Anchorage — At the end of most professional hockey practices, players unlikely to skate in the next game remain on the rink, where coaches put them through repeated and exhausting skating drills designed to maintain their conditioning.
That is one variation of what is known as the "bag skate.'' There's a coarse definition of the term, but in relatively polite company, it means working players so hard they want to vomit in a bag.
In any event, the unusual circumstances that have kept Alaska Aces veteran winger Matt Robinson and his bona-fide goal-scoring skills out of the lineup most nights -- as if that isn't painful enough for him -- have had the dual effect of making him a bag-skate regular.
The Aces' surplus of veterans and the ECHL's limit on the number of veterans who can play in a game have cast Robinson as the odd-man out of the lineup. He has played in four of the club's 13 matches. He is trying to be patient, and hopes circumstances change.
In the meantime, he at least has maintained his sense of humor. He evidenced that Thursday morning after assistant coaches Scott Burt and Louis Mass put him through post-practice paces ahead of Friday night's home game against Colorado.
"The bag skating is kind of a downer,'' Robinson said. "Louis and Burtie are finding innovative ways to make me almost throw up.''
Robinson has not often cracked the lineup because he is one of seven Aces skaters the ECHL considers "veterans,'' and a team can only play four veterans in a game. Four of those veterans are NHL forwards from Anchorage playing for the Aces during the lockout -- Scott Gomez, Brandon Dubinsky, Nate Thompson and Joey Crabb. The others are defensemen Steve Ward and Sean Curry.
Even though Ward (broken leg) and Dubinsky (broken hand) are currently injured, that still gives head coach Rob Murray three veteran NHL forwards, and in Curry, a veteran defenseman who plays in all situations.
Murray said Robinson has been thoroughly professional in a difficult situation.
"He's handling it very well,'' Murray said. "Without a doubt, he must be disappointed and frustrated. But throughout this, he's been a team guy, and the guys appreciate it, especially the veteran guys. They've expressed concern about him.''
Robinson, in his seventh season as a pro, returned to the Aces this season from the Central Hockey League. He played his first two pro seasons for the Aces and averaged 20 goals a season.
Last season, he scored 34 goals in 64 games for the Wichita Thunder and two seasons ago he scored 40 goals in 65 CHL games. And in 2009-10, he scored a combined 31 goals in 63 games for ECHL Stockton and Johnstown. Clearly, he's a legit goal scorer.
Still, he has sat out six straight games now.
"You just try to take it in stride,'' Robinson said. "I'm not going to be moping around. Right now, it is tough. But I totally understand. It's amazing what the trickle-down effect of the lockout has been.''
Robinson and Murray have spoken a few times about the situation. The Aces don't intend to release Robinson, Murray said, and he's asked patience of the winger.
At some point, Robinson said, he might have to reconsider his situation. He's a hockey player, so he wants to play hockey. Wichita still owns his CHL rights -- he originally signed with the Thunder in the offseason before changing his mind and signing with the Aces.
For now, though, he is trying to keep his spirits up, and also keep his sense of humor.
"I've been in this game long enough to know moping isn't going to help anything,'' Robinson said. "If I'm whining and complaining, no one is going to want to hang out with me.''
Shuffling the deck
Aces goaltender Mark Guggenberger, expected to make his 11th consecutive start Friday night, is 8-3-0 and tied for the league lead in wins with Gwinnett's Mike Lee (8-2-1). Cincinnati's Brian Foster (7-0-2) has yet to lose in regulation.
Guggenberger is third in the league in minutes played (634) and remains first in shutouts with two.
Alaska's penalty-killing unit is second on the circuit at 90.9-percent efficiency and its five short-handed goals ties Idaho for the league lead.
Three Aces skaters own three-game point streaks -- winger Nick Mazzolini (4-1--5 in that span), winger Garry Nunn (1-3--4) and defenseman Kane Lafranchise (0-4--4).
The Aces (9-4-0) have won four straight games, but there are even hotter teams in the league. The Gwinnett Gladiators (11-3-1) have won eight straight games, the Reading Royals (8-5-1) have won seven straight and the Ontario Reign (10-4-0) have won six straight. Also, the Idaho Steelheads (9-2-2) are unbeaten in regulation in their last 11 games (9-0-2, both shootout losses).
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.