Gameday Preview: Stars v. Houston Aeros

Texas Stars
23-26-2-2, 50 pts
#14 Western Conference
v.Houston Aeros
25-16-3-9, 52 pts
#5 Western Conference
February 24th at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

Houston visits the Cedar Park Center this evening to start a two game set against the Texas Stars this weekend. The Aeros are currently on their longest road trip of the year, eleven games, and Texas will be games 7 and 8 of that stretch. Houston is 2-4 on the trip so far. They come into the Cedar Park Center with a 3-0-0-1 record at Texas this season.

Tonight's game could well be rechristened as a battle of the ECHL All-Stars. Aeros injuries and call-ups include Matt Hackett, Jed Ortmeyer, Marco Scandella, Matt Kassian, Nate Prosser, Carson McMillan, Warren Peters, Jeff Penner, Mike McKenzie and Jarod Palmer. Meanwhile, Texas is without Larsen, Vincour, Garbutt, Fraser, Sawada, Labrie, Spang, Schultz and Fortunus.

"It is difficult on the team, but it is just a situation everyone goes through," Houston coach John Torchetti told the Houston Chronicle. "I'm sure others have gone through it, but not with the numbers we've had."

The Aeros have been forced to play some games on their trip with as few as 16 skaters. Texas has yet to have anything less than a full bench, thanks to GM Scott White's extensive Rolodex and persuasive tone. Texas will add a new body to the rotation tonight as Cameron Brodie could suit up for his first AHL action, depending on the health of Dan Spang, who Coach Pyle said could return for Wednesday's game at OKC but did not.

The big piece that has kept Houston afloat this season has been goaltending, as Hackett has stuck around for much of the season to tend net for the club. Darcy Kuemper has filled in well in his absence additionally. Tonight Kuemper (6-4-1, 2.33 GAA, .923 SV%) is likely to get the start as Hackett is with Minnesota in Dallas. Rob Nolan is the backup, having split time between the ECHL's Toledo, Chicago and Colorado.

While Houston is looking to set up some home ice advantage for the playoffs, the Stars are peering over the edge into the abyss of their first non-playoff year in franchise history. Given the current playoffs pace, Texas would need to rattle off an 18-5 last month and a half of the season. While nothing is impossible, practically the Stars are looking at a very steep hill to climb to make it to the postseason once again.

Stars injury/call up report:
Larsen, Vincour, Garbutt, Fraser (callup)
Sawada, Labrie, Spang, Schultz, Fortunus (injury)

Blog (official): Pilot to Gunner
Blog (unofficial): The Third Intermission
Twitter: @Houston_Aeros
Twitter: @aero_joe (play-by-play)