When the St. Louis Blues shipped defenseman David Shields from the American Hockey League's Peoria Rivermen to the ECHL's Alaska Aces to start the season, the move initially messed with the rookie's mettle.
"My confidence was definitely lower,'' Shields said.
Aces coach Rob Murray sensed Shields, who was beginning his professional career on a three-season contract with St. Louis, needed to regain his self-esteem.
"I'm sure he was questioning himself: 'Where do I fit in this pro hockey gig?' " Murray said. "He was timid with the puck at times, and some deficiencies showed, probably because he was so nervous.
"But in his time here (12 games), he was getting better all the time. And when he went back to Peoria, like (Rivermen general manager) Kevin McDonald said, he was in the lineup on merit.''
After generating 1-5--6 totals in 12 games with the Aces, Shields played 48 games for Peoria, furnishing four assists and a minus-4 rating, and restoring his confidence.
"Getting all that ice time really helped me,'' said Shields, 21. "I'm definitely a lot more confident. It was great. They said they like the way I played.''
Now, the sixth-round draft pick is back with the Aces for the Kelly Cup playoffs because Peoria did not qualify for the AHL's Calder Cup playoffs.
With Brandon Gentile out with an upper-body injury last Saturday, Shields stepped into the lineup and delivered two assists and a plus-2 rating in Alaska's Game 5 elimination of the Stockton Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.
"Short snapshot: He looked a lot more confident in himself,'' Murray said. "He was excellent.''
Shields' first assist came when he held the puck in Stockton's zone at the blue line and relayed it to Nick Mazzolini, who set up Garry Nunn's redirection goal. Shield's second assist came on an outlet pass that sprung Dan Kissel and Wes Goldie on a 2-on-1 that Kissel finished with a rocket of a goal from the left circle.
Shields said the Blues assigned him to the Aces last week to give him a taste of the pro postseason.
"They wanted me to come, and I wasn't going to say no,'' Shields said. "It's huge to get playoff experience. Winning is a great thing to have on your resume.''
Shuffling the deck
The Aces are scheduled to travel to Las Vegas on Wednesday in advance of Thursday's Game 1 of the best-of-7, Western Conference finals against the Wranglers.
Gentile, who helped the Aces to the Kelly Cup last season but remains out with that upper-body injury, will not make the trip and will miss at least the first two games of the series.
Meanwhile, the Aces are treating rookie winger Chris Bruton, who like Shields came back to the club from Peoria, as day-to-day with a lower-body injury that caused him to miss Game 5 against Stockton.
Bruton said he was psyched to return to the Aces after playing 27 regular-season games (6-7--13) for them before gaining a spot in Peoria's lineup.
"This is just a dressing room where everyone works so hard and cares so much, I wanted to be a part of this,'' Bruton said. "This is the type of hockey you live for. Every night is a battle.''
Bruton contributed two assists and a plus-2 rating in two games against Stockton.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News