From: Ryan Stanzel
Director of Communications
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
713.361.7930 (Direct Line)
Aeros use early road trips to come together
Its common coach-speak that coaches dont mind a road trip at the beginning of the season. Helps bring the boys together, most say. And blah, blah, blah.
But its likely that not even legendary coach Scotty Bowman would have wanted to put himself in Todd McLellans shoes over the first two months of the American Hockey League season. McLellans Houston Aeros went on separate six- and five-game road trips and played 13 of 15 games on the road at one point.
When you look at it, you know you have to play 40 road games, said McLellan. If one segment is going to be overloaded, youd prefer for it to be on the front end. But if theres not a lot of return on the investment, it can make for a long season.
McLellans team helped him out in a big way, getting plenty of bang for the travel bucks.
The Aeros went 8-4-0-1 over the 13-game stretch, sneaking a home win in as well. Overall, Houston is 8-5-1-1 away from Toyota Center, one off the league lead in road wins. The Aeros have played 15 road games while division foe Utah has played 17 games total.
What may be even more impressive is that the Aeros, 10-22-6-2 on the road last season, are just two victories away from that total. It took them until February 27 to win their eighth road game in 2003-04.
When you get on a plane or a bus if you have doubts you can win, odds are you wont, said McLellan. I like to think the doubt isnt there now. Theres a sense of confidence and a commitment to the task at hand.
The Aeros initial road trip was six games, and they went 4-1-0-1. Houston came from behind in two of the victories, and finished it off with a gutty 1-0 shutout in Grand Rapids.
There were no cream puffs on the slate either. Houston played in places where they hadnt won since October 2003 (Milwaukee), November 2002 (Cleveland) and January 2003 (Chicago, a streak that is still intact).
The turning point of the trip and in fact the season may have been a 3-1 loss in Cleveland on November 18 to start the five-game trip. The lackluster Aeros were outshot 47-25 and mustered only a Stephane Veilleux goal.
The game in Cleveland enabled all of us to have some deep reflection on our commitment to each other, said McLellan. The guys took it to heart and applied it the next two games.
The next two games were victories in New York first 2-1 over a Rochester team that had won six straight, then a dominating 6-3 decision in Syracuse in a game that wasnt as close as the final score indicated. Houston then won 3-2 in a shootout in Cleveland a game in which they trailed with five minutes left before falling 3-0 in Chicago to finish at 3-2-0-0.
It was a time for us to discover ourselves, said McLellan. But work also needs to be done to establish a game at home
how to handle the distractions
line matching. Players have to adjust to that coming home.
There were a few games we could have won, said veteran defenseman Ray Giroux, one of the teams alternate captains. We lost a couple of one goal games or games in the third period. But all in all with the quality of teams we played, we have to be pretty happy. If you get into a funk its kind of easy to have a losing record. All of a sudden youre 20 games into the season.
McLellan knows that its the players around him that have accomplished so much early in the season.
Our demeanor has to be where all the guys enjoy being around each other, said McLellan. Theres got to be a sense of challenge and competition day in and day out. The players have done a good job of creating that. Some of it is personality. We have a lot of upbeat players who give off energy rather than sucking it up. Its fun to walk through this dressing room.
Eyewitness reports say that typical card games during flights became spectacles, with players not in the hand just as anxious to see what was happening as those holding the cards.
Its to McLellans credit, as well as the players credit, that they have mixed in so well, considering this is the first and only year the Dallas Stars sent a handful of players to the Aeros.
We dont use distinctions like Dallas and Minnesota, said McLellan. We are an Aeros team. They do a pretty god job of interacting, even among the guys who returned. They seem to be in larger groups than the two or three players hanging out in a group together weve seen in the past.
To show the good-natured fun the Aeros had on the road, aeros.com
asked several players what they learned about a teammate on the trips. Todd Reirden
Burnsy (Brent Burns) set a new AHL record for most suits bought in one road trip.Added Giroux
Most bad suits too.Josh Harding
Smitty (Mike Smith) and Ray (Giroux) play the guitar 24/7.Anonymous
Smitty can play the guitar but he cant sing. Matt Foy
Junior talks in his sleep.
---HOUSTON AEROS, BE A FAN---