Eagles winger Chad Costello leads ECHL in scoring, but says his comeback from knee injury still has a ways to go

Doyle Woody

Just last week, Colorado Eagles winger Chad Costello told the Windsor (Colo.) Beacon that, seven months removed from the horrific knee injury that ended his 2012-13 hockey season, he is not remotely all the way back.

That must be distressing news for ECHL defensemen and goaltenders.

All the reigning league Most Valuable Player has done in 12 games, while admittedly lacking his former quickness and agility, is rack 6-17--23 totals to lead the circuit in scoring. This week, he was named the league's Player of the Week after tuning up the Utah Grizzlies for four goals and three helpers in a three-game sweep.

Costello was injured March 10 at Sullivan Arena in a knee-to-knee collision with then-Alaska Aces defenseman Chad Anderson as Costello was fore-checking the blueliner. Costello's injuries included a torn anterior collateral ligament, torn medial collateral ligament and meniscus damage.

The Eagles lead the league in goals per game (4.67) and have scored 35 goals in their current five-game winning streak.

Tied for second in the league in scoring is Eagles forward Jack Combs, the former Ace. He owns 8-14--22 totals in 12 games. Checking in at a tie for seventh in league scoring is last week's league Player of the Week, Michael Forney, with 10-8--18 totals in 12 games. And reigning Defenseman of the Year Aaron Schneekloth, who led ECHL blueliners in scoring last season, is tied for third in that category with 2-11--13 totals in 12 games.

"They've got the guns,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray.

Colorado, which has bounced back from a 1-4-2 start, also ranks second in the league on the power play with a blistering 29.6-percent efficiency. That will test Alaska's penalty killers, who rank second in the league at 89.6-percent efficiency.

"Any time they're on the power play, it's a threat,'' Murray said. "We'll have to be disciplined and stay out of the box.''

And speaking of injuries...

So many injuries have plagued the Aces already that they've got a pretty decent lineup hanging around the training room a month into the season.

Goaltenders Gerald Coleman, still rehabbing from offseason hip surgery, and James Reid, getting around in a walking boot because of a high ankle sprain, were the club's playoff tandem last season. Captain Steve Ward (broken leg), and fellow defensemen Dustin Molle (lower-body injury) and Todd Orlando (lower body), remain out, as does rookie winger Tim Hall (upper-body injury).

And now NHLer Brandon Dubinsky is out at least a month after suffering a broken right hand blocking a shot in last Saturday's 6-4 win at Las Vegas.

When Dubinsky sits out Wednesday's opener of a three-game home series with the Colorado Eagles, he will become the 11th Aces player to miss a game because of injury. Through last Saturday's completion of a three-game sweep in Vegas, 10 different Aces have missed a total of 78 games because of injuries.

Molle and Orlando are back skating in practice. Still, the Aces appear as if they could easily top last regular season's injury totals of 15 different players missing a combined 177 games.

Shuffling the deck

The Aces have signed former Colorado College goalie Drew O'Connell of Anchorage to serve as Mark Guggenberger's back-up in the Colorado series.

O'Connell last season joined the Aces for a long stretch and played in one game. The club earlier this week released rookie Brooks Ostergard, who joined them for their five-game road trip to Stockton, Calif., and Las Vegas.

Guggenberger has made nine straight starts and gone 7-2-0 in that stretch.

The Aces' three wins in Las Vegas, in which they allowed just a combined five goals, came after losing 7-4 and 5-1 to Stockton.

"The guys reacted well,'' Murray said. "I think we did some work on the road, without a lot of practice time, and we were able to tighten up some areas we needed to after Stockton.''

The Aces, who have played 12 games (8-4-0) are the only club in the 23-team ECHL yet to play a game past regulation. By contrast, six of Orlando's 14 games have gone to extra time and five of Wheeling's 12 games have done likewise.

Alaska's games Friday and Saturday nights are part of Military Appreciation Weekend.

Fans can buy or donate tickets to current military members -- this is the "Adopt a Patriot'' program -- by dropping them off at the Aces offices (15th and Gambell) or Specialty Truck & Auto (8225 Hartzell Road), or by calling the Aces at 258-ACES.

Season ticket holders seeking to donate unused tickets can drop them off at the Aces office or call Specialty Truck & Auto owner Keth Manternatch (575-1637) to arrange to have the tickets picked up. Fans can also order tickets for military members through the Aces or Specialty Truck & Auto offices.

The weekend also includes the U.S. Marines "Toy Toss.'' New, unwrapped, plush toys can be thrown on the ice after the Aces' first goal each night, or unwrapped toys can be donated at the arena entrance.

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.