complying with the AHL's veteran rule....the Aeros will be saluting Michael Jackson on Friday night, and Saturday night's game is the team's fourth annual Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Awareness Night game.