It was great to see the Houston Aeros, the Minnesota Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate, take down the Rockford IceHogs, 3-2, at Xcel Energy Center. It was also great to see the 11,175 State of Hockey fans fill up the Lower Bowl and Club Level of the arena to watch the Wild prospects.
The game took on a physical flare with the Aeros recalling 6-foot-5, 215-pound defenseman Corbin Baldwin before puck drop. Both teams racked up 17 penalty minutes with Josh Caron and Brandon Bollig dropping the mitts in the second period.
The Aeros took advantage of one man advantage in the opening period…
Tonight, Justin Fontaine scored the opening goal of the game on a power play snipe, firing the puck past IceHogs goaltender Carter Hutton, low to the stick side.
The forward is a heady player that creates offense with an array of shifty moves. He isn’t the biggest guy, isn’t the fastest, but he has scored at every level. He has a knack for the net and puts himself into scoring areas. Fontaine has the innate ability to keep his hands and stick free from opponents, which allows him to fire off wrist shots despite having a defender on him. With tonight’s goal, his 13 points (5-8=13) is tied for the team lead in points with Jason Zucker, who also added an assist tonight.
Fontaine was a four-year standout at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he scored 62 goals. He continued his offensive spark in his first year with the Aeros in 2011-12, putting up 55 points (16-39=55) to lead all Houston rookies.
If Johan Larsson was the one of the most underrated Wild prospect coming into the season, he definitely opened some eyes in tonight’s contest. The Wild’s second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft scored two goals, his second the team’s first short hander on the year.
On his first goal, he was Johany-on-the-spot after a pretty passing play from his linemates, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker. Coyle, who is an absolute beast in the corners, fed a pass to Zucker high in the slot. The University of Denver product fired a one-timer on net that Hutton kicked out and Larsson wacked the rebound underneath and passed the outstretched goalie.
In the third period, Larsson received a special delivery pizza from the IceHogs defenseman. He was swinging into the zone when the Adam Clendening lost an edge and the puck. Larsson swooped up the puck cut to his backhand and slid it past Rockford’s goaltender.
Apparently Matt Hackett likes the big stage, as he was outstanding tonight, making 29 saves. His save with 5:00 left in second was amazing: the puck caromed off the back of his shoulder, rolled against the pipe and out; the rebound shot tipped off his toe and hit the elbow of the cross bar. He also made 15 saves in the second period, many of them from point-blank range to keep the Aeros in the game.
During the second intermission, the Wild hosted the finals of Bud Light’s Search for the Next Paul Deutsch, presented by Bud Light. Josh Swartout and Treye Kettwick faced celebrity shooters Wes Walz, Brian Bonin, Sjohn Podein and Tom Chorske.
Like any good live event, there was a kink in the plan. Each goalie allowed goals on their first two shots, but then shutdown the next six. Both tenders faced shots in a sudden-death shootout, but denied the celebrity shooters, ending the completion in a tie. So, the Wild won’t name its emergency goaltender tonight, but will have another competition at a later date – one that will not end in a tie. Swartout and Kettwick agreed to this and talked to WildTV after the shootout. They both received custom Wild jerseys and will get a Bud Light prize pack for their efforts.