“It’s a game you don’t know how to predict,” Kevin Constantine said outside the locker room after Friday’s 5-3 loss to the San Antonio Rampage. “The predictability is that it’s impossible to predict.”
Yet from the start of the game, there was a predictable feel to the game. The Aeros came out for the game slow and sluggish, as if they had a bit too much Christmas turkey, ham, stuffing, and pies. And it was predictable in that, at the 7:56 mark of the first period, the Aeros were down 2-0 to the last place San Antonio Rampage, but it was the Aeros who were skating like the last place team.
Coming into the game, the Rampage had failed to win a game on the road all season. But coming into the game, the Rampage were 7-3-0-0 for their last ten games. Coming into the game, the Aeros hadn’t lost a game in regulation play since way back on December 2 against Manitoba. Then again, despite having earned a point in nine straight games, it could easily be said that the Aeros have been struggling.
So perhaps, despite Constantine’s statement, it was predictable that the Rampage’s first road victory of the season would come against the Aeros.
If I could pinpoint the loss on any one thing, I would pinpoint on the entire team. Barry Brust got the start and allowed the first two shots he faced to go into the net – the two goals came within 30 seconds of each other at 7:26 and 7:56 of the first. Nolan Schaefer came in and bailed the team out.
For the first period. Then he allowed the first two shots he faced in the second period to go into the goal within 20 seconds at 11:44 and 12:04 – two power play goals thanks to a Jesse Schultz double-minor for high-sticking. Barry Brust then came back into the game and allowed another goal at 17:49 of the second.
Sure, it’s easy to blame the goalies, but the offense seemed out of sync the entire game, and despite having numerous good opportunities, there were multiple players who just looked like they weren’t in the mood for pulling the trigger.
There were numerous stupid penalties, and the defense constantly put Brust and Schaefer in bad situations – despite allowing five goals, both guys made some really good saves to keep the game from getting further out of hand.
But worse, as far as I’m concerned, the team just appeared to be out of it. Mitch Love tried to breathe some life into his teammates and the crowd of 8,372 when he and San Antonio’s Adam Keefe got into a rather entertaining fight at 14:35 of the first. But his teammates failed to respond. Then Corey Locke scored on the power play in the second to make the score 2-1, to which San Antonio responded with three unanswered goals.
And while Constantine felt the game was unpredictable, the game was ultimately predictable in that, as has become their wont, the Aeros took the first two periods off, made a big push in the third period, but fell short when it counted.
But to any Houston Texans fan, this game was predictable in that the Aeros, just like the Texans, played down to the level of the competition.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS GAME NOTES:
Kevin Constantine couldn't predict what would happen before the game, but my colleague Andrew Ferraro sat down at the press table just before the game, circled San Antonio's road record on the stat sheet, and said the Rampage would win the game.
And Constantine couldn't predict what would happen before the game, but when Tomas Mojzis went off the ice for his hooking penalty at 6:12 of the first period, I said that the Rampage would score on their first shot of the power play. Which they did at 7:26.
My point? I don't know, but I just wanted to point those things out.
The Aeros had been perfect against the West Division coming into this game. So I guess then, that it's predictable the Aeros first West Division loss would be to the division's worst team. Still, the Aeros are 10-1-1-2 against their fellow West Division teams this season, and the key to their making the playoffs is keeping up their domination against these teams. The loss also put an end to the Aeros nine game point streak (5-0-0-4) which was the longest point streak in the AHL.
And despite the loss, the Aeros, with a record of 15-11-1-5, remain in fourth place of the West Division, only three points behind division leaders Milwaukee and Peoria.
If there was a star of the game for the Aeros, it was Jesse Schultz. Schultz got two third period goals to keep the Aeros in the game, and his power play goal at 7:22 was spectacular. With San Antonio's Sean Sullivan draped all over him and pushing him from the net, Schultz was able to whip his stick and puck around Sullivan and past San Antonio's Josh Tordjman and into the net.
But if there was anybody who was taking the blame for losing the game, it was also Jesse Schultz who put the team in the hole in the second period with his double-minor. "We battled hard, and we got back in it," Schultz said. "Then I took a bad penalty – totally undisciplined with my stick. You can’t do that. That put us down four minutes. They got two quick goals."
Two quick goals which could have meant the difference between a 5-3 loss and a game going to overtime.
Ryan Hamilton and Bryan Lundbohm returned to the ice for the first time in nine games -- and Ryan Hamilton, at several times, looked like he was on the verge of missing nine more games. But to make up for the return of Hamilton and Lundbohm, Clayton Stoner sat out due to an undisclosed "upper body injury." The PR guys were unaware of the injury, but before the game, I saw Stoner in the press dining room with his right wrist in a soft cast, and he was talking to one of the trainers about fixing the position of the cast so that he could hold his stick.
Morten Madsen and Matt Kassian were also scratched, and while I think Kassian was a healthy scratch, I did, after the game, overhear Madsen talking about his ankle feeling funny when he pushes off.
The Aeros play on Saturday night in Quad Cities, then in Peoria on Sunday, return to Houston for a game against Lake Erie on Tuesday, then play in Quad Cities on New Year's Eve before heading to New York State and a game with Binghamton on Friday night, then to Pennsylvania for a battle with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday, then onto Providence, Rhode Island to play the Bruins on Sunday.
And for those of you who want photos of the Bikini Contest, well, Fred Trask decided that it was more important to go on vacation to Florida with his family than it was to stick around for the girls in ice on bikinis. So it's all his fault.