Houston Aeros (6-6-1-2) 15pts 3rd in West Division
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #16 Jason Zucker ~ 7G 5A = 12pts
*2. #64 Mikael Granlund ~ 4G 8A = 12pts
3. #37 Justin Fontaine ~ 4G 8A = 12pts
4. #10 Brian Connelly ~ 2G 9A = 11pts
5. #3 Charlie Coyle ~ 7G 3A = 10pts
Top 3 PIM's:
1. #4 Drew Bagnall ~ 37 PIM's
2. #44 Nick Palmieri ~ 22 PIM's
3. #17 Brett Bulmer ~ 17 PIM's
1. #31 Matt Hackett (3-5-2) 3.25GAA .887%SP
2. #35 Darcy Kuemper (3-2-0) 2.56GAA .898%SP
Rockford IceHogs (6-7-0-1) 13pts 4th in Midwest Division
Top 5 Scorers:
1. #27 Brandon Pirri ~ 6G 7A = 13pts
2. #16 Marcus Kruger ~ 3G 8A = 11pts
3. #39 Martin St. Pierre ~ 3G 8A = 11pts
4. #19 Jeremy Morin ~ 5G 4A = 9pts
5. #17 Jimmy Hayes ~ 4G 4A = 8pts
1. #16 Brandon Bollig ~ 48 PIM's
2. #11 Philippe Paradis ~ 35 PIM's
3. #23 Andrew Shaw ~ 32 PIM's
1. #30 Carter Hutton (5-6-1) 2.85GAA .898%SP
2. #35 Alec Richards (1-1-0) 4.05GAA .833%SP
*- Denotes a player that is currently injured and out of the lineup.
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A week ago, I sung the praises of the Houston Aeros and their nice start, but that has subsided as the team has won just 1 of its last 6 games. The team has struggled to score and it is impossible not to consider that an effect of losing Mikael Granlund to an injury two weeks ago. Granlund really paced the Aeros' early surge in the standings. A classic example of this sputtering offense for Houston was Friday night's game against Rockford. The Aeros struggled to get much in the way of shots on goal and found itself trailing 2-0 by the end of the 2nd period. It was not an unsurmountable lead, but Houston only managed to find the back of the net once in a 2-1 loss. If you look deeper you can see further signs of the Aeros offensive woes as Houston had 8 power play opportunities and was only able to convert once. After a 7 goal outburst in a Tuesday 'brunch' game in San Antonio the Aeros' need to capitalize on its offensive opportunities and in general live by the axiom "there is no such thing as a bad shot on goal" and work to funnel pucks on goal whenever possible to put pressure on Rockford's likely starter Carter Hutton between the pipes.
The youngsters still must do their part to carry the offensive load. Aeros' leading scorer Jason Zucker, along with Charlie Coyle and Johan Larsson must find ways to get onto the scoresheet. Zucker has been one of the hottest players in the AHL lately, with 5 goals and 2 assists in games dating from November 8th to November 13th. While veterans Justin Fontaine, Chad Rau and Nick Palmieri will also be looked to contribute in order to turn Houston's fortunes around. Houston will also hope to see someone step up for Steven Kampfer who was rocked by a vicious hit by Rockford's Kyle Beach that left him battered, bloodied and so injured he was immediately taken to the hospital. Kampfer is ok, and had control of all of his major extremities, but I would be shocked if he is in the lineup on Sunday. That means the Aeros are going to need someone to step up and take up those minutes that Kampfer normally occupies. Houston's defense is young, but has good finesse led by Marco Scandella, Chay Genoway and AHL veteran Brian Connelly. Connelly, the former Bloomington Jefferson star is having a good start to the 2012-13 season and he has surprised many by his solid two-way play and I have little doubt he'll have a lot of family and friends in attendance tomorrow. Team captain Drew Bagnall will lead the rest of the Aeros' blueline which could be a combination of Tyler Cuma, Mike Montgomery and Corbin Baldwin. The Rockford IceHogs are one of the most penalized teams in the American Hockey League and they have a number of players who you could consider to be a bit 'dirty' and on Friday night they took liberties against the Aeros without much consequence. I would expect Bagnall to be returned to the Aeros' lineup as he is a player who is not afraid to drop the gloves to defend his teammates. Fans who attend the game could expect to see some fireworks in that regard.
Aeros' head Coach John Torchetti and his staff will be pressed on trying to get their club to play with energy but with a temper of discipline and not get drawn into retaliatory penalties that are a staple of Rockford's game. The IceHogs have some good scoring talent up front led by AHL vets Brandon Pirri and Martin St. Pierre. Rockford also has a large group of big-bodied forwards like Kyle Beach (6'4"), Jimmy Hayes (6'5"), Brandon Bollig (6'3"), and Philippe Paradis (6'2") that could prove to be a handful for the Aeros' undersized group of defenseman. The Aeros will have to use its speed to try to put Rockford on its heels.
The Aeros have made their way to the friendly confines of the Xcel Energy Center for Sunday's tilt. For young Wild prospects that hoped to be playing for the big club this season they have been tweeting regularly about their excitement of playing in front of a State of Hockey crowd. Yet, I think it will be interesting to see how many show up. Its one thing to host a game like this (which the Wild have done from time to time) while the NHL is playing but this is in the midst of a lockout. Will the fans show their apathy over the NHL's labor by making this a non-event? Or will the fans show up in droves, proving what a friend of mine KissArmyMan from wild.com said about hockey fans being sheep by not showing any resentment over their treatment? Either way, it could very well be the closest thing to NHL hockey that is played on Xcel Energy Center Ice for the 2012-13 season. Enjoy it while you can Wild fans!
Wild Prospect Update: Bussieres and Haula are heating up
(Left to Right) Raphael Bussires & Erik Haula
While the lion's share of Wild prospects are with the Houston Aeros, there are still some players in the pool that are off to fine starts this season. I have already mentioned Tyler Graovac who is one of the top goal scorers in the Ontario Hockey League. Graovac is currently a little dinged up with a lower body injury so he's not playing but he's not the only one having a good season so far. Two other players have distinguished themselves with solid starts and are showing signs of heating up.
In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is the Wild's 2012 2nd rounder (46th Overall) Raphael Bussieres who is starting to find himself on the scoresheet for the red hot Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Bussieres has been piling up the multi-point games lately including this Saturday where he chipped in 2 goals and an assist in a 6-2 rout of the Rimouski Oceanic. Bussieres has 12 goals, 29 points with 14 PIM's and an impressive +14 in 22 games this season. The 6'1", 195lbs left winger is well on pace to shatter his career marks of goals and points.
Closer to home, Erik Haula again leading the University of Minnesota in scoring with a team-leading 6 goals and 13 points in 10 games. The slick skating Finn is relatively unheralded on this team with more well-known commodities in a pair of Florida Panthers' prospects Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad. Haula hasn't seem to be bothered by that over the past few seasons and he goes about his way providing great set ups and clutch goals. Either way, its more reason to feel the future is bright for this organization.