End of the Line: Aeros done for the season

The moment Hackett finally blew up the lower body injury that started ailing him in Game 1. He'll have the off-season to recuperate. Photo by Morris Molina/Houston Aeros

The Aeros lost 5-2 Tuesday night, which put the final nail in the coffin and gave Oklahoma City the series win. The Aeros were simply outmatched in the series -- the Barons had their number all season long -- but they fought the good fight and will head into the off-season with heads held high.

Nate Prosser scored the first Aeros goal unassisted, while Kris Foucault scored the other, with assists to Joel Broda and Carson McMillan. Mike Brodeur made 22 saves in the effort, and the Barons got one empty netter at the end to punctuate the affair.

Instead of spending any more time on the game, I want to take a little time to sift through the ashes and give you some thoughts on why this season went the way it did... after the jump.

The Wild

Obviously, the biggest issue all season long was continuity. Week to week, lines were shuffled and chemistry was thwarted as players twirled endlessly through the Wild's revolving door of injuries, trades, and shake-ups.

Sure, you could spend a week practicing the power play, but by the weekend, half the power play squad has been sent up and/or swapped for a whole new set of guys.

Not to mention call-up fatigue, which we saw an awful lot, even from normally reliable players. From Matt Hackett to Jed Ortmeyer to Kris Fredheim, guys would go up and then come back and really need some time to either rest or adjust their timing or "whatever" to get back to contributing the way the team needed.

The wholesale keeping of Ortmeyer, Warren Peters, Marco Scandella, Prosser, etc. really put a dent in all areas of the team, from offense to defense to PK to PP. The final straw, in my opinion, was trading Casey Wellman for Erik Christensen.

I'm not saying it was a bad move for the Wild (though relatively pointless in the grand scheme), but Wellman was making it look easy in Houston, basically scoring at will, so that sucked the life out of whatever genuine, "makes a goalie nervous" scoring threat the Aeros had. For me, that trade foreshadowed a short or, quite likely, total miss, in the playoffs.

Goaltending

Hackett was fairly consistent this season, but as I mentioned above, had to have been worn down physically and mentally from the up and downs between here and the Wild. And I do still believe he had a period mid-season where his engagement level when he came back down from his successful stints with the Wild were not where they needed to be to get the job done.

Though frustrating to watch, it's understandable. Meanwhile, here's the rest of the Aeros' goaltending story:

  • Dennis Endras - Not getting the call-ups, and Kuemper is lights-out in the ECHL, so he heads home to Europe.
  • Darcy Kuemper - Comes up, plays very well. Gets some sort of injury prior to the trade deadline that has him back-up capable but not game-ready. Finally comes back but has played so little and maybe is still a bit injured, he's not so hot. Then finally blows out a shoulder late in the season and has big time surgery to get fixed up.
  • Joe Fallon - Comes in for Kuemper and absolutely rocks late in the season, getting the Aeros some really important late-season points to squeak them into the playoffs.
  • Scott Greenham - Fallon gets a high ankle sprain, Greenham comes out of nowhere and plays okay, but was thrown into the fire at a time the team was REALLY struggling. Fresh out of college, he wasn't exactly positioned to succeed.
  • Mike Brodeur - Probably wouldn't have seen a minute of game action if Hackett hadn't gotten hurt in the first game of the playoffs, but indeed, he was called upon in both those games to relieve Hackett. And then got the Aeros a win in game 3, but took the loss tonight.

So, as you can see, that kind of turnover in the net is not exactly a recipe for success.

Coaching

This one gets a little more complicated. First of all, if you consider all of the above, it's a blooming miracle the Aeros were even in playoff contention. For me, that's credit to Coach John Torchetti and his staff working some magic, pushing some buttons, and continuing to push even when the results weren't forthcoming.

Torch is an interesting guy who seems like he should be more old-school than he really is. He's a big personality, big Boston accent, and fun to cover.

He's gotten a bit of heat from the fan base for not motivating the guys more, but I just shake my head at that kind of talk. I think it was really and truly just kind of a shitty season and if you must have a scapegoat, well, Torch is the new guy with the most influence on the situation.

But we all got spoiled by last season, by Mike Yeo, by the addition of Ortmeyer and Patrick O'Sullivan midway through the season, by a fairly consistent roster, by an extremely motivated goaltender... last season was the exception, not the rule, on all fronts. I don't think Yeo could have done much better with these circumstances than Torchetti did.

Bottom Line

Overall, it wasn't the most fun season ever. I can't even tell you at what point I started thinking, "Well, next season should be pretty interesting at least!" but it was quite a while ago. And it will be... not only is the face of this team going to change considerably this summer, but this is also the last season on the Aeros' lease at the Toyota Center.

I know how many of you want the team to move closer to Minnesota, and certainly, the Aeros do need to get more favorable lease terms this next time around. So that's a story we'll be watching all season to see if that deal gets done.

I think it will, simply because Houston is a major airline hub city and a player can get anywhere in the US or Canada in time for their pre-game nap. And attendance is among the tops in the league and getting better under the watch of new president David Burke, and I have to believe the TC would miss those food and drink revenues.

Finally, thanks for all your interest in the Aeros this season. I've always felt like I hit the jackpot writing about the Aeros because the Minnesota fan base really gets and cares about the development process, wants to know how guys are doing down here, and so forth. It's always so much more fun to write for an eager, interested audience than into an apathetic vacuum.

So, thank you again for your readership all season, and here's to a better next year!

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