The Alaska Aces will likely be a thin crew when they travel to Colorado later this week for a two-game ECHL series against the Eagles -- injuries and promotions to the American Hockey League have reduced the club's ranks.
Aces coach Rob Murray on Tuesday said his team is down to 17 healthy players -- nine forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders. And that's with defenseman Dustin Molle moving up to play wing and occasional defenseman Brad Gorham able to make the Colorado trip because it coincides with his time off from his job as an engineer on the North Slope.
ECHL teams are allowed to dress a maximum of 18 players for games -- 16 skaters and two goalies -- and the ideal breakdown is 10 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies.
Nearly every team in the ECHL, a developmental circuit two rungs below the NHL and one rung below the AHL, endures a short bench at some point in the 72-game regular season. Injuries and call-ups to the AHL usually are the causes.
The Aces currently have three players with the Abbotsford Heat, their AHL affiliate. Defenseman Kane Lafranchise has been on long-term promotion, and wingers Jordan Kremyr and Evan Trupp have been up for a couple weeks.
Also, five Aces skaters, three forwards and two defensemen, are currently shelved with injuries.
Veteran defenseman Sean Curry has been out with a lower-body injury since opening weekend, though he is practicing. Defenseman Corey Syvret, who is wearing a walking boot, has missed the last 19 games and received treatment Tuesday morning but did not practice.
Winger Andy Taranto has missed 19 games with a shoulder injury, but is practicing. Center Tim Coffman was outfitted with a walking boot earlier this month and is likely out for many more weeks. And winger David Eddy, who received treatment Tuesday but did not practice because of a lower-body injury, doesn't look to rejoin the lineup any time soon.
Through 36 games, the halfway mark of the regular season, 12 different Aces have missed a combined 165 games with injuries. That means an average of 4.58 players per game have been sidelined with injuries.
The Aces have endured a plague of injuries the last season and a half. In four seasons from 2008-2012, injuries caused the Aces to miss an average of 3.15 players per game. In the last season and a half, that average has risen to 4.62, an increase of 46.7 percent.
Still, the Aces (24-9-3) rank second on the 22-team circuit in winning percentage at .708. And with a relatively light schedule this week -- games Friday and Saturday nights at Colorado -- Murray said he's unlikely to make any free-agent additions to the roster.
"The best way to look at it is, it's only a two-game set,'' Murray said. "If this was that road trip at Thanksgiving" ---- eight straight away games -- "I'd be thinking, 'Holy cow.' You'd be scrambling to pick up guys off waivers, or something, just to have bodies.
"You don't want to start panicking and picking up bodies just to pick up bodies.''
And it's not like the Aces are struggling. They've gone 7-1-2 in their last 10 games.
"I still like the lineup we have,'' Murray said. "We're not overwhelmed. We're just a body short.
"Guys just have to continue to elevate their games, like (forwards Tommy) Mele and (Ross) Ring-Jarvi have.''
Shuffling the deck
The ECHL is holding meetings in Philadelphia this week and two subjects scheduled to be addressed -- whether the San Francisco Bulls can stay in business and whether Las Vegas Wranglers can find a rink to play in next season -- have an impact on the Aces.
Bulls coach Pat Curcio on Monday told the San Francisco Chronicle that his club, which he said lost $2 million last season, could either fold or relocate next week, and that he has a pending agreement with a new ownership group. That ECHL would have to approve new ownership or a new venue.
The Aces have seven games remaining against the Bulls, four at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and three at home. San Francisco is 21st among 22 ECHL teams in attendance, averaging 2,292 fans per game, according to the ECHL.
The Wranglers are searching for a new venue for next season after Orleans Arena declined to renew the team's contract to play in that building, according to media reports. The club is seeking a new venue, which must be approved by the ECHL.
The league's Western Conference has just nine teams, compared to 13 in the Eastern Conference. With the exception of Alaska's first season in the league, 2003-04, when there were seven teams in the west (all in the Pacific Division), the league has since had at least eight teams, and as many as 11, in the west.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.