I think just about anyone in the world understands the emotions that come with disappointment. For kids, it might be the disappointment they didn't get that gift they really wanted. For adults it might be being being rejected by an employer or maybe being denied a promotion. The disappointment is tough to deal with and a person may feel as though they are stuck in an emotional rut for weeks. It may be tough for those feeling major disappointment to feel 'good' about the things they may be doing at that time and they may lack the motivation to due tasks they normally would do with a cheerful spirit. I wonder if that may explain the current performance of the Houston Aeros who have lost their last 6 games over the last two weeks; mostly coinciding with the conclusion of the NHL Lockout. For a team like the Minnesota Wild who has lots of young (and promising) players in Houston the one week training camp was brief and for almost all of those players given a 'look' they ended up returning to the Aeros instead of staying in Minnesota. In fact, you could argue the end of the team's training camp gave the Aeros a few more players than it took with the addition of well-seasoned pros Jake Dowell and Stephane Veilleux. So if the Aeros more or less returned back to Houston with the same roster it had before then why is success so elusive now? Why has their play become so erratic?
Maybe the players played the game with a little more reckless abandon before the end of the lockout when they weren't so worried about being called up. There wasn't another professional league that was better than they are that was currently operating in North America; the AHL was the pinnacle of North American hockey by default. Since training camp ended, the only two players that have appeared to be uneffected by being sent to Houston are the two new guys. Seasoned pros who probably better understand the roller coaster of emotions that goes with being a professional hockey player. Dowell and Veilleux know and understand that if you want to earn another shot in the NHL, pouting about it in the minors is not going to garner you any extra chances or sympathy. So for the guys that had been playing in Houston before the lockout and still are now, my advice? Do what you did BEFORE the lockout ended. Play with the same intensity that vaulted the Aeros towards the top of the AHL. Also, those players need to understand that the fact they have to EARN their way onto the Wild is a good thing. It forces them to develop and improve their game and when they do that not only do they (as individuals) benefit but so does the franchise as a whole. So would the Aeros end their 6-game losing streak this evening?
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It was an eventful night at Milwaukee's Bradley Center as actor Larry Thomas was in attendance, best known for his Seinfeld character 'the Soup Nazi' and signing autographs. Seinfeld was kind of the 'theme' of the evening and as an Admirals' season ticket holder the franchise always does a good job at keeping it a fan-friendly, light hearted environment and last night was no different. The Aeros were coming into the game riding a 6-game losing streak and the middling Admirals were going to make this an intense game. Afterall, these two clubs were former division rivals and these teams have a way of bringing out each other's fiesty side.
1st Period Thoughts: The Houston Aeros started the game with a line of Stephane Veilleux, Jake Dowell and Brett Bulmer with Chay Genoway and Jonas Brodin on defense. The Aeros would get on the forecheck early, working the puck deep into Milwaukee's zone and the sparks would fly right away. Bulmer hooked Admirals' defenseman Scott Valentine and upon seeing the official's arm raised he went after Valentine where they'd get into a scrap as he hoped to even things up. It wasn't much of a fight with neither player really getting off much in the way of punches and as fast as it started it was over as Bulmer wrestled Valentine to the ice where his head sort of hit the boards as they did so. Valentine would get up a little slowly before heading to the box as did Bulmer as both players earned a fighting major with Bulmer getting tagged with an extra two minutes for hooking. With the Admirals on the power play, the Aeros penalty killers did a great job at keeping Milwaukee from having any clean shooting lanes to work with. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper never even faced a shot on the power play and Houston tried to go back on the attack. Houston seemed to have a little more jump in its legs and were able to hold the zone well, but at times it would be victimize by some suspect play by some of its defense. Milwaukee's only dangerous line was with former Guelph Storm stud Taylor Beck, Chris Mueller and the newly acquired Brad Winchester who played the role of somewhat skilled power forward rather than goon which is what he's more or less been at the NHL level. Winchester looked kind of dangerous and was a physical mismatch for just about any player the Aeros' had. With the Aeros' defense struggling, especially Kris Fredheim, Houston would get caught flat footed and the Admirals raced down the ice in a 3-on-1 where Winchester, Beck and Mueller combined for a pretty tic-tac-toe goal that Kuemper had absolutely no chance on to make it 1-0 Milwaukee. Mueller's 13th goal of the season. At this point I wondered if it was going to be another disappointing game for the Aeros, but Houston would answer back quickly. Just two minutes later, the Aeros connected on a goal of their own as Charlie Coyle made a beauty of a saucer pass that caught David McIntyre perfectly in stride who had an extra gear all night long and he sort of one timed a shot on the move by Jeremy Smith to tie the game at 1-1. Perhaps sensing a major momentum shift; the Admirals' resident tough guy Michael Latta would try to throw his weight around as he delivered a big open ice hit on Johan Larsson that left him a little worse for the wear. Larsson was rocked big time by this hit and as big as the collision was, he perhaps hit the ice even harder and he stayed down for a while before the Aeros trainers made their way off the ice and he seemed to be holding his shoulder a bit as he made his way to the locker room. This would prompt a response from Jake Dowell who would drop the gloves with Latta and it was a much better fight all around. You can see the fight oh HockeyFights.com here. Dowell would start firing a quick series of left handed jabs that weathered Latta a bit, but Latta would try to leverage his way to start throwing a few haymakers but the Eau Claire-native was able to hold him off and the Admirals fighter-in-chief would opt to wrestle Dowell to the ice. Nice win for Dowell who never really lost control of the fight. Both clubs would ease off a bit, but Houston seemed to still have the momentum advantage at this point in the game. A lack of discipline by Milwaukee put the Aeros on the power play and they moved the puck fairly well and had a few good opportunities but Jeremy Smith was up to the task. The Aeros probably felt as though they should've been ahead as Nick Petersen set up Chad Rau on a close-range back door play where Rau fired it on a nearly open net only to hit the left post square where the puck slide back underneath Smith for a fortunate stop for the Admirals. Houston held a 9 to 5 advantage in shots on goal. A fairly good road period recovery for the Aeros.
2nd Period Thoughts: In the 2nd period the Aeros picked up where they left off. Houston really was putting Milwaukee on their heels with a terrific forecheck. The pressure was starting to yield turnovers, and it was one of these turnovers where Houston would take the lead. A terrible pass by Taylor Beck was stolen by Zucker in the high slot and he'd race in and beat Smith to put the Aeros up 2-1. The Aeros and Admirals would trade chances back and forth but Houston was keeping Milwuakee to the perimeter and Kuemper was squaring up well and looked under control. Houston would go on the penalty kill after a very lazy penalty by Justin Fontaine. Fontaine seemed to be kind of in a haze throughout most of the game. He was slow to react to the puck, and wasn't moving his feet and you could sense a death stare being directed by Aeros head coach John Torchetti as Fontaine made his way to the sin bin. Luckily for him, the Aeros' penalty kill was solid. Houston limited the Admirals again to settling for shots from the point and Kuemper was rock solid. One sort of brewing drama throughout the game was a little personal battle between Stephane Veilleux and Nashville's Swedish prospect Patrick Cehlin. Cehlin was doing a lot of chirping and Veilleux was answering right back, as well as a few other Houston players who were growing tired of the smallish forward talking but unwilling to back it up by dropping the gloves. It was at this point the Aeros took their foot off the gas just a little bit towards the end of the period and the Admirals would tie the game. A shot from the point by Scott Valentine was redirected by the stick of Predators' 1st rounder Austin Watson that elevated up and over the shoulder of Kuemper evening the score at two goals apiece. The Aeros would answer back rather quickly, less than a minute after Watson's goal Houston would strike on a pretty little pass by Veilleux to Petersen who tapped it home to give Houston the lead again. The goal totally crushed the Admirals' spirit and Houston had to feel great about carrying a lead going into the 3rd.
3rd Period Thoughts: Going into the period, you knew the Admirals were really going to be pouring it on early to try to break the Aeros' lead. This is where I felt the Aeros did a nice job of stonewalling Milwaukee. The player who really shined in these moments was Jonas Brodin who was in his first game since getting hurt against Oklahoma City early in the AHL season. Brodin played so smart, even with pressure near him he made the nice little passes to start thre breakout or using his feet to skate away from chasing Admirals' forwards which really made Milwaukee a one-shot-and-done club. The Aeros counter punched a bit with its top two lines; as Charlie Coyle finally started to show the jets as he blew by the Admirals defense for a nice scoring chance that was fought off by Smith. However the Aeros were content to work the puck deep and then simply control the zone and Houston really started to outwork Milwaukee. A late-period slashing penalty really served to kill a crucial two minutes the Admirals couldn't part with. Milwaukee would pull Smith late and the Admirals had a few close chances but nothing that would evade Kuemper and the Aeros held onto a 3-2 victory. You could sense a collective sigh of relief as the players left the bench and headed towards Kuemper to celebrate the end to the 6-game losing streak.
Darcy Kuemper ~ Had a good game, used his big 6'4" frame well. Moves well from side to side and other than a few juggles of the puck early in the game and then he did a great job of absorbing pucks. The two goals that were scored on him were the of the variety that were difficult if not impossible to stop. A solid performance that so far is rumored to lead to another start for the Aeros' next game in Grand Rapids.
Charlie Coyle ~ Had kind of a quiet game. I kept hoping to see him use his speed more than he did. He takes a little longer to get up to maximum speed than many other players. He uses his side well and battles along the boards effectively. Coyle demonstrated some great versatility with a beautiful saucer pass to McIntyre for the first Aeros' goal of the game. Maybe he was the victim of my own expectations for him, but I guess I thought he'd be more of an offensive presence than he was.
Jason Zucker ~ A good game for the speedy forward who was probably the fastest player on the ice. He had that burst that he used effectively to win races to the puck and elude defenders. He was consistent in his effort and took his opportunities to shoot when they emerged. His goal early int he 2nd really gave the Aeros a big emotional lift and was clearly a leader out there.
Johan Larsson ~ It was good to see Larsson return after the huge open ice hit he got in the 1st period, but he was kind of a shadow of his previous self which makes you wonder if he was just playing through some discomfort. However he was very strong on his skates, and his passes were always quite crisp.
Tyler Cuma ~ His game really reminded me of Nate Prosser and Justin Falk where you see lots of chipping the puck off the boards and glass rather than tape to tape passes. Not the kind of play you would want to see from a player wanting to earn a shot at the NHL level. Very ordinary, which is not what you should say about a guy who's been in the pros as long he has and a former 1st round pick.
David McIntyre ~ I know he's of the seasoned AHL-vet variety but he looked tremendous out there. He was fast, assertive and played very well at both ends of the ice. Loved his effort and could see it in a 4th line role if the need arises.
Brett Bulmer ~ The power forward did not hesitate to get involved physically, but he struggled in the passing department. His accuracy and the pace of his passes were a bit suspect. However I did like his willingness to take the puck to the crease and his effort can't be questioned but he looked like a good 3rd liner that drives opponents' nuts.
Jonas Brodin ~ He was a tremendous source of stability for the Aeros. Brodin did a good job playing the point on the power play, distributing the puck well with quality tape-to-tape passes. He was at his best in his own zone, showing good touch on starting the breakout to alleviate pressure in the Aeros' own zone which is really something the Wild can use and likely why it was no-brainer for the big club to call him up for their game against Detroit tomorrow. In my opinion the most talented player on the ice by far. He still needs to add weight as he got tossed like a rag doll by Michael Latta at end of the game but he got right back up and chirped back at the Predators' tough guy which was good to see.
~ The Aeros' roster tonight was as follows: Charlie Coyle, Nick Petersen, Kris Foucault, Jason Zucker, Brett Bulmer, Jake Dowell, Chad Rau, Johan Larsson, Stephane Veilleux, David McIntyre, Carson McMillan, Justin Fontaine, Kris Fredheim, Kyle Medvec, Steven Kampfer, Jonas Brodin, Chay Genoway and Tyler Cuma. Matt Hackett backed up Darcy Kuemper. Joel Broda, Drew Bagnall, Nick Palmieri, Marco Scandella, Paul Mara, Brian Connelly and Trevor Ludwig were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game: 1st Star Nick Petersen, 2nd Star David McIntyre, 3rd Star Brad Winchester
~ Attendance was 2,906 at Bradley Center.