It’s time for the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs, and the Aeros have some unfinished business to attend to after falling two wins shy of the Calder Cup last spring…
First off, as an Aeros fan, you should be extremely proud of these players and coaches. From Eric Nystrom to Scott Greenham, from Joey Martin to Jordan Hendry, the Aeros used more than 50 players (almost unheard of in pro hockey) and faced all kinds of adversity. And although they slipped from a potential #1 seed to the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference between Christmas and April 15th, they are here now and ready to compete for a Calder Cup.
This team had more ups-and-downs than most clubs could ever imagine. That should bode well this time of year if, and most likely when, their backs get up against “the wall”.
It all starts tonight, as the Aeros host Game 1 of the best-of-five Western Conference Quarterfinals against the top seeded Oklahoma City Barons. If you’re curious, the Barons had the option to choose whether they wanted to start on the road or at home based on the 2-3 format of this series. However, at the end of the day, their building wasn’t available to start at home this week, so it forced their hand into a trip to Toyota Center.
Barons head coach Todd Nelson seemed a bit uneasy this morning regarding the short, five-game series, coupled with the fact that his team is starting on the road. He mentioned how this series could be over in four days, meaning the games are bunched together (3 games in 4 days). A top seed or not, if you start slow in a best-of-five, you’re most likely golfing in a week’s time.
As for the Aeros, there was a genuine excitement and relief after Sunday’s must-win game helped punch their ticket to the playoff party. As of yesterday’s practice and today’s morning skate, I get the sense that there’s more of a confidence and a readiness with the team…I get the sense that they really believe they can win this series – underdogs or not.
Emotion and mental preparation is a huge part of playoff hockey, so that’s something to keep in mind…
Before I get into a few things to look for in Games 1 & 2, here’s a link to my playoff preview (audio) with Aeros head coach John Torchetti.
Alright, now onto some fodder…
- Playoff Style: The Aeros have been playing “must-win” games for a few weeks now – granted they didn’t win all of them, but the mindset needed for the postseason has been ingrained in this team for a while now. I’m not so sure the Barons can say the same thing.
- Yan Danis: The AHL’s Goaltender Of The Year will stand in the Aeros way in this opening round. He’s never lost to them in regulation in his career (8-0-2), and so I’d imagine he’s pretty confident heading into this series. The big key for the Aeros is to make him “fight” to see pucks, according to Torchetti. The Aeros have to drive the net hard, setup numerous screens and they must find a way to go upstairs on him from in tight.
- Even-Strength: The Aeros want to play even-strength hockey in this series. Plain and simple. A top objective will be working pucks deep and trying to wear down the Barons “D”. The Barons have a big and physical back-end, complemented nicely by veterans Bryan Rodney and Bryan Helmer.
- Scoring First: Look, I know the Aeros were above average this year when allowing the first goal (13 wins) and that they struggled down the stretch when tallying the opening marker, but I can’t stress enough how big it is to get goals on Danis and make the Barons play from behind. Again, I know the Aeros are somewhat comfortable when trailing, but it’d be nice to get an early goal or two in Games 1 & 2 to let Danis and his mates know this won’t be a pushover series. In the eight regular season meetings, the Barons scored first six times.
- Role Players: Gone from last year’s playoff run are talented scorers like Patrick O’Sullivan, Robbie Earl and Max Noreau. But maybe more importantly, the Aeros are without the likes of Warren Peters, Colton Gillies and Jed Ortmeyer from a year ago. That means that a few players will need to step up and fill that void (that checking line / tough to play against / SOB role). Carson McMillan and Cody Almond come to mind, but David McIntyre can play that style as well. Hopefully the Aeros can get on a postseason run and welcome Jarod Palmer back from injury – that would be huge in the latter rounds.
Be proud of this team and what they’ve accomplished, but just know that getting here isn’t enough for these guys. They’ve got their hands full in round one, but I believe if they play their system properly and bring a physical and smart (disciplined) game, they’ve got a legit shot. Matt Hackett has to be rock solid and they’ve got to find a way to rattle Danis.
Well that’s all for now…enjoy the team’s 9th Calder Cup Playoff appearance in 11 seasons…
– Aero Joe