Aeros Hockey: The Redemption of Patrick O'Sullivan
Guys like Patrick O'Sullivan don't want to play hockey in Houston. Especially not guys who, like O'Sullivan, have tasted success in the NHL. And Patrick O'Sullivan has tasted some success in the NHL.
John Royal Patrick O'Sullivan takes a shot on Friday night
But things happen. For Patrick O'Sullivan, those things have involved multiple trades, being placed on waivers, and moving from system to system, team to team, coach to coach. The result being that O'Sullivan, who previously played for the Aeros in 2005-2006, when he made the league's all-rookie team and was the league's rookie of the year, is now back on the Aeros, trying to regain a roster spot with the Minnesota Wild.
O'Sullivan rejoined the Aeros on January 15 when the Aeros faced Grand Rapids. He had a goal and an assist that night. The next night, he scored once again. He had three assists over the next two games, and in the team's last two games, he has put the puck in the net three times (he has nine points, five goals and four assists in eight games).
He might not want to be with the Houston Aeros, but he's playing some of the best hockey that Aeros fans and coaches have seen in years. And while he might not want to be here, he's doing everything he can to fit in with his teammates, to help the team and to just help make himself a better hockey player, all with the goal of getting back to the Wild as soon as possible.
"I don't necessarily think I'm down here because I wasn't playing the way I could," O'Sullivan said of his demotion. "I wasn't having my best season, but it's just a case where they have similar guys like myself there, and there just wasn't any room. I can't worry about what might happen. Obviously I don't want to be here, but at the same time, it's a good opportunity to come to a great city, play for a team that's winning and try to improve my game."
Winning the Aeros are, and improving his game he is. Head coach Mike Yeo has placed O'Sullivan on a line with Jon DiSalvatore and Cody Almond, some of the more skilled players on the team. They've developed an instant sort of chemistry that can often take years for most teammates to develop.
"[DiSalvatore's] a veteran guy, and he's been around as long as I have, playing pro. He's a smart player. I think we kind of read off each other and complement each other really well. Cody [Almond is] a good young player. He's big and strong. He complements us as well. We all three play a little bit of a different style. Usually when you have a good line, you need different attributes in each guy, and I think we have that. It's been fun."
O'Sullivan's offensive skills (he holds the Aeros records for most goals in a season, most goals by a rookie, most assists by a rookie, most points as a rookie, most hat tricks in a season and most shots in a season) have helped to improve the Aeros in another fashion since, as Yeo said, it's nice to have a lot of shots, but it's better to have a player who can capitalize on those chances. And O'Sullivan has been capitalizing on those chances.
John Royal Patrick O'Sullivan waits for the moment to make his move
The Aeros defeated the Texas Stars 4-1 on Friday night with the first two goals coming off of the stick of O'Sullivan and on the power play. The first goal was a beauty all-around as Warren Peters went to the boards behind the Texas net, dug out the puck and fed it to DiSalvatore, stationed to the goalie's right. DiSalvatore spun around and sent the puck to O'Sullivan skating into position on the goalie's left. The net was wide open, and O'Sullivan didn't miss.
"A guy like that: first off, on the power play, what he adds to you, both of those goals there were moments before he scored the goal where they had pressure on, but he controlled the puck, and he holds off a defender, and he takes the time to make a tape-to-tape pass," Yeo said of O'Sullivan. "When you do that, it relieves the pressure. Other players might just get the puck and feel the pressure and slap it to somebody else, and that gives them the opportunity to continue the pressure and the puck goes down the ice. And then obviously, when you've got a guy who can shoot the puck like that, you don't need as many scoring chances to put the puck in the net."
The Aeros have been on a roll since O'Sullivan arrived a little over three weeks ago. They've won six of the eight games he's played in, and they've been on a steady climb up the standings to a point where they're now tied for second place in the AHL's West Division. But O'Sullivan is quick to note that the team was playing outstanding hockey before he arrived (they had won seven of ten right before his arrival) and that nothing has changed since his arrival.
The Aeros are hot. They've been hot. They're going to have to remain hot if they're going to make the playoffs. But for now Patrick O'Sullivan is enjoying his time in exile.
"It's a fun place to play," he said Friday. "It's a great city, and I enjoyed my time here before. I really like playing in this building, too."
The Aeros return to action tomorrow night when they play the Texas Stars in Austin. And if Patrick O'Sullivan keeps having fun, then the odds are the Aeros will keep on winning.