AHL Weekly Release: Aeros flying high to begin 2008-09


hou06_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Boosted by an influx of offense and the return of the league’s top-ranked goaltending corps, the Houston Aeros have charged out of the hangar quickly to begin the 2008-09 season.

Guided by their second-year head coach, former NHL bench boss Kevin Constantine, the Aeros are 4-0-0-0 on the campaign, joining the Hamilton Bulldogs (4-0-0-0) with the only perfect records in the AHL. Houston took full advantage of a season-opening three-game homestand by earning a 2-1 overtime win over defending Calder Cup champion Chicago on Oct. 11, a 3-0 blanking of Milwaukee on Oct. 13 and an 8-6 victory over in-state rival San Antonio on Oct. 18. That game marked the Aeros’ largest goal output since an 8-0 win over the Rampage on Mar. 12, 2005.

Houston then traveled to San Antonio on Sunday and came away with a 4-3 triumph, giving the Aeros their best start since the 2002-03 club won its first eight games before going on to capture the Calder Cup title.

A season after ranking 26th in the 29-team league in offense at 2.58 goals scored per game, Houston has tallied 17 goals in its first four outings (4.25 avg.), good for third in the AHL in that category. Corey Locke, acquired by the parent Minnesota Wild in an offseason trade with Montreal, is pacing the offense with seven points on the young season, including two goals and two assists in the third period of Saturday’s wild 8-6 win over San Antonio to set a franchise record for points in a period. Locke joined the Aeros after registering career-high totals in goals (30), assists (42), and points (72) last season for Hamilton, with whom he won the Calder Cup in 2007.

Former first-round draft pick Krys Kolanos, who also posted career-high offensive numbers for Quad City a season ago, picked up where he left off with three goals in his first two games for Houston, earning him an NHL recall to Minnesota on Friday. Jesse Schultz, fresh off a Calder Cup title with Chicago last year, has put up four points in the Aeros’ first four games.

Among returnees from last year’s squad, third-year forward Ryan Hamilton is out to a quick start with three goals and five points as he looks to build on his 20-goal season from a year ago. Second-year pro Morten Madsen, who had three goals in all of 2007-08 for the Aeros, has already scored twice and added two assists this season. The goaltending tandem of Nolan Schaefer and Barry Brust, which allowed a league-low average of 2.29 goals per game and posted a league-high 11 shutouts in 2007-08, returns intact for this season. Schaefer is 3-0-0 (1.72, .935) to begin the campaign and already has a shutout to his credit.

The Aeros’ upcoming schedule toughens somewhat, as they play a pair games in Manitoba on Friday and Saturday before trekking to Toronto for a Sunday match-up with the Marlies. Overall, Houston will play eight of its next 11 games away from the Toyota Center.

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BULLISH BEGINNINGS … Hamilton has also jumped out to a 4-0-0-0 start to the season, marking the first time in franchise history that the Bulldogs have begun a campaign with four straight wins. The Bulldogs are looking to return to the playoffs after missing out last season, which came on the heels of the club’s first Calder Cup championship in 2007.

Matt D’Agostini, a member of that championship team, and rookie David Desharnais are tied for the team lead with five points apiece, while newcomer Mike Glumac and rookie Ben Maxwell have each netted three goals on the young season.

The Bulldogs have allowed just seven goals through the first four games, and the penalty-killing unit is a perfect 20-for-20. Goaltender Marc Denis, a veteran of 348 NHL games and a former Calder Cup champion with Hershey (1997), has played all four contests and has stopped 130 of 137 shots (.949).

GRIFFINS HEAD HOME … After beginning the season with three straight road games, the Grand Rapids Griffins will become the last AHL team to play its home opener when Hamilton visits Van Andel Arena on Saturday night.

The Griffins have gone 2-0-1-0 to open the year, marking the fifth straight season that Grand Rapids has played its first three games without suffering a regulation loss. The team started last year with three straight wins, went 2-0-1-0 to open 2006-07, and won its first three contests in both 2005-06 and 2004-05.

Grand Rapids is looking to reverse a recent trend that has seen them lose their last two home openers and four of their last six.

CRUNCH BREAK AHL RECORD … Syracuse’s 3-2 shootout win at Binghamton on Friday was the team’s 18th consecutive regular-season win dating back to last year, establishing a new AHL record. The Philadelphia Phantoms still own the single-season mark, having won 17 straight from Oct. 22 to Nov. 27, 2004.

The run ended with a 7-1 loss in Hershey on Saturday. That was also Syracuse’s first regulation loss in the regular season in exactly eight months, since a 5-0 defeat to Lake Erie on Feb. 18, 2008. The Crunch had earned a point in 26 consecutive regular-season contests (23-0-0-3).

ETC. … Binghamton goaltenders have taken a shutout into the third period of each of the Senators’ first four games of the year… Hershey’s Keith Aucoin put together his second straight seven-point week and now leads the AHL with 14 points (4-10-14) in just six games… Brian Willsie has scored a goal in each of Lake Erie’s first four games… Chicago (300) and Hartford (266) were two of the three highest-scoring teams in the AHL in 2007-08, but each has just six goals scored in four games this season… Wolves goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has held opponents to two or fewer goals in each of his first four starts (2-2-0, 1.49, .949)… Manchester forward Teddy Purcell, last season’s AHL Rookie of the Year, scored his first professional shorthanded goal in the Monarchs’ 6-4 win at Lowell on Friday… Defenseman Cam Barker, drafted third overall by Chicago in 2004, sports a goal in three straight games (3g, 1a) for Rockford… Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is 2-1-0-0 on the season, and Chris Minard has registered the game-winning goal in both victories… Worcester defenseman Kyle McLaren, a veteran of 719 NHL games, assisted on the game-winning goal in overtime as the Sharks defeated Providence, 3-2, in their home opener on Saturday… The Bruins have scored a power-play goal in each of their first five games and boast a league-best 30.6 percent conversion rate (11-for-36)… Portland’s Nathan Gerbe, who led the nation with 68 points for NCAA champion Boston College last season, tallied his first two professional goals in the Pirates’ 4-2 win at Springfield on Saturday… Bridgeport is out to a franchise-best 4-1-0-1 start despite scoring the game’s first goal just once in six tries… Albany, which scored only five shorthanded goals all of last season, has already netted a league-leading three this year.