The Houston Aeros were granted an expansion franchise in the International Hockey League (IHL) on January 12, 1994. The team decided to go with the nickname “Aeros” on March 2, 1994, to honor previous hockey history in the city of Houston when the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association (WHA) had hockey operations from 1972-78. The Aeros became the second IHL franchise to be named after a WHA team with Phoenix being the other.
Former WHA Aero player Terry Ruskowski was selected as the Aeros first Head Coach on April 22, 1994. The Aeros played their first regular season game in the 1994-95 season at the Denver Grizzlies in a 4-3 shootout loss on October 2, 1994. The Aeros would not have to wait long to taste victory for the first time, as five days later the Aeros returned home to Houston to play their first game at The Summit to defeat Atlanta 3-2 in a shootout in front of a sellout crowd of 15, 552 on October 7, 1994. The Aeros completed their inaugural season with a record of 38-35-8 and qualified for post-season play, but were eliminated in the first round by the Phoenix Roadrunners, three games to one.
In the second season for the Aeros, the IHL stage was focused on Houston as the Aeros played host to the IHL All-Star Game on January 13, 1996 played at The Summit. During the second hockey campaign the Aeros changed head coaches, naming Dave Tippett to replace Terry Ruskowski, during the middle of the 1995-96 season. The Aeros finished with a record of 29-45-8 and did not qualify for post-season play.
The Aeros showed great improvement in their third year during the 1997-98 campaign where they finished with a record of 44-30-8, qualifying for the post-season and advancing to the Western Conference Finals before bowing out to Long Beach, four games to one.
The experience of advancing in the playoffs paid dividends for Aeros in the 1998-99 season as the Aeros tallied 121 points during the regular season, finishing with an IHL best regular season record of 54-15-13. The Aeros took the success of the regular season and translating into the post season and captured the IHL Turner Cup on June 5, 1999 defeating the Orlando Solar Bears 5-3 in Game 7, bringing the first hockey championship to the city of Houston since the WHA Aeros won the 1974-75 World Trophy. Following the championship season of 1999 Dave Tippett was named the head coach of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings after going 165-85-36 during his tenure in Houston.
The Aeros looked to defend their IHL Turner Cup Championship under the direction of new head coach Ron Low and the Aeros continued their winning ways going 44-29-9 and qualifying for the post-season for the third consecutive season before a four games to two defeat to the Chicago Wolves in the Western Conference Finals in 2000. After the completion of the 1999-2000 season, Ron Low was named head coach of the NHL’s New York Rangers.
In the last season before big transition, the Aeros posted a record of 42-32-8 in their seventh year of operations in Houston qualifying for post-season play before bowing out to Manitoba four games to three in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The year 2001 was a a turning point in history for the Houston Aeros hockey team as on May 21, 2001 they became the primary development affiliate for the expansion Minnesota Wild of the NHL. Then on June 4, 2001, the Aeros joined five other IHL franchises (Chicago, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Manitoba and Utah) to become a part of the American Hockey League (AHL) after the IHL suspended its operations due to financial instability.
With the new partnership with Minnesota in hand and a new league, the excitement carried over to the ice as the Aeros, under new head coach Todd McLellan, finished the regular season with a 39-31-10 record and qualified for the post-season advancing to the Western Conference Finals before being defeated by Chicago, four games to two.
2003 was an important year in the history of the Aeros both on and off the ice. On the ice, the Aeros finished the regular season with 104 points and a 47-23-7-3 record qualifying for the post season for the seventh consecutive season. During the final regular season game of the 2002-03 season, also the last regular season game at Compaq Center/The Summit, the Aeros retired Gordie Howe’s No. 9 jersey, which he wore during his days as a player for the WHA Aeros. After sweeping Milwaukee in three games in the first round, the Aeros defeated Norfolk four games to two and advanced to the Western Conference Finals. The 2003 Western Conference Finals matched the Aeros with one of their fellow AHL merger franchises in Grand Rapids and Houston defeated the Griffins four games to three in capturing the Western Conference Championship. After dropping two of the first three games of the Calder Cup Finals to Hamilton, the Aeros stormed back to win three of the final four games, including a 3-0 win in Game 7 on the road in Hamilton on June 12, 2003, to capture the Calder Cup Championship four games to three. Aeros goaltender Johan Holmqvist was named Calder Cup Most Valuable Player before 17,428 fans in Hamilton. The Aeros captured their second championship in franchise history and the fourth hockey championship to the city of Houston.
Shortly after the Aeros won the Calder Cup Championship, on July 3, 2003, Minnesota Sports & Entertainment purchased a majority share of the Aeros, furthering the synergy of the Aeros and the Minnesota Wild.
The 2003-04 defending Calder Cup Champion Aeros played their first home game at the new Toyota Center in downtown Houston on October 24, 2003 before a crowd of 9,315. Fans continued to show their support in the new building as on January 16, 2004, the Aeros played their I-10 rival San Antonio Rampage before a Toyota Center record crowd of 13,342. The game versus San Antonio featured a total of nine goals between the teams and a visit from the newest pitcher of the Houston Astros, Roger Clemens. The Aeros struggled during the regular season and finished with a record of 28-34-14-4, but qualified for the post-season for the eighth consecutive year before falling to Cincinnati, two games to none. Following the 2003-04 season, Aeros Head Coach Todd McLellan was named Assistant Coach of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings after posting a record of 154-111-37-18 and the 2003 Calder Cup Championship during his four season tenure in Houston. After helping the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup Championship during the 2008 season, McLellan was named Head Coach of the San Jose Sharks. In his first year in San Jose McLellan led the Sharks to a 53-18-11 record (117 points), winning the Presidents Trophy for the best regular season record in the NHL.
Rob Daum was named the Aeros sixth Head Coach in franchise history before the 2004-05 season and guided the Aeros to a 77-67-16 record over the next two seasons, extending the Aeros post-season streak to 10. The streak ended during the 2006-07 season when the team finished 27-43-4-6 and failed to qualify for the post-season for just the second time in franchise history.
Kevin Constantine was named the seventh Head Coach in franchise history during the 2007 offseason and in the 2007-08 season guided the team to a 45-29-2-4 record, a 32-point improvement from the previous season. The Aeros returned to the playoffs but lost to Rockford, four games to one in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Aeros playoff success continued in 2008-09 after a 38-31-2-9 record during the regular season. Houston defeated Peoria in the West Division Semifinals four games to three and Milwaukee four games to three in the Western Division Finals before dropping to Manitoba, four games to two in the Western Conference Finals.
Prior to the 2009-10 season changes in the Wild organization saw the departure of Wild General Manager Doug Risebrough, and Aeros General Manager Tom Lynn. On May 22, 2009, the Wild named Chuck Fletcher the new General Manager. On June 30, 2009, Fletcher named Jim Mill the Minnesota Wild Assistant to the General Manager/Houston Aeros General Manager. The Aeros finished the 2009-10 season with a 34-34-7-5 record and the team failed to qualify for the post-season for only the third time in franchise history.
The Aeros bounced back in the 2010-11 season with a familiar face guiding the team. On June 16, 2010, the Aeros announced Mike Yeo as the seventh head coach in Aeros franchise history. Yeo was the captain of the Aeros 1999 IHL Turner Cup Championship Team and spent five seasons as assistant coach of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins and helped the Penguins win the Stanley Cup Championship during the 2008-09 season. Yeo guided the Aeros to a 46-win season and a berth in the Calder Cup Finals, where the team fell to the Binghamton Senators in six games.
For his efforts, Mike Yeo was rewarded by the parent club Minnesota Wild when they named him the third Head Coach in team history on June 17, 2011. It did not take long for Jim Mill to find his replacement. On July 5, 2011, the Minnesota Wild named John Torchetti the new Head Coach of the Aeros.
The team got off to a great start in 2011-12, going 18-6-2-7 through mid-December. Houston posted points in 27 of the first 33 games of the season. The second part of the season brought on a record number of roster moves due to injuries in Minnesota and in Houston. The Aeros battled through adversity and made it into the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs on the final day of the regular season. Houston finished with a 35-25-5-11 record, producing 86 points on the season. The 11 shootout losses set a new team record for most in a season. The Aeros fell in four games to the Oklahoma City Barons in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.