The Minnesota Wild’s recent run of success that has catapulted the team into the thick of the Western Conference is just one reason for fans to be excited. The other is the play of the Houston Aeros, the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate that will play a “home” game at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday afternoon against the Peoria Rivermen.
Tickets for the game can be purchased in advance for $15, and all Aeros players will be available for autographs, while Wild players will be signing at tables requiring a donation of $10.
The Aeros, owners of the best record in the Western Conference heading into Friday’s road game in Peoria, are 13-2-0-1 and winners of five straight.
Sunday will not only give Minnesota hockey fans the chance to see future contributors to the Wild, but to see a team filled with players that, like the big club, seems to have “figured it out.”
Going into the season, the Aeros were expected to be an improved group with last year’s offensive leaders like Jon DiSalvatore
, Maxim Noreau, Robbie Earl and J-M Daoust would be joined by a group of youngsters with another year of professional seasoning, including Cody Almond
, Colton Gillies and Eden Prairie’s Chad Rau
But like every team that misses the playoffs the previous season, there were questions. The bulk of the questions centered on the arrival of a new head coach, Mike Yeo.
The young and energetic Yeo, was an assistant on Pittsburgh’s 2009 Stanley Cup team, but he had never held a head coaching position at the professional level. His hire signaled a message from the Wild organization that the systems in place in the NHL would be implemented in Houston as well.
So far, so good.
Yeo knew the transition of an entirely new staff that also featured assistants Brian Wiseman and Darryl Sydor would take time. But if you’re looking resistance to a new coach with new systems, you won’t find it in Houston.
“We had no issues,” said Yeo of the early season. “The guys, right from day one, were on board. It takes some time. There was a good portion of the schedule where I thought we were deserving much more than we were getting.”
Perhaps Yeo earned some immediate respect by leading the Wild’s prospects to an undefeated record and a championship victory at the Traverse City tournament in early September.
Defenseman Nate Prosser
was on that team, and as been an Aero under Yeo in this, his first full professional season.
“He’s a great coach,” said Prosser, who appeared in the final three games of the Wild’s season last April. “He knows so much about the game, and the systems he’s brought in have been working unbelievably. The whole coaching staff is great.
With a lot of young guys, there are a lot of questions, and those guys have a lot of answers.”
Yeo is quick to deflect that praise right back to youngsters on the team like Prosser, saying Houston relies heavily on the team’s prospects.
“They’re playing in key situations and we’ve got some good, young kids. With first-year players, there’s a learning curve there. The young players have really started to grow and improve. You can attribute a lot of our success to them elevating their games.”
But he also pointed to two key additions that have helped spark this remarkable run for his squad. In the first week of January, the club brought in Jed Ortmeyer
, a veteran presence who enjoyed success with the San Jose Sharks. Two weeks later, Minnesota placed Patrick O’Sullivan on waivers, which he cleared, allowing him to join the Aeros.
In 16 games, the gritty Ortmeyer has posted a goal and six assists. The offensively gifted O’Sullivan has racked up seven goals and six assists in just 10 games.
“That’s really helped to bring things together for us,” said Yeo.
Eleven players on the current Aeros roster have appeared in a Wild game this season. And there are several knocking on the door to get to the NHL again, including Prosser, who is learning valuable lessons while playing in a winning culture.
“There are a lot of smiles on our faces right now, and we’re going into every game expecting to win,” said the former Colorado College Tiger. “That’s a huge key to success -- knowing that you can win every night if you play your game.”
The Aeros game is modeled in the same system as the Wild, and Yeo hopes fans at Xcel Energy Center get to see the attributes that have carried this team to the top of their division.
“We use our speed well and we go north with the puck,” he said. “We get to the offensive zone and our goal is to manage the puck and play with the puck as long as we can in that offensive zone.”
Prosser just wants to give the fans a glimpse of their win streak.
“It will be great to show the fans in Minnesota what kind of game we’re playing right now. Hopefully we can keep the streak going through Sunday at least."