Captain Jon DiSalvatore of the Western Conference champion Houston Aeros joined TheAHL.com on Thursday afternoon to answer fans’ questions as submitted on the AHL’s Official Facebook Page… Jon’s responses are below:
How do you get yourself ready to go on game days? Do you have a particular routine? – Andrew from Pennsylvania
Generally it depends on if we’re at home or away. If we’re on the road, usually we’ll have a pre-game skate followed by a pre-game meal, and then we have a three or four-hour period where we can take a nap. Getting up for the game usually starts with a trip to a coffee shop, I’ll get a cup of coffee. Usually I’ll jump in the cold tub and then throw a couple heating packs on to loosen up the body a little bit. I’ll do some stretching and then I always like to play a game of soccer right after our team meeting. And then I grease up my body with whatever makes my legs feel good, and get out there and play.
How do you feel about playing in a smaller building like the Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton? What are some of the differences from a larger building – Dave from Binghamton
Fan-wise, the fans are definitely more on top of you here. It seems like you’re really closed in. They’re packing this place right now, so the atmosphere has been pretty intense.
As far as the rink itself, the neutral zone is a little smaller, plays develop a little faster than they would in a larger rink like the one we have in Houston. Your execution needs to be a little better because the transition game happens so quick that if you’re out of position or if you don’t manage the puck properly, you’re going to allow the other team to get a lot more opportunities.
Can you describe how different the feeling of a Calder Cup Playoffs game or a Finals game are when compared to a regular season game? – Ben from Texas
Emotionally, it’s intense. Every play can be such a huge difference. Most of our games have been decided by just one goal, and just knowing that one play can make the difference is a pretty intense feeling and kind of draws your focus to a strong point. That’s probably the biggest difference – the focus in the games and the intensity of the games is a lot higher. You demand a lot more from your team because a lot of times you’re playing for your lives, and you’re playing for the end of your season. You don’t want it to end, so everything is amplified it seems like a hundred times more than it would be during the regular season.
You guys are now up 2-1 in the series against a team which has been resilient all year long. What do you think are some of the keys to going on to win the series and take the Calder Cup – Matthew from Texas
The keys for us – we pride ourselves a lot on our offensive zone play and our transition game and our strong defensive game – three key areas for us. We have a certain style of game that we don’t feel we have to change. We just have to continue to perfect it, even though no one is ever going to be perfect. But we feel our style is very effective and very suffocating to teams where we’re very stingy defensively, and we like to control and manage the puck offensively as well. I think our bend but don’t break mentality is something that’s going to be huge for us to pull off a Calder Cup championship.
As the team captain, do you ever have to say anything to the guys during intermissions to pump them up, especially when behind in a game? – Kathryn from Texas
We have a lot of vocal leaders on the team. I’ll say things when I feel like it’s appropriate, kind of pick my spots. I try to be more of a leader by example. If I feel like things aren’t going the right way, I’ll try my best to go out there and do them the right way. But we have a great group of leaders on our team, with Warren Peters, (Patrick) O’Sullivan, Jed Ortmeyer, Drew Bagnall – those guys, vocally, things are always said when they need to be said. I don’t necessarily need to do a lot of speaking myself.
In the last round against Hamilton, what was the mood of the team as the 3-0 series lead was eventually lost and you had to play a Game 7? – Joe from Massachusetts
I think what happened there is that we just started looking ahead a little too much. We were still feeling out our opponent, and before you knew it we came out of the gate really strong and took a 3-0 lead. I think we just started counting the series as over and started getting ready for the Finals and forgot that the hardest game is always the game to finish a team off. Hamilton was very desperate, they made a great push, and they put us off our game a bit. Just the feeling that we got away from things was a little disappointing, but at the end of the day we got to experience another Game 7, and I think we became a better team because of it.
What’s the intensity like on the ice during a Game 7, and can you talk about how you guys have been able to win two of them so far during these playoffs? – Jared from Massachusetts
That’s kind of similar to a playoff game versus a regular season game. It’s just pure desperation, but I feel like the team that can focus on their game the best and not get too wrapped up in too much of the emotional stuff is the team that’s going to end up being better off at the end of the game. I think in Game 7’s, we’ve been able to focus on our process and how we play the game, doing things the right way. We feel like we’re a great team when we do that. We’ve been able to do that in two Game 7’s, and I think that’s why we are where we are.
You’ve been in the playoffs on a few other occasions but have never gone this far. What do you attribute the success of this team all season long to? – Don from Texas
I think it all starts with the foundation that our coaches laid out for us, the patience that they had in allowing the team to mold into what they were laying out for us, and just the buy-in factor from every guy. We looked at each other and basically said we’re all in this together, we’re all going to buy into what’s going to make us a successful, championship-winning team.
Obviously there were some key additions to our team – talking about Ortmeyer and O’Sullivan again – just adding to the experience and leadership corps. All of that stuff just coming together, and guys believing in each other, is really the difference.
How does playing and living in Houston compare to some of your other stops during your professional career – Scott from Texas
I’ve enjoyed every city that I’ve played in. Houston’s been phenomenal. There are so many reasons away from the ice to enjoy Houston, but the fans have been fantastic. There have been some of the biggest crowds I’ve ever played for, especially now in the playoffs they’ve been phenomenal. Obviously the area is great, and my family and I love it down there. The weather is always nice, so it’s a different experience, but hockey-wise it’s obviously enjoyable with the success we’re having.
How nice was it to see such nice crowds for the first two games of the series in Houston, and what impact, if any, can a crowd have on the way a team plays the game? – Carla from Houston
I think obviously they’re going to motivate you. If you’re feeling like there’s a lull in the game, they’re going to pull you out of it with their emotion and their noise and applause. It can go both ways too – if you can silence a crowd like I feel we did here (in Binghamton in Game 3), that’s huge. But what Houston did for us – they carried us, carried us through every part of the game. When you’re playing well or whether you’re down, the belief they show in the stands for us, it makes you rally, and it just makes you want to perform for them.
You’ve scored at least 20 goals in each of your first eight professional seasons. How much pride do you take in that consistency over the years? – Kyle from Massachusetts
It’s nice, you know, it’s nice to score goals. It’s not necessarily something that I focus on going into the season, but I just try to make sure that I’m always put in situations to score goals, whether it’s on the power play or 4-on-4 situations. So I just try to be ready and prepared to finish my opportunities, and every year that’s the goal and I know I’m going to be put in those situations. It’s my job to prepare to take advantage of those situations. I’ve been a player that’s done it, and I hope to continue to do it.