Delight and disappointment have coincidentally hit the Alaska Aces at once -- just as NHLer Scott Gomez prepares to make his season debut for the club, NHLer Brandon Dubinsky exits the lineup with an injury.
Gomez will make his return to the Aces Wednesday night against the Colorado Eagles at Sullivan Arena -- he played for the ECHL team, and was voted league Most Valuable Player, during the NHL lockout of 2004-05.
But the excitement of Gomez's debut was tempered by Dubinsky's broken right hand, suffered blocking a shot Saturday night in the Aces' 6-4 victory in Las Vegas.
"I'm bummed out for him,'' Gomez said of Dubinsky. "I was looking forward to playing with him again.''
Gomez and Dubinsky, both of Anchorage, previously were teammates with the New York Rangers.
Dubinsky, the Aces' leading goal scorer with 8-4--12 totals in 12 games, said he was certain he suffered a broken hand the moment he blocked the shot. He's broken his hand twice before, once by blocking a shot, so he knows the drill.
"Pretty brutal,'' Dubinsky said.
Dubinsky, 26, said the injury will not require surgery. He expects to be out four to six weeks. The Aces have placed him on the 21-day injured reserve.
Even with Dubinsky and captain Steve Ward (broken leg) out, the Aces still have a surplus of available skaters -- five -- considered "veterans'' in the ECHL. Teams are permitted to play a maximum of four vets in any game, and Dubinsky's departure from the lineup makes the math a little easier for the Aces.
"It helps solve the vet problem,'' Dubinsky noted.
Gomez, 32, will be playing his first hockey game in eight months. He's coming off an injury-riddled season with the Montreal Canadiens -- his 11 points and 38 games played were both career lows. He said he is eager, and antsy, to do something other than practice.
"It's been a while since I've been in a game, and not watching,'' Gomez said. "I told the guys I'm lost with my routine, what time to eat, what time to take a nap.
"Dubie's been all over me about it. It's always the same, doesn't matter if it's pee wees, squirts, NHL. It's your first game, you're nervous, you're excited. Personally, I'm excited to be playing hockey again, to be in a game situation where it matters again.''
At Tuesday morning's practice, Gomez centered a line with Nick Mazzolini on his left wing and Garry Nunn on his right. Mazzolini is usually a center -- he centered Dubinsky and Nunn in the three-game sweep in Las Vegas -- but has played the wing for the Aces in the past.
Aces coach Rob Murray said Gomez, the two-time Stanley Cup winner who has played 12 NHL seasons, seems ready to go. He flew to Las Vegas on his own dime last week to practice with the team.
"He's been working really hard,'' Murray said. "When we were in Vegas, he was skating really hard, staying after practice to bag-skate.
"Hopefully, he doesn't try to do too much, which is sometimes a guy's first instinct when he hasn't played in a long time. He just needs to be himself.''
Shuffling the deck
For what it's worth, when Gomez played his first game for the Aces in the 2004-05 season, he furnished the primary assist on Chris Minard's game-tying goal late in the second period and scored in the shootout in the Aces' 3-2 win over the San Diego Gulls.
That game, played on a Friday night at Sullivan Arena, drew a standing-room-only crowd of 6,453.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY