Road Trip: Slinging’ Aeros

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IN THE ROOM | Zachary, left, and Serge Payer in Aeros’ locker room

My son Zachary, 15, and I spent the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Houston with our friend Serge Payer, who’s playing right now for the Houston Aeros, the top minor-league affiliate of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild. We flew down on Friday and saw the Aeros get overtime wins on Friday night (1-0 over the Peoria Rivermen, the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues) and on Saturday (4-3 over the Grand Rapids Griffins, the AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings).

Serge is nursing a sore shoulder and didn’t play, but he did skate during Saturday’s practice session and spent the first period of both games working out, joining Zach and me in the stands to watch the action over the final two periods. (He’s scheduled to play in tonight’s game at Manitoba, which begins an extended road trip for the Aeros.) When not at the Toyota Center (also home to the NBA’s Houston Rockets), we checked out Houston, ate some sushi and stayed with Serge at his apartment, playing XBox until the wee hours of the morning and watching movies.

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Shootout: Zach won more games, but Serge did better in the shootouts

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At Lakewood Church: meeting Joel Osteen after the service 

We met Serge two years ago during a hockey trip to Florida. At the time, he played for the NHL’s Florida Panthers. Serge split last season between the Ottawa Senators in the NHL and their AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators. We’ve also made trips the last two summers to play in Serge’s foundation’s golf tournament in Rockland, Serge’s hometown, which is just east of Ottawa on Ontario, Canada. The foundation (www.sergepayerfoundation.org) raises money to help find a cure for Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a condition which afflicted Serge when he was 19 and just beginning his pro hockey career.

Hockey people are fantastic in general, but Serge is a very special person and has become a great friend to us. It was a treat staying with him, hanging out at the rink and enjoying what is always wonderful Christian fellowship. Before flying home Sunday, we also attended Houston’s Lakewood Church with Serge.

Serge started off the season as the Aeros’ leading scorer after the first few games, but he’s had a couple of injuries that have limited his ice time. He’s one of the team’s alternate captains and it was clear from spending time around some of the other players that they consider Serge one of the team’s leaders. Provided he stays healthy, he’ll get the call at some point this month or next to Minnesota, which was named in this week’s Sports Illustrated as the new “Hockeytown,” the best city in the NHL. That’s a trip we’ll look forward to as well.

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