The Aeros, the Rookies, and the Clean Slate
Here in a nearly empty Toyota Center, where the Houston Aeros just lost 4-0 to the division leading Chicago Wolves, crews are cleaning the stands and media folks are wrapping up their duties.
The stark contrast of the quiet arena and a clean sheet of ice after the chaos of the game seems to symbolically wipe the slate clean, even after an ugly loss. Only slightly better is before the game, before the gates open, before the music starts, when there’s nothing but fresh ice and the inherent promise that every hockey game holds.
However, at this point in the season, it’s more like, “How will the Aeros lose tonight?” They are firmly at the bottom of the division, 11 points out of playoff contention and only three wins since Valentine’s Day. They’re a fraction below .500, which is really the only marker left to aim for, other than personal goals, like next year‘s contract.
Still, since falling realistically out of contention a few weeks ago, the games have stayed close and interesting. In fact, the predictable answer to the question above was, “By giving up a lead late in the game, and losing in overtime or the shoot out.”
But even that small pleasure seems to have gotten an early start on the off-season, as the team is now losing by greater margins.
All that was left to celebrate tonight was the third period, which featured the professional debut of Wild 2009 6th round draft pick, goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
The game was already 4-0 by the end of the second with Wade Dubielewicz in goal. So, why not let the kid play, right?
As exciting as it is to get that first taste of what a player drafted a year ago can do, when he stepped on to the ice and headed to the wrong net, well, it seemed like an inauspicious start.
But the baby-faced rookie from Saskatoon took a u-turn, headed to the correct net, and after a few reassuring pad taps from his new teammates, spent his first 2 minutes as a pro goalie killing off an Aeros penalty against the best team in the division. He would kill another one later and was officially credited with 4 saves, though it seemed like more.
Part of that low count is somewhat attributable to his good rebound control, and he exhibited a great deal of confidence playing the puck, cutting down opportunities for the Wolves.
He’s a big goalie at 6’4”, 200 lbs and defends his crease accordingly. He also takes up a lot of space, particularly down low where having a little extra leg to extend proved valuable.
There’s certainly an element of needing to get up to the speed of the pros, but without question, there’s huge value in getting this kind of experience to go back to Red Deer with next year and look forward to a pro career in 2011-2012. Further, given Dubielewicz’s weak play of late and Anton Khudobin’s call-up to the Wild for the remainder of the season, it’s likely this won’t be his last time between the pipes during the final two weeks of the Aeros season.
Defenseman Marco Scandella also played, presumably kicking off his professional career in the Wild organization and likely developing his game in Houston next season. Without question, he made his physical presence known, including a solid hit in the first period that resulted in a fight. He didn’t hesitate to answer the bell and held his own in what was mostly a violent hug.
He played well, had 2 shots on goal, and was the only defenseman to not have a negative +/- for the game.
So, as the season fades away, sometimes not quickly enough on nights like this, the quiet post-game sheet of ice–and the fresh enthusiasm of a couple of kids embarking on a dream–reminds us of coming days when the slate will be clean and the season full of promise again.