HOUSTON AEROS 2008-09 SEASON IN REVIEW
The 2008-09 Houston Aeros enjoyed a memorable 15th anniversary season, finishing with 48 wins in 100 games, including the Calder Cup Playoffs. Here are a number of highlights from the campaign, which saw the Aeros advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2003.
The Aeros opened the regular season with four straight wins; including goaltender Nolan Schaefer’s 27-save shutout over the Admirals on October 13, a 3-0 win marking the American Hockey League’s first shutout of the year. The team completed the month of October with a perfect 5-0-0-0 record on Toyota Center ice and a 6-3-0-0 mark overall.
In November, the Aeros went 4-6-1-1 as they played only two intra-division games and heading into December, they were a .500 club at 9-9-1-1.
December saw the Aeros play 15 contests, the most of any month during the season. On December 13 the Aeros competed against the Hershey Bears, the first time the two sides had ever met in a regular season outing. The Aeros scored five times in the second period that night, en route to a 6-1 win over the eventual Calder Cup Champion. After a brief holiday break the Aeros saw their dominance within the West Division come to an end, as they dropped a 5-3 decision to the San Antonio Rampage. The defeat moved the Aeros to 10-1-1-2 against the West Division on the season and it was actually the team’s first regulation loss within the division dating back to April 11 of the 2007-2008 season.
As the calendar flipped to 2009, the Aeros were in the midst of a grueling eight-game, 12-day road trip that saw them travel over 5,000 miles. The squad went 2-4-0-2 during the stretch to send their record to 18-17-1-7 as they surpassed the mid-point of the season. The Aeros got shutout on the road by the Chicago Wolves, 3-0 to wrap up the month of January. The loss was the only blemish of the year against the defending Calder Cup Champions, as the Aeros won five of the six meetings.
The Aeros rolled through the month of February, going 7-2-0-1, including a season-high, six-game winning streak from February 8-22. During that torrid stretch the club scored 27 goals, 13 of which came on the power play. The Aeros winning streak coincided with the rehab assignment of Minnesota Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster, who earned six points with the team during his six-game stint in the AHL. Another highlight from the month was the play of rookie forward Matt Beaudoin, who posted the team’s first hat trick of the season in a 7-6 win at the Iowa Chops on Valentine’s Day.
Led by Corey Locke’s (pictured) 14 points, the Aeros went 6-1-0-1 at home and recorded eight wins overall in the month of March to all but ensure them a playoff berth. Locke was one of three players (Benoit Pouliot, Krys Kolanos) to register double-digit point totals in March. Pouliot, who was sent down by the Wild midway through the year, played in 30 games with the Aeros, totaling 24 points and seven of his nine goals came in March. Goaltender Anton Khudobin made his season-debut with the team on March 1, and he picked up two wins in the month as the Aeros dealt with injuries to both of their opening day goaltenders in Schaefer and Barry Brust as the season wound down.
The Aeros limped into the postseason, finally clinching the franchise’s 13th playoff berth on April 10 following an overtime loss versus the Rampage. Khudobin appeared in each of the last four regular season games and the Aeros won their final tilt, a 6-4 win over the Rampage to end a five-game winless streak. Kolanos netted a hat trick in the two-goal victory, which meant a $5,000 donation to the charitable cause: “Hockey Heals for Bo’s Place.”
Finishing with a record of 38-31-2-9 (87 pts.), the Aeros had completed their eighth AHL season and second under the current coaching staff of Kevin Constantine, Troy Ward and Luke Strand. Twenty-three of those wins came at home, giving them at least 23 home victories for the fifth time in the club’s AHL history. Forward Corey Locke led the Aeros with 54 assists and a career-high, 79 points in the regular season, the most by an Aeros player since 2005-2006. He finished the year tied for seventh in the AHL in points and tied for first with 42 power play points. Krys Kolanos buried 31 goals in just 45 games to lead the team in tallies, while defenseman Maxim Noreau led the team’s blue-liners with 39 points, ranking him 15th amongst all league defenseman. Meanwhile, goaltender Nolan Schaefer went 26-16-6, including his 100th professional victory in a 2-1 shootout win versus the Chops.
The Aeros’ converted 82 times on the power play to make them one of just three teams to finish with more power play goals than games played. Overall, the team ranked third out of 29 teams at 20.0% efficiency. The Aeros penalty kill units finished at 85.1% on the year, which was sixth best in the league. The club also finished up the regular season with a 28-16-2-4 record against West Division opponents. Houston’s 20 combined wins overall when trailing at an intermission was the second most victories in the AHL.
Entering the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs as the third seed in the West Division, the Aeros first round opponent was the second-seeded Peoria Rivermen. Led by former NHL goaltender Manny Legace, the Rivermen came into the series against the Aeros with just two regulation losses in their last 20 regular season games, and they would ride that momentum to a 6-4 win over the Aeros in Game 1 at Carver Arena. The Aeros bounced back in Game 2 behind Khudobin’s 30-save performance, winning 2-0 to even the series. Just one day later on April 18, the series shifted to Toyota Center for Game 3 where Locke recorded a pair of power play goals, including the game-winner midway through the third period in a 2-1 Aeros win. After the Rivermen took Game 4 to even the best-of-seven series, the Aeros used a late rally in Game 5 to force overtime before Noreau tallied on the power play at 12:14 of the first overtime to give the Aeros a 3-2 triumph. Heading home facing elimination, the Rivermen stayed alive with a 2-1 win in Game 6 to force a decisive Game 7 on April 27. And in their first Game 7 since the 2003 Calder Cup Finals, the Aeros prevailed, 5-2, including another game-winner by Noreau, his third goal of the series, at the 9:41 mark of the third period.
In the West Division Final the Aeros went up against the Milwaukee Admirals, a team that recorded 20 more points than Houston during the regular season. With the stage set at Bradley Center, the Aeros earned a split of the first two games, winning 2-1 in Game 1 before dropping Game 2, 4-1. The Aeros then held the high-powered Admirals to just one goal in Games 3 & 4 from downtown Houston, including Khudobin’s second white-washing, a 2-0 win in Game 4 on May 7. Leading the series three-games-to-one the Aeros failed to eliminate the Admirals in Game 5 as they fell 4-3. The Aeros let another opportunity slip away in Game 6, as they were thumped 7-0, the first time they were shutout in the 2009 postseason. The seven-goal loss marked their worst playoff defeat in three seasons, when they were coincidentally beaten by the Admirals, 7-0 on May 6, 2006. In Game 7 the Aeros would strike quickly, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Locke and Kolanos in the first 4:23 of the contest. They went on to win 5-2 as they became just the third team in AHL history to win two, road Game 7’s in the same playoff year. With the victory, the Aeros also improved to 4-0 in Game 7’s in their Calder Cup Playoff history and they became the seventh team in the last six seasons to finish third or lower in their division and reach the Conference Finals.
With eight of the 16 wins needed for a championship, the Aeros made the trek above the border to tangle with the regular season point champions, the Manitoba Moose. In the regular season the Moose were the only team the Aeros played more than twice yet failed to record a win against, finishing 0-3-0-1 versus Manitoba. A heart-breaking 2-1 loss in Game 1 followed up by a 5-2 defeat in Game 2 sent the Aeros back to Houston trailing down two games in the best-of-seven. In Game 3 the Aeros started Schaefer between the pipes for his first start since March 31 when he was injured in a game at Iowa. Trailing 3-1 at the second intermission, the Aeros scored twice early in the third period to tie the contest before Michael Grabner blistered a shot over Schaefer to give the Moose an eventual 4-3 win. Down three-games-to-none the Aeros were trying to accomplish a daunting task that only two teams in 118 previous attempts have completed; win four straight games in an AHL playoff series. On May 20, the Aeros and Moose hooked up in a back-and-forth battle, with Aeros eventually prevailing 2:01 into overtime on a goal by Matt Beaudoin. Khudobin started the game for the Aeros but came out due to injury after regulation, allowing Schaefer to pick up the win despite not facing any shots. The Aeros out-shot the Moose 30-22 in Game 4 en route to the franchise’s seventh straight overtime win in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Then, in Game 5, the Aeros led 3-0 entering the third period before the Moose forced overtime with a power play goal early in the third and two tallies in the final 30 seconds of regulation. The Aeros were unfazed however, as they fought through a scoreless first overtime session before veteran forward Tony Hrkac, who joined the team in March, potted his fourth goal of the playoffs at 4:19 of double overtime. There were 90 combined shots in the contest, as Matt Climie (45 saves) earned his first career Calder Cup Playoffs victory. Climie, assigned by the NHL’s Dallas Stars during the first round of the playoffs to help the Aeros as they battled through goaltending injuries to Schaefer and Brust, finished the postseason with a 1-1 record and a 1.88 GAA in five games played. With thrilling sudden-death victories in Games 4 & 5, the Aeros kept their season alive long enough for one more trip up north where they tangled with the Moose in Game 6 on May 25. That night turned out to be a season-ending, 3-1 loss at the MTS Centre, in which Locke registered the Aeros only goal. Climie suffered the loss in what was the Aeros 20th postseason outing. Locke led the Aeros in postseason scoring with 23 points, which ranked him tied for second in the AHL’s postseason scoring overall. In addition to Locke, Marco Rosa, Kolanos, Beaudoin, Noreau and Hrkac also racked up at least 10 points in the playoff run that saw the Aeros go 10-10.
The Aeros 2008-2009 season was a widely successful campaign that saw several returning players have breakout seasons while several rookies burst onto the scene and made their mark in professional hockey. This year’s club endured a rollercoaster ride over eight months and finished just six wins shy of a Calder Cup Championship, giving them reason to believe that 2009-2010 can be their year to win it all…
The Aeros tied a record of eight goals scored in a game en route to a new team record of 14 total goals in a game with an 8-6 win on October 18 vs. San Antonio. In the same contest, Corey Locke set a franchise record of four points in a period when he tallied two goals and two assists in the third period, including the game-winning goal.
The season included a number of all-time record breaking fast goals both for and against. Clayton Stoner’s short-handed goal just :06 into the third period at Milwaukee on November 28 marked the fastest goal to start a period in club history. The Aeros allowed the fastest goal to start a period on February 27 only :07 into the third period by the Rockford IceHogs’ Pascal Pelletier.
Marco Rosa, Ryan Hamilton and Locke combined for the three fastest goals in team history over a span of 1:22 in a 4-3 shootout loss at Bridgeport against the Sound Tigers on January 7. The fastest three goals scored in team history by both teams was set on November 2 during a 4-3 loss vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when Houston’s Jon Insana and Rosa scored 17 seconds apart – the Aeros’ fastest two goals of the season – and the Penguins’ Chris Minard scored in a span of just 41 seconds.
In addition to Kurtis Foster, Aeros’ Krys Kolanos, John Scott, Peter Olvecky, Benoit Pouliot, Thomas Mojzis and Cal Clutterbuck each saw time with the Minnesota Wild as well as the Aeros during the course of the season. Clutterbuck finished the regular season with an NHL record 356 hits.
The record of two goals in a playoff game was tied on five separate occasions by three Aeros – Tony Hrkac, Matt Beaudoin and Locke – with Locke having three multiple-goal games. The record has now been matched 32 times in team history.
Anton Khudobin’s two shutouts were the 12th and 13th in the Aeros playoff history.
Houston was held to the fewest shots in a playoff game with just 14 in the second shutout victory of the post season on May 7. The Aeros also had franchise-low of no shots recorded in the second period of Game Seven in the West Division Semifinals on April 27, a 5-2 win.
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