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Aeros Training Camp Report: Day One

by Staff Writer / Minnesota Wild
AEROS TRAINING CAMP REPORT, DAY 1

AEROS’ TRAINING CAMP REPORT, DAY 1

SUGAR LAND, Texas - As the Houston Aeros opened up their training camp today at Sugar Land Ice & Sports Center, head coach Rob Daum realizes a lot of folks in town are asking where his team’s scoring will come from – himself included.

However, all Daum has to do is think back 12 months, before last season’s record-setting campaign, when he wasn’t sure who would put up points, either. He then watched three Aeros top the 90-point plateau, including the league’s leading scorer Kirby Law (110 points) and AHL Rookie of the Year Patrick O’Sullivan.

Law (Europe), O’Sullivan (Los Angeles) and Erik Westrum (Toronto) may be gone, but Daum knows he has plenty of prospective scoring power in camp.

“Last year, with Law and Westrum providing the offensive leadership for us that they did, the fact they moved on is going to give rise as to where our offense is going to come from,” Daum said. “But the organization has added some good, quality, veteran players who may play a bit of a different style than Erik and Kirby did, but they are still affective players. But at this time last year, we didn’t know where offense would come from either. No one last year expected Law, Westrum or Patrick O’Sullivan to have the types of years they had.”

Aeros general manager Tom Lynn says the Aeros’ veteran players will be called upon for more leadership, and perhaps less scoring. Players such as Jason Morgan and potentially Wyatt Smith (currently in camp with the Minnesota Wild) have put up numbers in the past very similar to Law and Westrum, pre 2005-06.

“The team will have to evolve,” Lynn said. “Last year we didn’t expect Westrum to be a 100-point guy. He had around 30 points the prior year. But we did have a different team. This year we want to make sure all our veterans personify the Wild organization, realizing we’ll have a culture that competes hard, is fierce, relentless, proud and hard working. What we have in Minnesota, we want to make sure we have here.”

The departure of Law, Houston’s captain, and Westrum, one of three alternates, will mean that some “letters” are up for grabs.

“We’re going to need some different leadership than had last year because of the departure of key people,” Daum said. “We’ll be watching camp closely to see now only who can play in the league, but also who can provide the leadership roles we need. Leadership in the locker room is key, and we have people here who can assume that role. Time will tell who they will be.

But back to the so called “kids”. Many of the Aeros’ 16 returnees are back for a second-season – or less, such as Danny Irmen, Ryan Hamilton, Chris Ovington and Benoit Pouliot, all of whom came to the Aeros late in the regular season or the playoffs last spring.

“The big thing for us is guys returning as second year players like (Roman) Voloshenko, (Peter) Olvecky, potentially (Clayton) Stoner and (Shawn) Belle, they have to pick their game up a notch in order to contribute more to our team,” Daum said. “Voloshenko had a great year last year, all those guys were good players for us, but have to be better this year.”

Daum will also call upon newcomers such as defensemen Paul Albers, John Scott and Mike Madill – all free agent signees.

“They’re going to have important roles to play,” Daum said. “It’s not like they can sit back and watch and learn the game slowly. They’re going to be thrown into the fire, and they’re going to have a chance to be successful.”

The Mystery Behind the Mask

Lynn shed some light on the Wild and Aeros goaltending situation, as Houston heads to camp without a bona fide No. 1 goalie. But that won’t be the case for long.

Josh Harding appears to be the likely backup to Manny Fernandez in Minnesota, and Finnish-born Niklas Backstrom, signed as a free agent over the summer, would have the Aeros’ top spot.

“Right now it’s pretty clear Josh is the prohibitive favorite,” Lynn said. “It’s kind of like you have to knock out the champ to get the belt. He’s been in organization, and he’s showed an NHL presence during camp. He looks very comfortable in net. Not to say it couldn’t change.”

There’s a chance, though, that Backstrom could see NHL time with Harding getting some work in Houston.

“Niklas will have to continue to adjust to the pro game,” Lynn said. “You have to get used to guys shooting from anywhere. In Europe, you may see a game with 18 or 19 shots for each team, they wait for the play to develop. Here we crash the net, bump the goalie and shoot from all over.”

Backstrom is expected to stay in Wild camp for a bit longer, which should aid his development. “Thankfully he’s stayed in (Wild) camp, with double ice sessions, so if and when he starts here, he’ll be ready to be a No. 1 goalie,” Lynn said.

The battle for the backup spot is wide open. Draft pick Miroslav Kopriva held the job for part of last season. Tony Quesada, who backstopped Holy Cross to the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history last spring over Minnesota, was injured in Minnesota’s camp and is currently unavailable.

Matt Yeats is in camp from ECHL Texas and has NHL experience. The fourth and final backup candidate is 6-foot-5 Tom Lawson, who saw some time with AHL Lowell last season.

“I was glad to see Tom Lawson come to camp,” Lynn said. “I’ve often said if I don’t know goalies and there’s a call-up, I like taller. We had some experience with 5-foot-9 or 5-foot-10 guys the first couple years here and it didn’t go so well. Tom Lawson is all upside. He’s 6-5 and covers the net, if he works hard he may be a threat to dislodge the other two. Yeats has a good record, too. Miro needs to work himself to a higher level but has the body to play in this league.”

No Time to Waste

With just three days of training camp before the Aeros’ first – and last – two pre-season games Saturday and Sunday, Daum will have an extra close eye on his players.

“For the first three days and basically only three days of camp, we’ll do some drills and team things for the first 45 minutes,” he said. “We’ll have a quick flood of the ice and have a full blown scrimmage for the remainder of the time. The best time to evaluate players is by watching them play. We want to give the guys an opportunity to show what they can do. We’ll get right into it from day one.”

Pre-season game tickets still on sale

Tickets to Saturday’s pre-season game against San Antonio at 6 p.m. at Sugar Land Ice & Sports Center are going fast, but some are still available. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at the Sugar Land Ice & Sports Center pro shop, or by calling 281.265.7469.

---HOUSTON AEROS---
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