The Alaska Aces on Wednesday announced the signing of yet another returner -- of sorts.
While the six players previously announced all played for the ECHL club last season, the latest addition, winger Matt Robinson, is coming back to the Aces after four seasons away.
Robinson, who played his first two pro seasons (2006-08) with the Aces and had signed earlier this summer to return to the Central Hockey League's Wichita Thunder, instead chose to leave that shrinking league.
The CHL featured 18 teams as recently as the 2010-11 season, but will play with 10 clubs in 2012-13. Several CHL teams in recent years have moved to the ECHL or ceased operations. The ECHL, which had 19 teams in 2010-11, will play with 23 teams in the upcoming season.
"Every year, it seems there are more (CHL) teams coming to the ECHL,'' Robinson said by phone from his hometown of South Surrey, British Columbia. "Fort Wayne and Evansville went to the ECHL, and you hear (CHL) rumors of teams folding.
"I loved Wichita. I met my wife (Samantha) there, made a lot of friends there, and the coach (former NHLer Kevin McClelland) was great.''
Still, Robinson said he was looking for stability and felt the ECHL presented a better bet on that front.
Robinson said he reconnected with the Aces through the team's public address announcer, Bob Lester, who also co-hosts a morning radio show. Lester touched base with Aces assistant coach Scott Burt, and then head coach Rob Murray contacted Robinson.
Robinson said he had offers from other ECHL teams but targeted the Aces because of his history with the two-time Kelly Cup winners, who are the two-time defending Brabham Cup champions as the top team in the regular season.
"The organization has always been one of the top ones in the ECHL, the fans are so good and I made a lot of friends in Anchorage,'' he said. "I'm excited to come back.''
Robinson, who turned 27 on Monday and is entering his seventh pro season, will count as one of four veterans each ECHL team is allowed. A veteran is a non-goaltender who enters the season with 260 or more regular-season games as a pro.
In Robinson, the Aces not only gain a player familiar with the organization, but one who has developed into a prolific goal scorer.
Robinson's 34 goals in 64 games for Wichita ranked fourth in the CHL last season, when he was a finalist for league Most Valuable Player. Two seasons ago, he scored 40 goals to tie for second in the league.
The Aces need that scoring punch to replace departed snipers. Wes Goldie and Dan Kissel each scored 35 goals for Alaska last season to tie for second in the league. But Goldie, the circuit's all-time leading goal scorer, retired, and Kissel is headed to Norway after initially signing with the Aces.
"It definitely shows he's a top-notch goal scorer,'' Murray said. "You score more than 30 goals two straight years, you're doing something right.
"I think he really fits a need we're looking for right now. With Wes and Kiss gone, that's a lot of offense to make up for.''
Robinson scored 21 goals in 59 games for the Aces as a rookie in 2006-07, then 19 in 58 games in 2007-08. Since then, besides his two campaigns in Wichita, he also scored 31 goals in 63 games for ECHL Stockton and Johnstown in 2009-10.
Robinson seems likely to get top-line and power-play duties with the Aces. He said he likes that kind of responsibility.
"Now, I'm known more as that guy you put out in the last minute, trying to get the winning or tying goal,'' he said. "I like that kind of pressure. It's almost flattering when a coach is looking at you for that goal.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News