Monday, April 5, 2010
Lou Brown, James Gammon’s character in “Major League II,” tried to rally his Indians team by telling them, “We won a game yesterday. We win one today, that’s two in a row. We win one tomorrow, that’s called a winning streak. It has happened before.”
One could wonder if Aeros head coach Kevin Constantine said something similar to his squad on Saturday night prior to their game against the Texas Stars at the Cedar Park Center.
The Aeros had not won back-to-back games since Jan. 30-Feb. 3, a bona fide three-game winning streak including a shootout victory at Peoria followed by wins at home over Abbotsford and Peoria. Since then, wins had been hard to come by as the Aeros compiled a 5-13-1-4 record through the end of March.
The Aeros began Easter weekend on Good Friday at the Toyota Center with a 4-3 victory over Chicago that was a first in several regards. It was the first win of the season against the Wolves, who had defeated the Aeros in all seven previous meetings. It was also the first win in four games in the new red sweaters, which had brought nothing but heartache since being unveiled on Valentine’s Day.
Most importantly, it was the first professional start and win for 19-year-old goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who made 23 saves in the contest. Kuemper, previously of the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, was signed to an ATO on March 30.
Kuemper, who left the Aeros’ locker room wearing jeans and sneakers as opposed to the suits and ties of his new teammates, was ecstatic about his memorable night.
“I’m on Cloud Nine,” he said. “It’s a great feeling. The team deserves a lot of the credit for giving me the lead.”
Kuemper had made his debut against the Wolves two days prior in relief of Wade Dubielewicz at the start of the third period. Trailing by four goals, the youngster stopped all four shots he faced leading to a scoreless closing frame.
“[Dubielewicz] has been great,” Kuemper said. “He keeps teaching me about what to expect at this level and in certain game situations. He’s helped me realize I can play on this level.”
Constantine praised the effort and performance of his young goalie as well as the other players on his team.
“It’s like a totally different team than the one that played on Wednesday,” he said. “People stepped up offensively, which was good for Darcy. We didn’t put him in a vulnerable situation and he made some great saves. The fact that he played a period on Wednesday was helpful.”
Eight different Aeros added to their point totals, including a goal and assist for C Andy Hilbert and two assists each for RW Duncan Milroy and D Ryan Gunderson. C Chad Rau, D Jamie Fraser and LW Colton Gillies also scored goals with additional helpers from right wings J-M Daoust and Petr Kalus.
Hilbert’s points were his first since returning from injury March 20. He feels that showing he can still be productive offensively is important, even this late in the season.
“This was a great opportunity to show what I can do,” Hilbert said. “I’m trying to show teams that I’m better after being injured all season. So these last few games are important for me.”
In between the win over the Wolves and the dance with the Stars Saturday, the goaltender roster was shaken up even more when the Minnesota Wild recalled Dubielewicz and reassigned G Anton Khudobin to Houston.
Despite the return of the AHL All-Star goalie, Kuemper was given the start against the Stars in Cedar Park, and made 21 saves to earn his second career victory in his second career start, as the Aeros won 3-2 for their second win in a row.
Not to be outdone, another Aeros newcomer reached a personal milestone against Texas. D Marco Scandella, signed to an ATO on March 31, earned his first professional point in just his fifth regular season game when he assisted on C Peter Zingoni’s second period goal. Scandella had played in two regular season games last season for the Aeros as well as six games in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs.
The big hero of the night was LW Robbie Earl, whose two goals paved the way for the Aeros victory. In the second period, Earl, with help from C Tony Hrkac and RW Jon DiSalvatore, gave the team the lead. Earl extended the lead in the third with a power play marker that would prove to be the eventual game-winner and earn him the game's number one star. His efforts were soon rewarded with a call-up to Minnesota the following day.
Constantine emphasized the importance of playing at a high level, even though postseason hopes have long ago deserted the team.
“Your passion has to be there to be in this game,” he said. “At the end of the season, there will be an unavoidable feeling of either satisfaction and pride or embarrassment. They will be playing for opportunities, trying to show the Wild, the Aeros and the rest of the hockey world what they can do.”