by Andrew J. Ferraro
HOUSTON - For the longest time, it just seemed like no one on the Aeros was ever going to make a significant difference in the organization. I think that had a lot to do with the previous regime, but still, as an AHL fan, you want your players to be successful down here and then move up to watch them flourish in the best hockey league in the world.
The Aeros were just getting by with a few prospects here and there, but for the most part, their success was due to AAA lifers like Curtis Murphy, Patrick O'Sullivan, Kirby Law and (even though he is a tremendous human being) Jon DiSalvatore.
But the last few years have been different. As I look at the Wild roster just hours after the NHL season ended for them, I count 16 players that have previously played for the Aeros in Houston. Yes, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikko Koivu, Jonas Brodin and Charlie Coyle played in Houston mostly because of NHL labor issues. But each of them got a chance to stay warm down here while all of that got worked out.
There are a few others that needed a lot of time in Houston before making it big up there. Nate Prosser, Jared Spurgeon, Stephane Veilleux, Justin Falk, Jake Dowell, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella and Josh Harding – they all played significant games in minutes for the Aeros before being recalled (mostly) for good.
And then there are players like Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker and Darcy Kuemper, who are true up-and-comers and may be relied upon more so next year when the roster is sure to change and change a lot over the next few months.
These players were born in Houston, at least in the eyes of many Aeros fans. Sure there is always a select few who do not embrace the concept of being a development league, but there are a dozen more for every one of them that cheer for the former Aeros when they get to the NHL.
I am in that group as a former beat writer and now fan blogger. While it can be frustrating to lose some of these guys during our playoff run, that is the nature of being associated with the AHL, and I can truly say it's been a pleasure seeing these players grow. Some of them did so more quickly than others probably aren't going to be with the organization much longer.
But know this – Your players were treated well and I challenge you to find a crop of AHL youngers that had better, more consistent coaching for the last 12 years. Todd McLellan, Kevin Constantine Mike Yeo and John Torchetti have tremendous NHL experience. And even though the Rod Daum experiment failed in the middle of all the others, I can tell you that he did his best with what he was given. He inherited a few bad apples (no I am not going to name names or reveal their issues.) It is my opinion that no coach would have succeeded with that group.
Everyone knows that the Aeros are leaving for Des Moines to become the Iowa Wild. Two teams have failed there recently, but let's all hope that the third time is the charm for them. There is a regional connection with the affiliate now, and the owner (the Wild) is far better than what was there previously. The team is positioned to succeed, so long as the fans there embrace them the way we as Aeros fans have done for the 19 years, the last 12 years affiliate with the Wild.
And with that, I will say farewell, too. It has been a pleasure helping out this season. You are in good hands with Emilie & Co., and I have to thank Bryan too for giving me the chance to help out after I left my freelance gig with the Houston Chronicle.
The Aeros have been a part of my entire adult life. I became a fan in 1994, their first year in the IHL, and I have seen more than 1,000 games in person since then and nearly 100 more on the road in places like Milwaukee, Chicago, Kansas City, San Antonio, Austin, Texas, Grand Rapids and even St. Paul.
I was a PR intern in 1997-98 and I was the team’s beat writer for the Chronicle for 10 seasons (2002-2012). This team means more to me that any other sports team I have ever followed or cared for, and it hurts to lose them.
Take care, all of you, and take care of the kids. Take care of my Aeros.