Forgive Jim Mill for being a tad fired up this evening.
The second-year Houston Aeros general manager spent 12 years as an American Hockey League executive. He was the second in command, the guy who rendered supplementary discipline and assigned referees and worked hands-on with Commissioner Dave Andrews.
For 12 years, Mill, who doubles as the Wild’s assistant to the general manager, was secretly envious of the players, the coaches, the managers who got to experience the glee of victory, especially in the playoffs.
So it was not a shock at all when mere minutes after his Aeros impressively completed a four-game, first-round sweep of the Peoria Rivermen with a 2-1 win, Mill was, well, a tad fired up.
“Just thrilled,” Mill said by phone from Illinois. “Proud of the players, proud of the coaches. The players were unbelievable. They battled so hard, worked their tail off every game.
“But you know what? The goal, the message has been clear from the moment [coach] Mike Yeo started training camp.”
What’s that goal? You’ll find out if the Aeros win 12 more games.
A Calder Cup is still a long, long ways off, and the Aeros will have a long week off.
After winning in overtime tonight, the Texas Stars hold a 2-1 series advantage over Milwaukee. If Texas wins, the Aeros should open at home next Wednesday, Mill said. If Milwaukee wins, Mill expects the Aeros to open on the road next Thursday in Milwaukee.
The good news about having so long off? Tired, banged-up bodies can recoup, and defenseman Marco Scandella will have another week to try to return from a broken finger suffered while playing with the Wild.
Scandella is close, Mill said.
Most impressive about this series? The Aeros rallied in all four games, from two goals down in Game 3. For a team that had much of its success this season jumping out to early leads, Mill said, “Our response with this first round of the playoffs shows the character, work and determination of these guys.”
He talked about how well Matt Hackett played in goal. He gave up seven goals on 84 shots and had a 1.67 goals against average.
He talked about the team’s defense, averaging 21 shots a game in the playoffs, its commitment to shot-blocking and contributions from everybody. Go up and down the stats at this link, and only one skater had no points, no skater had more than four (Patrick O’Sullivan). Everyone chipped in.
He said the veteran leaders have done that -- led, and the young kids have impressed. Colton Gillies was a star in Game 3, scoring two third-period goals, one by beating out an icing.
Casey Wellman, Mill said, has done great things, Cody Almond has played great down low, helping set up Jared Spurgeon and Jeff Penner tonight to create O’Sullivan’s breakaway winner.
But as Mill said: “Twelve wins to go.”
The players are focused, he said, the tremendous coaching staff the Wild assembled of Yeo, Darryl Sydor and Brian Wiseman is focused, he said.
Regardless, what an invaluable experience for these guys, from the Chad Raus and Nate Prossers and Casey Wellmans and Colton Gillies’ and Jared Spurgeons.
Some of the great coaches and great players in the NHL went on long AHL playoff runs. This can only help their development with the Wild.
This marks the Aeros’ second trip to the West Division Finals in the last three years. In 2009, under Tom Lynn’s and Kevin Constantine’s guidance, Houston advanced all the way to the conference finals before falling to Manitoba.
I got to go to Game 7 in Milwaukee, and it was an awfully good time. So if the Aeros wind up playing Milwaukee, consider making the I-94 trek.
OK, that's it for me. I've got to watch the third period of this sick Sharks-Kings comeback. 5-5 going into the third after San Jose trailed 4-zip.
Unless there's mammoth news, I'm handing the keys off to Kent through the weekend as I hit the road.
I wrote two stories for Wednesday's paper, one on what Chuck Fletcher is up to, which has updates on the coaching search and Mikael Granlund, and a notebook leading with the Justin Fontaine signing and Mikko Koivu military service. So check those out.
Other than that, bye bye.
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