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The Houston Aeros, Penalty Killers

Wonder Woman was spotted on the ice of Toyota Center last night during the break after the first period, and at the time, many of the 3,785 fans in attendance were wondering just what was going to be needed to get her into the Aeros green and red.

The Aeros were coming off a 4-1 defeat to San Antonio, in San Antonio, on Saturday night, and the team appeared to be somewhat listless. The Aeros were out-shot 11-4 in the first period, and as they skated off of the ice, scattered boos could be heard coming from the crowd.

Then Wonder Woman appeared on ice. Unfortunately (or so it seemed as the second period got under way), Ms. Woman was actually a member of the Aero Dynamics cheer squad, and not a real superhero willing to loan her powers to the team.

But superhero magic still managed to appear last night, and it came at the best of times. At 2.56 into the second period, defenseman Erik Reitz headed to the penalty box after being called for a holding. He would join teammate Clayton Stoner in the box, and the Aeros would be down five skaters to three for nearly two minutes.

It was at this, the direst of times, that the Aeros came alive. Perhaps Ms. Woman left some of her good superhero vibes hanging around on the ice. Perhaps the team was just exercising some demons from their poor start this season, but at this time, a time when it was almost a surety that the Aeros would be falling behind yet once again, the team pulled together and killed the penalty. Then, minutes later, showing more emotion than the team’s displayed all season, left wing Aaron Voros broke lose and shot the puck past the San Antonio goalie at the 7:32 mark in the second, giving the Aeros a 1-0 lead.

At 12:37 in the second, the Aeros would again go down five skaters to three with numerous players sitting in the box. Once again, the team would pull together and kill the penalties.

Coach Constantine would say after the game that “if you look at hockey, often times, the power play can make you or sink you….Tonight, because we were successful penalty killing, it actually provided energy for us….The job we did penalty killing energized us.”

The Aeros were so energized on the penalty kill side of the power play that, at 16:57 in the second, with the Aeros killing another penalty, Erik Reitz would break through and get the short-handed goal, putting the Aeros up 2-0.

The pattern would continue into the third period. One Aero after another being sent to the penalty box. One San Antonio power play after another being killed. The final goal of the night would come at 19:04 into the third period as Aaron Voros would get his second goal of the night, an empty-netter, to put the Aeros up 3-1.

And 3-1 would be the final score.

The Aeros were out-shot 38 to 18 on the night. Goalie Barry Brust, starting his second game in two nights, would stop 37 of the shots, giving up the lone San Antonio goal at 11:57 into the third.

Brust, after the game, gave the credit for his good performance to his teammates, stating that in games like this one he just tries to rely on the rest of the guys. “They did a great job. The boys did a good job of blocking shots.”

But Coach Constantine would give the credit to Brust: “I thought he did a great job for us. Right now, we’re a team’s that’s going to have to get good goal tending for us to win until we build some other things….We need that.”

The team needed it. And the team got it. (With maybe a little assist from Wonder Woman.)

Miscellaneous Game Notes:

The Aeros are now 2-4-1-0 for the season (2 wins, 4 losses, and 1 overtime loss).

The Aeros played their second game in two nights, and this was their third straight game against San Antonio. The Aeros are now 1-1-0-1 against the Rampage this season. They defeated San Antonio 6-5 in a shootout on Saturday the 19th, and they lost to the Rampage 4-1 Saturday night.

Goalie Nolan Schaefer was called up to Minnesota on Saturday night after an injury to the Wild’s first-string goalie, Niklas Backstrom.

Barry Brust started at goalie on Saturday and Sunday. Brust said after the game that he preferred playing back-to-back games because it was easier to get into the rhythm of the game.

As to the goalie situation, the Aeros added Anton Khudobin to the roster, but Coach Constantine currently intends to give Brust a majority of the playing time.

The Aeros have played nearly the least amount of games of any team in the AHL. But that should change as the Aeros have two more games this week and four games next week. Coach Constantine thinks this will help as it will allow the entire team to get into a rhythm. He also thinks that, contrary to popular belief, the more time a team has off between games, the more it hurts the team.

The Aeros spent a lot of time in the penalty box last night. And while his tone was civil and measured, it seemed that Constantine wasn’t exactly pleased with the officiating, saying that “the only thing you ask in every refereeing situation is that it’s called the same way the whole game. And if he’s going to call every penalty, I’ve got no problem with that. You just want balance in that every situation is called the same way.”

I noticed before that game that Toyota Center is advertising that Dane Cook will be performing there on December 7, 2007. Somehow, I can’t think of a better way to commemorate Pearl Harbor than a performance by Dane Cook.

The Aeros power play now has a sponsor, Direct Energy. The Aeros didn’t get to go on the power play too often last night, but here’s hoping this will provide them with some energy when they do go on the power play later in the season.

Defenseman Erik Reitz got two more points last night, a goal and an assist, to give him 8 points on the season, and to continue with the team lead in points. Reitz and Aaron Voros are now tied for the team lead with 3 goals this season. Reitz is also third in team history for assists by defensemen with 97.

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In 31 meetings at Toyota Center, the Aeros have outscored the Rampage 124-66.

The Aeros will not face San Antonio again until the Friday after Thanksgiving. The Aeros have seven games remaining with the Rampage.

The San Antonio Rampage is an affiliate of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyote.

The Aeros next game is Tuesday night. They will play the Syracuse Crunch, with game time set for 7:05. -- John Royal

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