Houston Aeros 1994-2013: Thank you for all the great memories and two decades of great hockey and entertainment.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rau scores first NHL goal, and then it hits me

I know how frustrating it can be to watch player after player called up to the Minnesota Wild. As a fan, it must be maddening. Surely, you can expect a few guys here or there to get the call as, after all, the Aeros exist for the sole purpose of keeping the Wild stocked with players in case they are needed.

But when seven of the team's best players are up, and the hometown team in Houston just keeps sputtering along with overtime losses and no real flow to their game or season ... that must test the patience of even the most well, patient, hardcore Aeros fan.

Rau, second from left, is all smiles after first NHL goal
As a sportswriter, and one that gets paid to tell game stories to those kind enough to read my articles in the Houston Chronicle, this has been a very tough season. The team is different week to week, they are lousy at home (7-14 after Friday's OT loss to San Antonio) and I don't travel to the away games, where the Aeros are one of the best teams in the AHL.

I would be lying if I said that I don't hope the Aeros win when I cover the games. When you follow a team for 17 years, and you've seen just about every home game for the last 12, you kind of get attached to the home white sweaters. To be sure, I don't allow that to get in the way of how I cover the team, but any sportswriter will tell you - "It is more fun when the home team wins."

Now to get to the point of this article.

Even with how cluster-effed things have been this season, it sure was nice to see Chad Rau score his first NHL goal for the Wild last night. His face was priceless (see the video below). His parents were in the stands. He is FROM Minnesota. And here is a guy that, quite frankly, is only in the NHL because the Wild have been adversely affected by this NHL concussion pandemic (intentional hyperbole).

But wow was that fun to watch. On one screen I've got the ECHL Aeros blowing a 2-0 lead and on the other I am watch the AHL Wild score three goals in 59 seconds to set a new team record.

At that point it hit me. The Aeros last night played with no fewer than five (and probably six) players that should be in the ECHL right now. Their record after the shootout loss last night? 21-9-3-8. The Aeros have points in 32 of their 41 games. They are the LAST team in the AHL with single digits in the "L" column. 

They played with 17 skaters and two goalie on Friday (one fewer than normal) because John Torchetti wants "the players" he knows in the lineup battling for the team. And you know what? They respond. They played their asses off, and even when they should be blown out in back to back games, their goaltending steps up and they score just enough timely goals to get points when they deserve none.

At this point, I don't care about the slow starts and the maddening number of games where they only play 30 or 40 minutes instead of 60. Just consider what this team has been through this season, and tell me now that you are now proud of how they've responded. Think about it. They have points in 32 of their 41 games, and they have not even been close to a full lineup since before Thanksgiving.

To those that criticize Torchetti for referring to his team as "they" and "them" ... he does not do that 100 percent of the time. You have to realize, too, that you only read quotes from him when the team loses (at home). Remember, they have lost 14 of 21 at home, so of course you are going to hear more negatives than positives.

But he loves his guys. He believes in his team, and he'll keep throwing them out there and testing players that should be in AA until the very end of the year. Torchetti is not Todd McLellan or Dave Tippett or Mike Yeo. They are all different and have vastly different styles. But Torchetti is a damn fine coach and is VERY highly regarded by just about everyone NHL circles.

I truly believe that he, Jon DiSalvatore's leadership and Matt Hackett's absolute disdain for losing has propelled the Aeros to where they are right now. They are the third best team in the AHL, and play in what is right now the toughest division in the league. Darcy Kuemper needs a ton of credit, too, for coming to this circus and staying cool as a cucumber.

No, they're not perfect - far from it! But they are No. 3 in the AHL because of their captain, coach, excellent goaltending and a proven system that, when it's executed, is just about unbeatable.

This season is why there is an AHL. Sadly going to the NHL trumps home wins in the American Hockey League. So far, it's been an absolute success. Just check out the look on Rau's face, and use the comments section below to tell me how you feel about 2011-12.


Anonymous said...

Agree almost 100% with everything you said, Andrew. It must be an especially huge challenge for the coach to put together lines, and special teams, and then for the guys to get used to one another when they're mostly brand new. And pats on the backs of the new guys for working their tails off and the "old" Aeros for helping them learn the system. I think Hackett has had a few "off" moments, but good grief, when we're being out shot 40 something to 20 something, you can't fault him.

Forecheck said...

Patience, hell... I want a home win! That's what I pay one grand a year to see.

alw02 said...

Well I need to readjust my concerns about Torch and staff. Rather than be concerned about the we he does or does not take ownership of the teams performance I must look at the teams performance.

During this time of revolving door I think that the competitiveness that is show by what is basically a different team every night with players from lesser leagues is a testament to what the coaching staff is doing. I also think that the Aeros and Wild ability to identify talent has improved greatly.