Two of the AHL‘s best teams tangled in St. Paul on sunday as the Peoria Rivermen defeated the Houston Aeros 3-1 in the matinee bonus feature of Hockey Day in Minnesota. On a balmy Minnesota day, (45 degrees) fans were lined up outside the Xcel Energy Center 90 minutes before the gates opened. Despite the excitement of the weekend, both teams came out flat for what should have been a solid matchup. Unfortunately, the story of the game was the devastating knee injury to Tyler Cuma, the Wild’s 1st round pick from 2008.
Houston head coach Mike Yeo chalked the slow start up to nerves. The Aeros came into today’s game on a hot streak while the Rivermen needed to pick up a win to keep pace in the very competitive Western Conference.
Matt Kassian and Anthony Peluso tried to jump-start their teams at 4:09 of the first period with a very evenly matched fight. The two battled hard and woke up the crowd of 9,104. Despite their efforts, the pace of play did not pick up noticeably.
Peoria started the scoring on a beautiful short-handed breakaway goal by Chris Porter after an Aeros’ turnover. Dave Spina notched another goal a few minutes later for what would be the game winner. It was a wraparound attempt which found the back of the net off of Tyler Cuma‘s skate.
A scary moment occurred about four minutes into the second period. Ryan Reaves and Tyler Cuma went into the corner together as Cuma attempted to put Reaves into the boards. Reaves threw a shoulder back into Cuma, which sent him parallel with the ice. Cuma’s skate hit the boards and he was not able to get up. He pounded the ice with his fist as help was on the way. Cuma was carried off on a stretcher and the word came later that he had suffered a torn ACL to the same knee he hurt a few years ago. The oft-injured defenseman will likely be out six months.
The Aeros had their chance to get back into the game later in the second period with two 5-on-3 chances. Although they did not score on either two man advantage, Cody Almond made it a 2-1 game with just under nine minutes remaining in the second. The momentum was lost though, when Warren Peters took a penalty only 35 seconds later. The game was decided from that point on as Peoria played most of the third working to protect their lead and escape with two points.
Despite the result, this game was about the fans and hockey’s heritage in the State of Hockey. Wild fans were treated to a sneak peak of tomorrow’s contributors and some players who have already won over the fans (Anton Khudobin received the loudest ovation as players were introduced). The spectacle of Hockey Day in Minnesota is one that should be experienced by hockey fans everywhere. This annual tribute to hockey showcases high school, college and NHL hockey and reconnects fans in Minnesota with the game they love.