Aeros Sweep Peoria, Show Houston What a Winning Playoff Team Looks Like

Categories: Hockey, Sports

O'Sullivan Game Winner.JPG
John Royal
Patrick O'Sullivan with the game-winning goal.
The Houston Aeros are like a Timex watch: They take a licking, but they keep on ticking. And last night, with the Peoria Rivermen down three games to nil in their best of seven opening round playoff series, the Aeros had to endure quite the licking. But endure they did, coming from behind to win the game 2-1 and sweep the series.

Peoria had pounded away on the Aeros the entire series, trying to break the will of the team's skill players. And with a heavy rain falling from the clouds over Peoria, and with thunder pounding down from the skies, the Rivermen attempted to pound the Aeros into submission.

But the Aeros didn't crack. Patrick O'Sullivan, Jon DiSalvatore, Robbie Earl and Casey Wellman all took nasty hits during the game. Hits that would have sent lesser players out of the game. Hits that would have caused lesser players to abandon their game and go for some retaliation. But the Aeros didn't break. They weren't the lesser players.

They took the licking. They kept on ticking. Now they're waiting to find out who they will play in the next round of the AHL playoffs.

The win didn't come easy. Peoria took the early lead when a Nathan Oystrick shot deflected off a skate of Houston's Justin Falk and past Aeros goalie Matt Hackett midway through the first period. And the Aeros didn't quite seem to be playing their game. They seemed a touch off.

But then came the second period. The Aeros tied the game at 8:22 off a face-off just above the blue line. Jared Spurgeon got the puck and fed it to Drew Bagnall, who was up around center ice. Then Bagnall acted as if he was going to throw the puck into the corner for a scramble, but instead aimed it for the net. Peoria goalie Ben Bishop fell for the fake, and the puck went in the net, tying the game.

In defense of Bishop, it was an easy fake to fall for as Bagnall had not scored a goal the entire season. But the Aeros had studied Bishop's tendencies, and they knew he liked to leave the net to play the puck, so they gave it a try.

Hackett Watch.JPG
John Royal
Matt Hackett watches the action in front of him.

"We kind of knew that Bishop was a guy who loves to play the puck," Bagnall said. "He'll take every opportunity. He was playing pucks when I was dumping them down from around the blue line, so I just kind of tried to make it look like I was going hard around the glass, and I tried to put it back toward the far post, and I guess I got lucky. But I had some intention of doing it."

The goal seemed to sap some of the spirit out of Peoria. The rest of their spirit was sapped out a few minutes later. Patrick O'Sullivan got loose on a breakaway and flipped the puck past Bishop to put Houston up 2-1.

From that point on, it was a matter of the Aeros hanging tough, taking their beating and not letting Peoria get on the board. And though the game wasn't sewn up, the Aeros seemed to be in a good position to win the game until Bagnall got whistled for closing his hand over the puck and was sent to the penalty box for two minutes with just 2:35 left in the game, putting Peoria on the power play. But though Peoria pressed and pressed, they still couldn't tie the game.

"Sometimes it helps you," Bagnall said about the penalty. "You're better at your penalty kill -- your penalty killers are better at playing that certain position, and you know you can shoot it out. You don't have to make little plays and worry about icing it. I'm not saying I was trying to help us out, but I just wanted that thing out of there as fast as I could."

And then came the agonizing last 25 seconds, which twice saw Aeros goalie Matt Hackett block a shot, only to have the puck hanging around in open ice just in front of the net. But the hockey gods smiled down on the Aeros and kept the puck from crossing the line into the net, that last time coming as the horn sounded to end the game.

"I thought I had it in my chest, so I was just squeezing," Hackett said of the final shot. "But then all of the guys are yelling it's behind me, it's behind me. So I turned around, and luckily it wasn't in the net."

So the Aeros got the four-game sweep to open up the playoffs. A sweep in which Peoria scored first in all four games. A sweep in which the Aeros had to battle from behind every single game.

"That's playoff hockey," head coach Mike Yeo said. "I don't know that you get too many easy ones in the playoffs."

So now the Aeros get a few days off as they wait to play the winner of the Texas/Milwaukee series. They get a little time to relax. A little time to enjoy the taste of playoff victory. But there's still more to come.

My Voice Nation Help
15 comments
Dampland
Dampland

Thanks for the great Aeros write up !

Forecheck
Forecheck

Great article, John, as usual.

Who would have thought back in November that the Aeros would not only make the playoffs but would sweep the first round and be playing fort the divisional title? Plus finish with the second best record in the Western Conference and something like fourth or fifth best in the AHL.

Now, come on people - let's get more than 3500 in the Toy Box for a mid week playoff game! The guys deserve better support than they have gotten so far.

Last summer, we were worried about who we could get in here to turn things around. This summer, the problem will be keeping people, including coaches.

unsport
unsport

Thank you for covering this game, this season, this team, and this sport! It amazes me that local media have been so quiet about a Houston team that's been on fire for months now.

This round of playoffs was a real thrill to watch, as the Rivermen tried to catch up to the Aeros' game and the Aeros kept surpassing themselves. I can't wait to see what happens next, and I'm so glad you'll be there to tell us about it!

A fan
A fan

Aeros are THE hot team in Houston right now. All media ought to cover this success story! Go Aeros.

ICEVET
ICEVET

This is another "Special Team" which has the potential and the talent (players and coaching staff) to reach the Calder Cup Final series, again, (last Aeros Championship was 2003).

For those who may not know, there is a very large potential fan base in the Houston Metropolitan Area which follows the Aeros, either by attending games or listening to Joe O'Donnell's "voice of the Aeros" broadcasts. Historically, there have been as many as 15,500 fans attend an Aeros hockey game over the years. This year, there have been several weekend games at Toyota with over 11,000 fans.

It is "perplexing" to MANY of US, who follow the Aeros closely, that the Houston Broadcast Sports Media anchors have chosen to "virtually ignore" the Aeros, historically and again this season, in particular, when considering that the Aeros have won 2 major hockey championships and qualified for post-season playoff competition in 14 out of 17 seasons since their inception in 1994. Why this bias....do they NOT understand the Sport???

No one can dispute this record of SUCCESS, particularly when compared to the futility of the Houston Texans (1 winning season and no playoffs in 9 years) and the mediocrity of the Houston Astros (1 World Series...lost 4 of 4...and only 5 playoffs in 17 years). The Houston Rockets are the only professional sports team (championships in 1994-5) which comes close to the Aeros performance.

Go Aeros!!!

Forecheck
Forecheck

Ice -

The Houston sports media derives virtually zero income from the Aeros. They make money (and get free tickets, perks, etc.) by covering the Astros, Texans, and Rockets. Coverage of the Dynamo is done, I presume, to be seen as "politically correct" (or simply to avoid accusations of some level of racism or ethnic prejudice).

In other words, money talks, and something else walks.

If more Houstonians took an interest in hockey, the media would be forced to cover it and maybe even bother to learn the game.

I remember Craig Roberts (who came here from Indianapolis) used to give the Aeros a fair shake, but I haven't seen him around since Channel 51 went off the air several years ago.

Forecheck
Forecheck

My bad - It was Channel 55 that went belly up a few years ago.

Alw02
Alw02

Thank you for your continued coverage. Not since the Rudy T Rockets have we had a team with such heart.

Tell the Houston Press thank you for tier continued support.

AerosFanFromWayBack
AerosFanFromWayBack

Nice to see someone who actually knows the team writing about it. Sure the boys are getting press from the rest of the media outlets because of the playoffs but some of us want to get the scoop for the rest of the season. Thanks!

Mehulse
Mehulse

What a game!! Kudos to the team for a great series. Can't wait to get back to Toyota Center for the next round. Thanks, John, for your continued great coverage.

B2B
B2B

The Aeros seem to get stronger as the season rolls along. Yes, the guys fell victim to some hitting by Peoria, some questionable but "no call" by the refs. Yet they stayed with the "process" as they call it and came out the winner. I'm glad it was a short series for them so they can rest up a bit.

Thanks for the article John. There are more hockey fans in "H" town than a lot of people believe.

will
will

SO FREAKING GLAD this wasn't a long series. Those guys could dish out a beating, and it's a LONG haul to the Calder Cup. Getting off to a quick start this earlier in the grind could pay dividends later on. And our boys will certainly take the week off while the rest of the league catches up!

One heck of a great series, Aeros!!!

Puckerup
Puckerup

Go Aeros! These guys are on fire!

cw
cw

Sweep! Can't wait for Round 2.

Chris
Chris

Awesome, great to see Bagnall net a goal!

Now Trending

From the Vault

 

Loading...