Russo's NHL Insider: Running the Aeros means a lot of running for GM Mill

  • Updated: April 13, 2013 - 7:01 PM

The Houston Aeros have been busy juggling their roster, especially in goal, where they have made 30 transactions.

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Justin Fontaine, who made an appearance at Xcel Energy Center last Nov. 18, has 50 points this season for the Houston Aeros of the A HL, which is tied for the team lead.

Photo: JEFF WHEELER Star Tribune ,

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Jim Mill had just scouted Toronto Marlies and Maple Leafs games on March 9 when he cozied up to a sports bar to watch the Wild play in Nashville.

Mill, the Wild assistant to the general manager who doubles as GM of the Houston Aeros, began paying attention to the Aeros’ game on his cellphone. The American Hockey League team was in Charlotte and in Round 3 of a shootout.

For some reason, the updates stopped. He looked on Twitter and discovered goalie John Curry had seriously injured a hamstring.

It was 10:30 at night. The Aeros played at 3 p.m. the next day in Charlotte.

Mill hopped in his rental and began frantically dialing numbers. He made so many phone calls, he accidentally drove an hour past his Toronto exit.

“I was almost in Hamilton,” Mill said.

Mill called ECHL South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery and asked if he could borrow a goalie. Jeff Jakaitis hopped in a car the next day.

Jakaitis, who hails from Rochester, Minn., is one of 10 goalies who have been added to an Aeros roster that has seen 30 goalie transactions this season. It has kept Mill on his toes.

When the Wild traded Matt Hackett on April 3, it acquired Jeff Deslauriers for Houston. Of course, in a game Wednesday, Deslauriers pulled a groin muscle. The Aeros had another game Thursday.

Mill hit the phones and brought in CHL Goalie of the Year Aaron Dell. But since Dell has to return for the Allen (Texas) Americans’ playoff game Sunday, Mill began trying to poach ECHL Goalie of the Year Ryan Zapolski from South Carolina, which was eliminated Friday.

Zapolski should make Goalie No. 11. Josh Harding, expected to head to Houston this week for a conditional stint, should make 12.

Asked if Mill would ever sign himself — he’s a former college and ECHL goalie — he said, “The league’s too good to have some 44-year-old guy sit on the bench.”

Heck, at this rate, “I could be starting a Calder Cup playoff game.”

Here’s Mill on a few Aeros players who should interest Wild fans:

• 2011 first-round pick Zack Phillips: “He’s learning at the pro level you can’t slow the game down like he did in junior and not move his feet. He’s so skilled and has great vision, but the pace of play really needed to pick up for Philly.”

• 2010 second-round pick Brett Bulmer, who played a nine-game snapshot for the Wild last season: “He’s just got to get his game together. Lots of injuries. It’s going to be a process for him. He’s experiencing his first full pro year, and the ups and downs with that. He’s going to have to figure it out.”

• 2008 second-round pick Marco Scandella: “Talk about a guy who’s had injuries and ups and downs. He’s finally healthy again. Last Sunday, he played the best, most consistent game he’s played in a long, long time. He was solid defensively, moving the puck well, playing big and strong and finally solidifying his game to where he should be. So he needs to go on a run of that. Once he does that, he’ll be here.”

• Justin Fontaine, tied for Aeros’ scoring lead with 50 points: “NHL smart. Great vision. He’s having a breakthrough year. For him, it’s about an opportunity. It’s just a matter of time. He’s on the radar, this kid. He only helps himself with every game he plays.”

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