The Houston Aeros had a disappointing 2009-10 season, and closing in on the midway point of the 2010-11 season, playoff chances are up in the air. Then again, this being Houston, just having a chance at the playoffs should be seen as successful, especially when compared with the juggernauts of the Houston Texans and Houston Astros.
So, let's get to a review of the year past in Houston hockey.
1. After coaching the Aeros to the AHL Western Conference Finals in the 2008-09 season, head coach Kevin Constantine was relieved of his duties in May when the Aeros failed to make the playoffs, finishing in last place with a record of 34-34-7-5 (80 points).
2. The Aeros battled injuries in Houston and Minnesota all of last season, and despite that, they managed to hang around in the playoff hunt for most of the season.
3. For this season, the owners of the Aeros, the Minnesota Wild, sought to return the Aeros to their glory years. As such, they brought in as the team's new head coach, Mike Yeo. Yeo had been the captain of the Aeros' 1999 Turner Cup winning team.
4. Yeo came to the Aeros from perennial Stanley Cup contender Pittsburgh Penguins, where he had been an assistant coach for several years. Before moving up to Pittsburgh, Yeo had been the head coach of the club's AHL club, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
5. Continuing the "return to glory days" theme, Yeo brought in Brian Wiseman to be one of his assistant coaches. Wiseman was one of Yeo's teammates with the Aeros, and he was the leading scorer on that Turner Cup winning club in 1999.
6. One of the most popular features of most professional hockey games are the Ice Girls, scantily clad women who skate on the ice during stoppages in play who clean up the snow that accumulates around the goals and along the boards. The Aeros had Ice Girls for the season's home opener, a first, but they have not been seen since.
7. Damn it, Aeros, where are the Ice Girls?
8. The Aero Dynamics are okay, but seriously, Ice Girls.
9. In off-ice news, the Aeros business office underwent a bit of a purge this off-season, and that office is still not fully staffed. Maybe at some point they'll finally be able to handle the complaints, many justified, of the season ticket holders.
10. Especially the complaints of the season ticket holders who had renewed season tickets at full price, only to discover that the team had set up a promotion for heavily discounted season ticket prices.
11. As we head into tonight's game against Hamilton, the Aeros record is 16-14-1-3 (36 points). Just like under Constantine, the Aeros are on the edge of the playoff hunt. They're just points away from being in the playoffs, but they're just mere points from being in last place.
12. And as under Kevin Constantine, Mike Yeo's Aeros have one of the AHL's best penalty killing teams. The better a team's penalty kill, the better a team's odds of making the playoffs.
13. But the Aeros, who for the past several seasons have consistently had one of the league's worst power plays, have improved in that regard this season. They're only ranked at 17 out of 30 teams, but in the past, the Aeros power play has been in the lower 20s. So you take the improvement where you can, especially since a good power play is also a key to making the playoffs.
14. I don't know what's worse, listening to the Astros on the radio and being besieged with commercials for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Michael Berry, or listening to Aeros games on the radio and being besieged with commercials for the talkers on 1070 who are so nuts they make Limbaugh, Hannity, and Berry sound sane.
15. As in season's past, the team's leading scorer is defenseman Max Noreau. And as in season's past, it can be argued that Noreau is the team's best, most consistent player.
16. The highlight of the season, however, probably came on December 10 when Casey Wellman went nuts. Nuts in a good way, scoring four goals in the team's 5-3 win over the San Antonio Rampage.
17. His first three goals, for the hat trick, came in the first period, which was the first time this had happened in team history.
And can we get a grown-up logo already?
19. And some things never change: the Aeros still can't draw a crowd on a weeknight.
20. And like the Texans, the Aeros have a problem with playing a complete game.
21. The team's preseason game against San Antonio, to be played at their Sugar Land practice facility, had to be canceled because of poor ice conditions.
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22. Another key to the Aeros playoff hopes will be the play of the goalies, Anton Khudobin and Matt Hackett. And recently, that play has not been too good.
23. It's the minor leagues, and change is part of minor league sports, but it feels strange having a hockey season without Danny Irmen, Brandon Rogers, and Barry Brust being parts of the Aeros roster.
24. And don't get too used to the Aeros roster as, like last season, and season's past, Minnesota seems to be injury central and you can probably expect your favorite players to spend lots of time in airports commuting from Houston and St. Paul.
25. And for those looking for an excuse to go to an Aeros game, then how about this, on January 1st, the Aeros will be holding their annual Ms. Aeros' Bikini Contest between periods.