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Hockey Season

Posted Thursday, March 1st, 2007 9:31:00 pm
Ever since the Buffalo Sabres had their amazing playoff run ended by eventual Stanley Cup champs Carolina last year, I've been an avid hockey fan. Hockey is definitely the sport of choice lately, and I'm following more teams and players this year than I ever had.

The best part is, Kathy's into it, too. Ever since we got on a Houston Aeros kick last year, we haven't been able to shake the hockey bug.

The three teams I'm following are the AHL's Aeros, and the NHL's Sabres and Minnesota Wild.

First Buffalo. They are on the verge of their most successful season ever. All-star MVP Daniel Briere has been a goal scoring machine while Ryan Miller continues to dominate in goal. It's a shame they had to let go of one-time starter Martin Biron (and especially to Philadelphia, Biron can't be liking going to the worst team in the NHL), but it allowed them to make some key moves, including picking up Zubrus from Washington to help cover their injured players. Buffalo had this problem late last year, especially with Jay McKee's bizarre shin injury that left him out of Game 7 of the Conference Finals. Fortunately, it's not just the defense brunting the blow this year, so they are able to shift people around better. And the people they are calling up from Rochester this year have just performed amazingly. If they can beat up Toronto 6-1 with 7 missing starters, they're going to coast to the division championship, and quite possibly the President's trophy as well.

The Minnesota Wild started off hot but have cooled down since, and are now in the midst of a 3-way battle for their division title that seems to have gone on for months. As I write this, Minnesota, Vancouver, and Calgary are within one point in the standings. There are still 18 games to go, but if this tight race can continue to the end of the season, each game is going to feel like a playoff game, and if they can pull through they will be ready to give Minnesota fans something to cheer for. Their main problem right now, however, is their goaltending situation. Manny Fernandez is out with an injury, and has been out for a month. Just last night, Nikolas Backstrom went down to injury, leaving their third-string doing the starting role. However, Josh Harding has proven himself well in the AHL, and is one of my favorite Aeros players. I have no doubt he'll be able to succeed at the NHL level.

In the AHL, the Houston Aeros are our only local hockey team. They play in the Toyota Center, the same place as the NBA Rockets, and play to crowds that average about 6,000 to 7,000 in attendance. After finishing 2nd in the division and making it to the division finals last season, they are having a terrible season this year, tied for last place in their division. They lost Kirby Law to Europe and Eric Westrum to the Toronto Marlies, and no one's stepped up to take over leadership on the team. It's getting so bad that Matt Foy's taking out his frustration every game, usually getting into fights, unsportsmanlike penalties, and even misconducts for throwing some guy's glove into the stands. The head coach hasn't placed the "C" on anyone's sweater so far this year, which I feel is the base of the problem, no one is being expected to be the team leader. Adding to that, their top two goalies are out, because the injury chain falls upon the Aeros to replace Minnesota's goaltenders. Both Harding and Miroslav Kopriva are playing for Minnesota, while in the meantime we're stuck with Kochan, who's decent, and Quesada, who I personally don't want see playing in net and giving up 5+ goals ever again. Apparently he's been terrible in the lower leagues as well.

Despite the badness of the Aeros, Kathy and I still have fun going to their games, as hockey is simply the most exciting sport to watch. There's action, hitting, fighting, and now there's even scores with the rules that have really opened up games. It's not uncommon anymore to see 2, 3, even 4 or more goals scored in succession. And as in any sport, it's ALWAYS fun to yell at the refs.

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