Fighting to Keep Their Spots

By Chris Kitching

With the American Hockey League’s stretch run in full swing, many of the
Houston Aeros are fighting to keep their spot in the Minnesota Wild
organization.

According to The Houston Chronicle, one of the toughest decisions the Wild
will face involves newcomer Tony Virta, who leads the Aeros with 55 points.
Virta’s contract includes an option that will allow Minnesota the
opportunity to renew over the summer.

“I would not exercise the option unless I thought he could play at the NHL
level,” said Wild GM Doug Risebrough. “I’m trying to look at our lineup and
find a way to say, ‘This guy deserves a chance,’ because he has been
arguably the best player (in Houston).”

Aeros goaltender Jamie McLennan is an unrestricted free agent this summer,
and has spent the entire season in Houston while Manny Fernandez and Dwayne
Roloson have been strong between the pipes for the parent club. If he isn’t
moved before the March 19th trade deadline, he will have the opportunity to
sign with another NHL club this off-season.

Approximately 50 percent of the Wild’s 50-man roster is under contract for
next season. That leaves some very important decisions ahead for the
National Hockey League club, as they will have to decide who is staying, who
is leaving, and who will be arriving.

Crucial time of year

Nine of the Aeros’ 13 remaining games will be played against West Division
rivals Chicago, Milwaukee, Utah and Grand Rapids, including a crucial two
game homestand on Thursday and Friday against Utah, a team they lost 6-2 on

Saturday night. In their last 10 games, the Aeros are 4-2-2-2.

The Aeros currently sit 3rd in the West Division, good for 5th overall in
the Western Conference, with an overall record of 31-22-9-5, five points
behind first place Grand Rapids.

Gustafson doing his part

Cory Larose is having a career year with 27 goals and 23 assists in 65
games, but he’s crediting his goal-scoring prowess to an unlikely source.

“Gussie (goalie Derek Gustafson) puts tape around my stick before each game
and for whatever reason it’s paying off,” Larose said after scoring his 27th
goal of the season. “Whatever works, right?”

In his rookie AHL season, the University of Maine product is pushing to be a
contender for a spot in Minnesota next season. If he cracks the NHL squad’s
roster out of training camp in September, the only question that will remain
is, who will tape his sticks?

News & Notes:

. Aeros D Travis Roche will miss a minimum of two weeks after
dislocating his left thumb during a fight with Utah Grizzlies player Gavin
Morgan on Saturday night. As Roche attempted to grab Morgan’s jersey for
leverage, his thumb snapped out of socket when it jammed into his opponents’
chest. To make matters worse, the Aeros lost the game 6-2.

. D Mike Crowley will make his debut for the Aeros on March 17
against the Milwaukee Admirals. Crowley has been sidelined the entire season
with a severed achilles’ tendon. The Bloomington, Minn. native was acquired
by the Wild in an off-season trade with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

“It feels the best it has since I got here, but I won’t be 100 percent,”
Crowley said. “If I wait for that, it would be next training camp (in
September) before I would play.”

. The Aeros assigned C Cory Cyrenne to the East Coast League’s
Louisiana Ice Gators on Monday. The Winnipeg, Manitoba product registered
one assist in four games after being recalled on March 1.

Houston Aeros Statistics: As of Wednesday, March 13, 2002

No. PLAYER              POS  GP   G   A  PTS  +/-  PIM  PP  SH  GW  OT
17  Virta, Tony          RW  64  25  30   55    2   29   5   1   5   0
9  Larose, Cory         C   65  27  23   50   19   71   4   2   2   0
14  Murphy, Curtis       D   67  11  34   45   13   67   5   0   3   1
19  Beaufait, Mark       C   50  11  31   42   11   28   6   1   0   0
15  McLean, Brett        C   65  22  18   40  -14   67   8   0   1   0
10  Carter, Shawn        C   61  20  17   37    4   68  10   0   4   0
7  Roche, Travis        D   58  13  21   34    2  105   6   0   0   0
24  Veilleux, Stephane   LW  64  11  17   28    2  101   0   2   3   0
31  Simicek, Roman       C   39  11  12   23    0   35   2   0   2   0
20  Yarema, Brendan      C   64  12  10   22    2  130   1   2   3   1
22  Bolibruck, Kevin     D   56   3  15   18   12   57   1   0   1   1
18  Cavanaugh, Dan       C   57   3  15   18   -1   31   0   0   1   0
21  Laplante, Darryl     C   31  11   6   17    3   57   2   0   1   0
25  Cullen, David        D   45   3  14   17  -16    8   1   0   1   1
   XPark, Richard        C   13   4  10   14    7    6   1   1   1   0
26  Wanvig, Kyle         RW  34   6   7   13   -7   43   1   0   2   0
   XBordeleau, Sebastien C   16   4   7   11   -6   23   1   0   0   0
2  Matteucci, Mike      D   57   2   9   11    9  112   0   0   0   0
37  Nycholat, Lawrence   D   59   2   8   10    6   70   1   0   0   0
44  Cull, Trent          D   61   1   9   10   -2  127   0   0   0   0
36  Shmyr, Jason         LW  63   2   3    5   -7  148   0   0   2   0
   XBrown, Bobby         F   15   0   4    4   -1    5   0   0   0   0
   XLabenski, Greg       D    7   0   2    2    0   25   0   0   0   0
   XCyrenne, Cory        C    7   0   2    2   -1    0   0   0   0   0
   XPerry, Randy         D    7   0   1    1    3    0   0   0   0   0
   XAronson, Steve       RW   9   0   1    1    2    0   0   0   0   0
29  McLennan, Jamie      G   43   0   1    1    0    2   0   0   0   0
   XGusmanov, Ravil      RW   1   0   0    0    0    0   0   0   0   0
   XPayette, Andre       LW   1   0   0    0    0    0   0   0   0   0
   XHarlton, Tyler       D   16   0   0    0   -6    2   0   0   0   0
34  Gustafson, Derek     G   32   0   0    0    0    0   0   0   0   0
    BENCH                    67                     16

    TOTALS                   67 203 323  526      1429  55   9  31   5
    OPPONENT TOTALS          67 201 333  534      1488  65   7  27   3

No.                      GPI   MIN        AVG   W    L    T   SO   GA    SV%

34  Gustafson, Derek      32  1686:01    2.70  12   10    6    4   76   .906
29  McLennan, Jamie       43  2389:17    2.94  19   17    3    3  117   .896

    TEAM TOTALS           67  4092:14    2.95  31   27    9    7  201   .896
    OPPONENT TOTALS       67  4092:14    2.98  27   31    9    3  203   .902

X - No longer on Team

Statistics provided by theahl.com.