By Ryan Stanzel
Director of Communications
Welcome to the first installment of SummerScribes". Every other Friday (or so), well take a look around the hockey world, answer e-mails, dole out trivia questions, and various other fun activities to keep you occupied while the heat swarms Houston.
The Sheriff has a new territory
Kirby Law (aka The Sheriff), the newest Aero, was introduced last night at the teams Launch Party at Two Rows. Even Law, a Manitoba native who drives a Ford and was raised on a cattle farm, was a bit overwhelmed at the love shown to him by his new city.
Laws signing is perhaps the biggest made, for the AHL level, since free agency began July 1. Hes a players player, and a coachs player. Hes hard-nosed, and I dare all fans to just try to show up Opening Night and not go home convincing your spouse that Kirby is the name of your next born. Those of you at the Launch Party heard how Minnesota has coveted Laws leadership for a long time.
Need more convincing? Just listen to his former coach, John Stevens, who had the following to say prior to the 2004 playoffs:
I have always been a fan of Kirby Laws, said his coach John Stevens. It was exciting for me to watch the kind of year he had this year. He has evolved himself to be a great team guy; he takes a lot of responsibility for the group, not just in his own play but in how the team practices. He was the one guy that just seemed to carry us no matter what line he played on. He is a huge part of our team, and will be in the playoffs. He plays in every conceivable situation, and comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face, and just really loves being here and is just a huge part of this hockey team.
Not many players enjoy breakout seasons at 26 or 27, but that can be said about Law. Not only were his 73 points just 10 shy of his combined total for the prior two seasons, he did it in an age of defense when not one but two AHL teams broke the league record for scoring futility.
Law not the only All Star to join organization
Less than 24 hours after Law signed on the dotted line, the Wild agreed to terms with former First Team AHL All Star Ray Giroux, who has been among the top defenseman in the AHL for years. Giroux spent the final month of last season up with New Jersey when Brian Rafalski got injured.
Giroux has been a success everywhere hes gone. Aeros fans in 2003-04 saw how hard it is to get league recognition on a team thats not a front runner, and Giroux earned All AHL honors on a team that won 25 games second fewest in the league in 2002-03.
Just as important Giroux promises to make an impact off the ice in Houston. The Ivy League (Yale) product was Albanys Man of the Year last season (Mark Cullen won Houstons honor) and was the leader of a very young team.
One final note on Wild summer signings congrats to landing Brian Rolston on a multi-year deal. Rolston has been a winner everywhere he plays, and the thought of him centering a Marian Gaborik line makes most in St. Paul downright giddy.
Law and Giroux wont need a call-up to Minnesota to wear the Green, Red and Gold. The Aeros new jerseys, logo and color scheme were unveiled last night as well.
Players will feel that much closer to the NHL, and will try that much harder to get there.
I grew up watching the Adirondack Red Wings, clad in the Detroit spoke, tackle the Utica Devils/Albany River Rats. Theres nothing like, particularly for a child, walking into an AHL arena and the players on the ice are dressed just like they are in the NHL. If I hadnt been in the tiny Glens Falls Civic Center, Id have thought I was at Joe Louis Arena.
Hope everyone likes the new look to the website, as well. Were still adding some things, so check back throughout the summer!
One final note on last night, and it's the most important. Thank you to the 300-plus fans that came out. People showing up 90 minutes before the scheduled start time showed me that everyone is craving the start of hockey season, as am I!
Several big announcements came out of the Board of Governors Meetings last week in Hilton Head. Most have a significant effect on the game.
Some around the hockey world have balked at the shootout move, but not aeros.com users. At press time, more than 70 percent of webbies said that the shootout was the most exciting announcement to come out of South Carolina.
Obviously most Houston fans remember the shootout. True, it may not be the truest way to decide a game, and ties really arent that bad. However, if this sport is to re-claim the casual fan, they need to leave the building excited. That 1-1 game without a goal in the final 45 minutes suddenly becomes action packed, and those fans go home and tell others. Some of the most exciting ECHL games I witnessed ended in shootouts, even after a low-scoring, defensive affair.
Many worry that a team with two or three good shootout players will just sit back in overtime and await the shootout. I disagree, mainly for this reason at this level, I believe that every team will have no fewer than three players who will score at least 70 percent of the time. That should even the playing field.
And if its any consolation for Aeros fans, Dallas has a couple of goalies in its system in Mike Smith and Dan Ellis that have spent time in the ECHL and therefore are well-versed in shootout procedures.
This will likely make for some better races down the stretch. Instead of fighting for home ice, for instance, the Aeros and Ducks would have been going for a playoff berth this past March and April. The teams played to some great ties with just a little bit on the line, imagine what they could have done with it all on the line.
Im on the fence. Yes, it does eliminate the hustle play. However, Ive seen too many knees blown out (not to mention a match penalty on Christoph Brandner, who simply lost his balance, in March) in this type of situation. It should speed up play, so the shootout wont affect the length of game that much.
Goal lines moved back, blue lines moved in
Less room to maneuver behind the net will put puckhandling at a premium. It will also help the forecheck, which just plays the game into the hands of aggressive forecheckers like Jeff Hoggan and Dan Cavanaugh
Goalie pads decreasing in size/restrictions on goalies playing the puck
Needless to say, the AHL goalie colony hasnt had the best of weeks with these rules. Some at least realize that there isnt much interest in low-scoring games, and its for the fans. Shooters will have an extra four inches (two on each leg) to shoot at, which will no doubt help the sagging offensive numbers. Ill be interested to see where they decide to let the goalies play the puck. Yes, it will hurt goalies who are good with the stick. However, it will also eliminate ugly injuries (see Frederic Cloutier versus Chicago in March 2003) and make the defensemen earn their keep.
The first month should be interesting, but for the most part the goalies should be fine. It will mainly be a mental adjustment for them.
Around the AHL
Rivaling the Law/Giroux signings is Vancouvers acquisition of Calder Cup MVP Wade Flaherty, who signed with the team as a free agent. It will be interesting to see if Flaherty will be Dan Cloutiers backup near his house in B.C., or will be tending the nets in Manitoba. For a guy who considered hanging it up after Milwaukee skated off with the trophy, either way its a great deal for him.
The Canucks also inked former San Antonio captain Lee Goren and Norfolk defenseman Johnathan Aitken to contracts yesterday, and both should see time mostly in Manitoba, which is trying to make up for the losses of captain Dallas Eakins (retirement) and leading scorer Brandon Reid (Europe). Goren will fit in great in Winnipeg, and if he can rebound from an injury-plagued 2003-04 hell do great things for the Moose.
Congrats to Ryan Wade, who became one of the first players signed by the new ECHL team in Victoria, B.C. Wade played one game with the Aeros last spring after completing his collegiate career in Canada.
Former fan favorite Bobby Brown has left the U.S. to play in Germany. Hes set up shop in Austin over the summer.
Hold on to your seat
With the celebration of our 11th season, the Houston Aeros have launched an $11 deposit campaign. This gives fans the opportunity to lock-in their 2004-05 season seats for only $11. The remaining balance won't be due until late summer. Great seats are still available, but are going quickly. Why not use this as an opportunity to jump on board as an "Elite Fleet" member. The "Elite Fleet" includes 40 games for the price of 30, guaranteed premium items, and much more. To lock-in your seats for only $11, call 713-974-PUCK!
The winner of this will receive
a red Aeros koozy!
Well start it off with a doozy, thanks to our research department
Who is both the shortest and lightest player in Aeros history?
Send answers to email@example.com.
I think this is a great idea, but what are you going to call it after Sept. 21? Andrew in Pearland
Its always summer in Houston
But in case of a cold spell, how about AutumnAntics?
Feel free to submit your own questions to the E-mail bag (or an alternate name for it) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The last word
This note for all of us who have ever wished to play with Daddys money (if he had any). The president of the expansion Danbury Thrashers of the United Hockey League is 17 years old and the son of the teams owner. SummerScribes wishes the best of luck to the UHLs youngest.