Anchorage — Ross Ring-Jarvi and Tim Coffman carry Division III college pedigrees and each played as a rookie last season in a lower-level European hockey league, so their offseason additions to the Alaska Aces did not stir the faithful.
The biggest question surrounding both players, really, was whether they would even make the team coming out of training camp.
Still, each forward arrived in Anchorage with credentials. Ring-Jarvi came with a strong recommendation from Troy Ward, coach of the Abbotsford Heat, the Aces' American Hockey League affiliate. Aces coach Rob Murray said Ward told him Ring-Jarvi's work ethic reminded him of former Aces and Heat winger Tyler Ruegsegger, one of Murray's favorites. Coffman got high marks from his college coach, Utica's Gary Heenan, who met Murray when Heenan visited town in the offseason as a finalist for the UAA job.
Both Ring-Jarvi and Coffman put up big numbers in college, where each captained his club. And Murray does not harbor bias against Division III players. In the AHL, he coached Keith Aucoin, a Division III forward who has played 143 NHL games and has scored more than 800 points in more than 700 AHL games.
Both Ring-Jarvi and Coffman not only made the Aces' season-opening roster, they immediately cracked the lineup. That's no small accomplishment for two newcomers, just beginning their pro careers, who joined a team that has won an unprecedented three straight Brabham Cups as ECHL regular-season champions.
As the Aces prepare to open a three-game series Friday night in Las Vegas, Coffman has earned a spot as the center on Alaska's second line and Ring-Jarvi has landed at right wing on the third line.
Yet -- and coaches love to hear this kind of stuff -- neither player believes he's nestled in a cocoon of comfort.
"I'm real happy with the start, but I know the job isn't there forever,'' Coffman said. "I've got to keep proving myself.''
Ring-Jarvi likewise said he intends to keep working relentlessly. After all, the ECHL is a fluid league -- rosters are often in flux -- and it is not the land of guaranteed contracts.
"I could be gone,'' Ring-Jarvi said. "I'm still not a cemented guy.''
After an illustrious career at Adolphus Gustavus in his home state of Minnesota -- he delivered 46-84--130 totals in 115 games -- Ring-Jarvi began his pro career abroad, courtesy of some networking from his college roommate and teammate, Henrik Reisvang of Norway. When the Tonsberg Vikings offered Ring-Jarvi a one-year contract, he seized it.
"I was like, 'Deal,' '' he said. "It was definitely an adventure.''
And the 26-year-old covets adventure. Prior to his senior year of college -- Ring-Jarvi owns a degree in physics from Gustavus Adolphus -- he biked across America in 23 days. Last summer, he and his family climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (elevation, 19,311 feet) in Africa.
Ring-Jarvi comes from athletic, adventurous stock. His parents hyphenated their names when they were married -- Sue Ring and Roland Jarvi took the last name Ring-Jarvi, which gives their only child, Ross, a lyrical name -- and they have achieved in athletics.
Sue started the University of Minnesota women's hockey club in 1974, was instrumental in starting girls hockey in Minnesota and in 2005 was inducted into the Women's Hockey Association of Minnesota Hall of Fame. Earlier this year, USA Hockey named her its Adult Ironman of the Year.
"I'm the only hockey player whose mom plays more than him,'' Ring-Jarvi said.
Roland, a retired high school teacher and coach, in 1998 was inducted into the Minnesota State High School Nordic Ski Coaches Hall of Fame. In 1992, he finished the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run in California in 27-plus hours. He has also completed the Yukon 1000, a thousand-mile canoe race.
Ring-Jarvi excelled as a rookie in Norway, leading his team in goals and tying for second in points with 21-16--37 totals in 43 games. His team finished last on the Get Ligaen circuit at 9-32-4, though, and was outscored by a 2 to 1 ratio.
Returning to Norway would have earned him more than he makes in the ECHL, Ring-Jarvi said, but he wanted to see if he could cut it in the ECHL.
"I know this is an extremely recognized organization, and I maybe had the cards stacked against me,'' Ring-Jarvi said. "But this summer I worked really hard, gained a little weight because I know this is a more physical league (than the Get Ligaen).
"It was rolling the dice. But it's one of those things where I want to get better, I want to play with better players and continue to improve.''
Like Ring-Jarvi, Coffman crushed it in college. He generated 58-81--139 totals in 95 career games. Once his senior year ended, he played 14 games for ECHL Greenville and earned 3-2--5 totals. But, last fall, with ECHL clubs stocked with AHL players and even some NHL players because of the NHL lockout, Coffman didn't survive training-camp cuts with Greenville.
Prior to Coffman's senior year at Utica, the Pioneers toured Europe, and that exposure helped when he was looking for a hockey job after Greenville released him. Turns out the guy who guided the Pioneers on their trip doubled as an agent. One day last fall, Coffman's cell phone rang, but he didn't recognize the incredibly long number so he didn't answer.
"My caller ID said it was from the Netherlands, and like 15 numbers popped up, so I figured it was a wrong number or something,'' said Coffman, 25. "My college coach called and said, 'Hey, you have to take that call, it's a team in the Netherlands.'
"I never even knew there was hockey in the Netherlands.''
A job's a job, Coffman figured, so he crossed the pond. His team, Tilburg, won the league championship and he earned 20-28--48 totals in 26 regular-season games. He made some money and enjoyed a different culture, but the Eredvisie is an extremely low-level league.
Like Ring-Jarvi, Coffman wanted to try his hand full-time in North American pro hockey, so he returned home and his agent, former NHLer Kerry Huffman, got in touch with Aces bench boss Murray.
In the meantime, Coffman spent the offseason training back home in the Philadelphia area. His trainer had only one other hockey client so he suggested he train both players at the same time. From the hockey-is-a-small-world file: The other player was UAA sophomore defenseman Chris Williams.
Now Coffman, like Ring-Jarvi, is in the ECHL to prove he belongs.
"I know I can play in this league, and every player in this league probably thinks he can play in a league higher, and that's why I'm here -- to develop,'' Coffman said.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
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