Anchorage — After winning a championship in Norway's top pro hockey league last season, Alexandre Imbeault would love nothing better than adding an ECHL Kelly Cup with the Alaska Aces to his rink resume.
Imbeault came agonizingly close to lifting the Cup in his previous stint with the club -- the Aces reached Game 7 of the 2009 Finals before falling to the South Carolina Stingrays.
If he could hoist the Cup this spring, it might serve as a sweet farewell to his playing career -- the 26-year-old right wing is leaning strongly toward retirement at season's end, eager to try his hand at coaching and at college.
"I want to win a championship -- that's the reason I wanted to come back here,'' Imbeault said after practice Wednesday morning at Sullivan Arena. "If I can do that, that would be perfect.
"If you can relive (2009), on the good side, that would be a good ending.''
Imbeault and the Aces, fresh off dispatching expansion San Francisco in five games in the first round, entertain the Stockton Thunder in Game 1 of a best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal series at Sullivan Arena on Friday night.
Imbeault, who the Aces acquired from Orlando early in the season, furnished one goal and three assists in five first-round games, and he has traditionally been a strong playoff performer. In 2009, he delivered the Aces 7-12--19 totals in 20 playoff games. In 33 career Kelly Cup games, he owns 12-20--32 totals.
"Once it's playoffs, everyone steps up their game, everyone has more grit,'' Imbeault said.
Imbeault, in his sixth season as a pro, said he has been coaching youth teams back home near Montreal the last few summers and he coached at a prep school at the start of last season, when he was playing in a Quebec senior league, the LNAH. Ideally, he'd like to begin coaching soon and studying psychology at university.
Toward that end, Imbeault said, he has spent this season intent on studying Aces coach Rob Murray.
"I've been paying a lot of attention to what Rob is doing, all the details,'' he said.
Imbeault, a bilingual French Canadian, hasn't played in the American Hockey League in two seasons. He hooked up with the Stavenger Oilers in Norway late last season -- "They called me and said, 'We need you,' and I said, 'OK, I'll be there soon,'' he said with a laugh -- and upon winning the championship, the team's owner paid for the team to take a summer vacation to Las Vegas.
Though he still is a young man, Imbeault said he's 95 percent sure this will be his last season because the time is approaching to find a second career that's long-term.
"This game, you get old,'' he said. "I've loved playing in Alaska and I love the lifestyle. But you know as well as I do, it doesn't pay the bills.''
That's serious talk. Still, the center with the impish grin likes to keep things light.
When he was playing in that Quebec league last season, where he said the pace of play was, well, languid, he packed on a few pounds and said it took him some time in Norway to get up to game speed.
"If you think I'm slow this year...'' Imbeault said.
And he remembers how hard it was to play in South Carolina's steamy rink in 2009. Back then, the Aces' No. 1 goaltender, Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, didn't like to take the morning skate on game day, so on at least one occasion, Aces equipment manager Mike Burkhead put on the pads. That night, the Aces faced South Carolina goalie James Reimer, who is now the No. 1 goalie with the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs.
"No disrespect to Burkie,'' Imbeault needled, "but he's no James Reimer.''
Shuffling the deck
Call it an early lunch with Brad -- Aces rookie defenseman Brad Gorham, who is a mechanical engineer with BP, this week has been taking an early lunch hour from his full-time job to make the Aces' 10 a.m. practices.
"It breaks up the day,'' said Gorham, who added that it didn't hurt that his boss is a hockey fan.
Many work days, like last week when Gorham did not accompany the club to San Francisco, he said he works out during his lunch hour in BP's on-site exercise facility.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.