It may have been a leggy blond in a red bikini that grabbed the attention of most of the 10,552 fans that attended Saturday's Houston Aeros game versus the San Antonio Rampage. And the new Ms. Aero was very worthy of the attention.
But the real stars of the Aeros 4-3 come from behind win over the Rampage were a young vet and a guy who joined the Aeros on Saturday after having played for the Rampage earlier in the week.
It was the young vet, Cody Almond, who sliced through the Rampage to score a short-handed breakaway goal to tie the score at 1-1 late in the first period. It was Almond who started the action that led to the Aeros' game-tying goal with 55 seconds remaining in the game. And it was defenseman Jed Ortmeyer, signed to a PTO by the Aeros on Saturday and who earlier in the week was playing for San Antonio against the Aeros, who stole the puck and fed Warren Peters for the game-winning goal with 35 seconds left.
Head coach Mike Yeo wasn't very pleased with his team, or most of his players, for the first two periods of the game, and he jokingly spoke afterwards of their play causing a spike in his blood pressure. He said he saw softness and a lack of energy, and he urged his players during the second intermission to challenge the Rampage, one of the best teams in the division.
"To the players' credits, I challenged them after the second period," Yeo said. "It was a bit of a stern message. They came out very strong and very determined and I give the guys a lot of credit for that."
The Aeros outshot the Rampage 11-3 in that third period, and the end result was a bit of a rarity. Not only did the Aeros score two goals within 20 seconds, they scored two goals in the final minute of the game. But they also went from pulling their goalie so as to have the extra skater on the ice when they scored their third goal, to forcing the Rampage to pull their goalie for the extra skater after the Aeros took the lead, forcing perhaps the ultimate change in momentum.
The win moved the Aeros record to 19-17-1-2 on the season (41 points), and though they're still ranked at the lower portions of the West Division standings, the win keeps the team in the heart of the playoff race.
Hopefully the win will provide the Aeros with some much-needed momentum as the team heads into the second half of the season. Especially coming off of a difficult stretch that saw the team playing 16 games in a month, with only six of the games having been played on home ice.
The Aeros amazingly got through that stretch of games with an 8-8 record. That record includes this week just past, which saw the Aeros play a punishing set of five games in seven days.
"Through that tough stretch, I would have liked to finish better than we did," Yeo said. "I'm not going to pretend that I don't wish we were a little bit better right now. At the same time, I do see some light at the end of that tunnel. I believe that we do get an easier part of our schedule...[and] at least we have practice time, at least the travel's not as bad. And I think we are at least in a position now to make the push that we have to make."
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The Aeros have this week to rest up, as they don't play again until Friday night when they host Lake Erie. It's a week the team needs as they're beat up, physically as well as mentally. They will be practicing this week as Yeo says there are some things the team needs to work on, especially seeing as how they haven't had much time to practice over the past month. But more important than the practice is the rest and recuperation, and Yeo is going to do everything possible to see that his players get a bit of a break.
The leggy blond in the red bikini might have been the impetus for the large crowd on Saturday night. But if those fans are going to return, it's going to be because they saw an incredible comeback that led to an incredible win over one of the division's best teams. And while they might not get to see the leggy blond on Friday night, they'll hopefully get to see a rested and recuperated group of guys ready to play some hockey.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Defenseman Tyler Cuma's second period goal was the first goal of his professional career....The attendance of 10,552 was the team's largest crowd since December 3, 2009....Jed Ortmeyer has NHL experience with the New York Rangers and Nashville Predators, and Mike Yeo said the team had been following his status with San Antonio in hopes of picking him up. The speculation is that Ortmeyer will be signed to a two-way contract by the Minnesota Wild, which finds itself in desperate need of defensive help due to injuries.
CORRECTION: Jed Ortmeyer is a forward, not a defenseman -- for some reason I got defenseman stuck in my head. But the Wild are always in desperate need of healthy players at any position.