Anchorage — Forecasting the ECHL potential of players with pedigrees in Division III college hockey or professional hockey leagues lower on the ladder is always shaded with uncertainty, but Alaska Aces coach Rob Murray likes that two such guys he has signed come with leadership credentials.
Center Tim Coffman was a two-year captain at Division III Utica before playing his first full season as a pro last season in the Netherlands, and defenseman Brad Richard was a two-year captain at Division III Hobart, where he closed his college career last season.
The Aces on Friday announced they have signed both players to ECHL contracts, and they also said they have signed defenseman Matt Ridley, who has played his two pro seasons primarily in the Southern Professional Hockey League, to a professional tryout agreement.
The leadership backgrounds of Coffman and Richard drew Murray's attention.
"You've got to like that they both ended up being captains of their (college) teams, and I talked to their college coaches, and they said they're good, quality kids,'' Murray said.
Coffman, 25, shined at Utica, delivering 58-81--139 totals in four seasons. Murray said Utica coach Gary Heenan, once a finalist for the UAA head coaching job that went to former Stockton Thunder coach Matt Thomas earlier this summer, told him Coffman's skating ability should translate well on the big, international-sized ice at Sullivan Arena.
After closing his college career in 2012 as a Division III East third-team All-American, Coffman played 14 games for ECHL Greenville, earning 3-2-5 totals. Last season, he flourished for the Tilburg Trappers in the Dutch league, earning 20-20--48 totals in 26 regular-season games and 6-6--12 totals in six playoff games. One caveat: The Eredivisie league in the Netherlands is not particularly strong.
Richard, 24, showed an offensive upside at Hobart, where he generated 22-42--64 totals in 97 career games. His 11 goals as a junior in 2011-12 tied him for the national lead among blueliners in Division III. Richard last season went 4-7--11 in 20 games and was voted a Division III East second-team All-American.
Ridley, 23, last season for the SPHL's Mississippi Surge went 4-7--11 and plus-10 in 26 games. Two seasons ago for the Surge, he put up 4-12--16 totals and a plus-2 rating in 47 games, and also played five games for Tulsa of the Central Hockey League.
Coffman, Richard and Ridley are the first three newcomers to the Aces for the upcoming season.
The team previously announced the signings of five returners in defensemen Sean Curry and Kane Lafranchise, and wingers Jordan Kremyr, Evan Trupp and Andy Taranto.
Taranto, who is skating for the Calgary Flames in the Young Guns Classic in Penticton, British Columbia, on Thursday night furnished one assist in a 5-2 win over Edmonton Oilers prospects.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.