Anchorage — Requisite offensive punch has rarely proved a shortcoming of the Alaska Aces in their decade of ECHL hockey, and it doesn't look like a concern in the upcoming season.
The Aces on Thursday announced they will receive forward Brendan Connelly on assignment from the Abbotsbord Heat, their American Hockey League affiliate, further bolstering the club's top two lines.
Connelly, 28, who has been a point-per-game player in the ECHL, can play either center or wing. His assignment to the Aces was not yet official as of Thursday afternoon -- his AHL contract had not been submitted to the AHL office -- but Aces coach Rob Murray said that's a paperwork deal likely to be remedied soon.
Connelly last season for ECHL Greenville racked 24-36--60 totals in 64 games, and earned a plus-minus rating of plus-14. In his two seasons and 85 games for Greenville prior to last season, Connolly went 46-60--106 with a combined plus-35 rating. He also owns 15 games of AHL experience.
The Aces already have noted scorers in the fold.
Center Nick Mazzolini returns after leading the Aces in all three scoring categories (36-35--71 in 68 games). Winger Peter Sivak joins the Aces after bagging 33 goals in 64 games for ECHL San Francisco last season. First-line winger Evan Trupp of Anchorage returns (eight points in 10 games for Alaska last season). Winger Andy Taranto, the former UAF sniper, begins his first full season as a pro.
Returners Spencer Bennett and Shawn Skelly have shown point potential and Robert Farmer brings promising stats for his homeland, where he played in the Great Britain-based Elite Ice Hockey League. Add Connolly to the mix, and perhaps some young forwards who still may be sent here from Abbotsford, and Murray likes what he sees on paper.
"I think, right now, I like the way it's shaping up,'' Murray said.
Connolly's ability to play either wing or center -- Murray said Connolly told him he prefers the left wing -- also gives Murray flexibility. Wherever Connolly plays, figure him to slot into one of the Aces' top two lines. He also is sure to be a fixture on a power-play unit.
By playing on an AHL contract, Connolly will give the Aces salary-cap relief. Under ECHL rules, players under NHL or AHL deals count just $525 per week against the cap. If Connolly was on an ECHL deal, his rink resume would likely earn him much more per week, all of which would count against the weekly team salary cap of $12,400 in the first 30 days of the upcoming season and $12,000 per week the rest of the season.
The Aces gained Connolly's ECHL rights through a series of offseason moves.
Murray traded last season's second-line center, Bobby Hughes, to ECHL Fort Wayne after Hughes requested a move. The Aces in turn received the rights to forward Jean-Michel Rizk. Murray could not come to terms with Rizk, so he traded the Rizk's rights to Greenville in exchange for the rights to Connolly.
Counting Connelly, the Aces thus far have announced 21 players for training camp, which starts in a week. That breaks down to 12 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders. That number will likely increase too because Abbotsford is expected to assign a few more players to the Aces.
Murray and assistant coach Louis Mass just returned from spending nearly a week at Abbotsford's training camp in British Columbia. This is the first season of Alaska's affiliation agreement with Abbotsford and the parent Calgary Flames of the NHL.
"They took care of us very well,'' Murray said. "(Heat coach) Troy Ward could not have been more inviting. He let me run some drills in camp and got Louis really involved.''
Still at the Abbotsford's camp are four Aces -- Sivak, Taranto, returning defenseman Kane Lafranchise and returning winger Jordan Kremyr.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.