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.

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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.”

• 2006 fourth-round pick Kyle Medvec, a defenseman from Apple Valley: “This guy, he’s a project, but he’s got a chance to play in the National League someday. He’s had a great year. He went down, played in the East Coast League and solidified his game. He hammers the puck, he’s 6-6, he’s got decent skill and he can skate. He has a chance.”

 

RUSSO’S SHORT TAKES
 
Giguere goes off

Besides saying he was “embarrassed to be here right now,” veteran goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere ripped his Colorado Avalanche teammates to shreds to the Denver Post after a 3-1 loss to Calgary last Monday.

“Some guys are more worried about their Vegas trip at the end of the season than playing the remaining games,” Giguere said. “Quite frankly I don’t care about your Vegas trip right now.”

The Avalanche, and Giguere, responded by trouncing the Ducks in Anaheim, then rallying before losing in a shootout at Los Angeles.

Settle down, folks

Buffalo Sabres agitator Steve Ott told WGR Radio that he and his teammates aren’t happy with the booing from the hometown fans.

“I think it’s completely ridiculous, to be honest with you,” Ott said. “We go into other buildings, we’ve won a lot of games and teams should have the same amount of frustration, sold-out buildings, and it’s funny because they’re continuing to cheer on their team. They stand behind their team. They respect the work ethic and everything else.”

Silence doesn’t work

New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has a longstanding team policy that he doesn’t talk contract with pending free agents. He has done that with Zach Parise and Scott Niedermayer, and … Brian Rafalski, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Doug Gilmour, Alexander Mogilny and Bobby Holik.

He lost all for nothing. Now the Devils are going down the same path with Patrik Elias and David Clarkson.

“Who wouldn’t want to talk about it during the season?” Elias told the Newark Star-Ledger. “Then you would see they have interest. And, if you like the offer, why wouldn’t you sign? But that never came up here. If it had happened, it would’ve been great, but it didn’t happen. It’s getting kind of late now.”
 
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
 
Monday: at Calgary, 8 p.m. (FSN+)
Tuesday: at Edmonton, 8:30 p.m. (FSN+)
Thursday: at San Jose, 9:30 p.m. (FSN)

Player to watch:
Taylor Hall, Edmonton

The Oilers’ No. 1 overall pick is third in the Western Conference in scoring (41 points) and hasn’t played the Wild since sidelining Cal Clutterbuck six games with a knee that resulted in a suspension.

VOICES

« We have nothing to apologize for and nothing to feel sorry about. »
— Wild coach Mike Yeo after his team’s 2-0 home loss Thursday against St. Louis.
 

 

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