Darcy Kuemper: A Star Is Born As The Aeros Leave Houston
The last Houston Aeros hockey game ever might have been played at Toyota Center last night. And if it was, the people of Houston witnessed the Aeros go down in defeat in game two of the first round of the AHL Calder Cup playoffs. And if it was the end, the people of Houston witnessed the Aeros do so much of what they've done far too often this past season, play maddeningly inconsistent hockey.
Photo by John Royal Darcy Kuemper with a save.
The Aeros got to the game one victory on Friday night behind the superb play of second-year goalie Darcy Kuemper, who blocked all 36 Grand Rapids shots in the Aeros 3-0 win. But the Aeros, who played perhaps their best all-around team game of the season on Friday night, failed to show for much of yesterday's 3-2 game two loss.
"We didn't come out at all," head coach John Torchetti said. "We finally played the last seven minutes of the [third] period. Kuemper did a great job of keeping us in it. I've got to do a better job of keeping us focused, I guess, because we certainly didn't show up."
The Aeros who played on Friday night played a spectacular game, forcing the action, and playing to win. The team was aggressive, hard hitting, and kept the Griffins off balance while Kuemper seemingly shrugged off every shot like it was just some fly bugging him on a lazy summer afternoon.
But yesterday, the team appeared to be playing not to lose. The Griffins forced the action, kept firing the puck toward Kuemper, and knocked the Aeros all over the ice. The team finally put forth some effort in the last minutes of the third period, scoring two goals in the final minutes of the game, and having a prime opportunity to tie it all up in the final seconds, but it was too little too late, and if not for Kuemper they wouldn't have had the chance at all.
"I thought we were still in the game," Torchetti said. "We didn't deserve any part of this game, but we were still in the game."
This was only one defeat, but the first round of the AHL playoffs is a best of five series, and the final three games will be played later this week in Grand Rapids. So after Friday's win, the Aeros were in prime position to deliver a critical punch to the gut of the favored Griffins. Instead, the Aeros, a team with no future in Houston, is now on life support, its last legs giving way in a lackluster effort made even more maddening and disappointing by Friday's victory.
But if this weekend was the last ever weekend of the Houston Aeros, if there are no more playoff games at Toyota Center, then the Aeros fans did get to see birth to the legend of Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper, playing in his first ever professional playoff games this weekend, was superb.