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Circus returns to Houston

by Colby Primeaux || AHL On The Beat Archive 

The newest Aero is also the oldest Aero.

Signed to a standard player contract, center Tony Hrkac has returned to Houston for his second stint with the Aeros. He made his return to the ice on Mar. 3 at San Antonio.

The 43-year-old forward, who was originally drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 1984, had also come out of a four-year retirement on March 11, 2009, to join the Aeros last season, scoring four points (two goals, two assists) in 12 regular-season games before helping the team reach the Western Conference Finals with four goals and 10 assists in 19 Calder Cup Playoff games.

Center Nathan Smith, who scored two goals on Friday to end the Aeros’ four-game winless skid, said that Hrkac’s contributions to the team are more than just that of an additional skater.

“A guy like Tony calms everything down,” Smith said. “He knows the game so well. He’s a very calming presence on the bench for younger guys and the veterans alike.”

To put terms such as “younger” and “veterans” in perspective, the next-oldest player on the Aeros roster is goalie Wade Dubielewicz, who turned 31 on Jan. 30.

Hrkac, who is also the men’s head hockey coach at Concordia University in Wisconsin between his comebacks, says that his role has not changed from last year despite the difference in the team’s composition.

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“I’ve been on teams that won and teams that lost,” he said. “I’ve been through it all. The team looks different than last year but I’m here to help out in the same way.”

Hrkac played at the University of North Dakota and won the Hobey Baker Award for being the best men’s collegiate hockey player during the 1986-87 season while leading the team to a national championship. His 116 points that season still stands as the NCAA single-season scoring record.

In his NHL career, Hrkac has played for St. Louis, Quebec, Chicago, Dallas, Edmonton, New York Islanders, Anaheim and Atlanta, winning the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999. After returning to the AHL in 2003, he won the Calder Cup in his second season with the Milwaukee Admirals before retiring in 2005.

Aeros head coach Kevin Constantine said he is impressed with Hrkac’s ability to keep up with players half his age.

“Despite his age, he certainly hasn’t seemed out of place,” he said. “He’s going to be a nice addition to the team.”

For the record, Hrkac is not the oldest player to wear an Aeros sweater. He is still six years behind legend Gordie Howe, who began his four-year stretch with the WHA Aeros at the age of 45 from 1973-77 until he was 49.