Make sure to check out a feature story on Mark Cullen's partnership with Memorial Hermann Healthcare System's Skin Cancer Awareness Program, tonight on KPRC's (Channel 2) 5 p.m. newscast.
By Ryan Stanzel
Kettles relishes No. 1 role
Houston, TX It took just one moment for 22-year-old Kyle Kettles to go from being the Houston Aeros backup goalie to their go-to netminder down the stretch. That moment lasted as long as it took a San Antonio Rampage player to end Johan Holmqvists regular season (and possibly more) with a slash to his hand last Friday. Holmqvist was the 2003 Calder Cup Most Valuable Player.
Kettles, who had played 18 of the teams first 74 games with Holmqvist leading the way, now finds himself in the spotlight, something he doesnt mind. The Aeros split two games over the weekend after Holmqvists injury, including an important 4-2 win over San Antonio on Saturday.
"I'm happy with my performance," said Kettles, who made 18 saves. "I think I was a little rusty early, but I knew I had to be solid and I think we played well as a team. I'm excited about getting the chance to play more, and all I have to do is go out there (and) let the guys do their job."
His teammates have been doing their job lately, allowing less than 24 shots per game last week to lighten his workload.
Its still going to be an adjustment for the Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba native.
Im more focused on being ready for the game now, Kettles said Tuesday after his first weekday practice as Houstons No. 1 goalie. I always try to be ready, but when youre the backup its harder. Its easier to get ready now and stay focused on feeling good. In practice I try to refine my game.
Kettles has been in this position before, albeit not in the AHL. Kettles was a workhorse in the second half of the 2002-03 season in ECHL Louisiana, starting 14 straight games at one point to eclipse his own team mark of 12 consecutive appearances. Kettles yielded just two goals in a three-game opening round playoff sweep of Arkansas.
Ive been there before, said Kettles. Ive at least won a series in the playoffs even if not at this level. Now I have to show what I can do here.
Playing two straight games got him back in the groove, he said. It was big, especially so quick, said Kettles, who figures to get the majority of action in the final four regular season games with Frederic Cloutier backing him up. There wasnt much time to think. I definitely felt better the second night.
Kettles has the full support of not only his teammates, but Aeros head coach Todd McLellan as well. Were pleased but not surprised, said McLellan. He has done everything weve asked of him this season.
Kyle just has to play as well as he did on Saturday, said McLellan. He doesnt have to be the best goaltender in the American Hockey League and he doesnt have to be the best player on the ice every night. He just has to stay solid.
It does seem a little ironic that Kettles, who was drafted in the seventh round by Milwaukee in 1999, signed with Minnesota in the summer of 2002 for one reason opportunity.
It looked like I had the most opportunities with Minnesota, said Kettles, who beat out Cloutier in a strong pre-season showing to be Holmqvists backup. I wanted to play in a good organization. They give guys lots of opportunities, and its where I wanted to be.
With four games left and the Aeros in a dogfight for a post-season spot, Kettles wish has been granted.