Coming off an uneven four-game split with Utah, the Aces hit the road thin on forwards

Doyle Woody

After their uneven efforts produced an even series -- a discomforting split of four home hockey games against the Utah Grizzlies in a series that wrapped Monday night -- the Alaska Aces dragged their carcasses onto a 7 a.m. flight Tuesday morning.

No rest for the weary, or the wounded.

Having fallen out of first-place overall in the 23-team ECHL -- the Aces dropped behind the Gwinnett Gladiators and Idaho Steelheads in winning percentage -- Alaska opens a three-game road trip Wednesday night at Idaho. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are waiting for them in West Valley City, Utah, for games Friday and Saturday nights.

With seven players still shelved by injuries -- that list includes NHL forwards Scott Gomez and Brandon Dubinsky, which removes considerable pop from the lineup -- the Aces traveled with just nine forwards among their 17 skaters.

Only once in the last six games have the Aces played with the usual complement of 10 true forwards, and they only managed that in one game against Utah last week after signing former pro Merit Waldrop of Anchorage to lend a hand in that series.

Waldrop was released as expected following the Utah series, but center Bobby Hughes, who missed the last three games of that series with an undisclosed ailment, did made the trip to Idaho. Even if he plays against the Steelheads, the Aces still will be dressing seven defensemen, one of whom is likely to log the occasional shift at forward.

If it is any comfort to the Aces, Gomez's lower-body injury is not considered long-term -- he could be ready to return next week. Dubinsky was expected to miss roughly six weeks when he broke his right hand blocking a shot Nov. 10, so he may be back in a week or two.

But the timetable on the other injured players is indefinite, so the Aces will have to slog through the rest of December as best they can.

Shuffling the deck

The new league leaders are the Gwinnett Gladiators, who are 18-6-1 for a .740 winning percentage. Idaho (16-5-3) sits second at .729 and the Aces (18-7-0) are third at .720.

Aces winger Joey Crabb ranks tied for eighth among league scorers with 12-15--27 totals in 24 games. Winger/center Nick Mazzolini is 12th with 15-11--26 totals in 26 games.

Idaho's Austin Smith is riding a nine-game point streak in which he owns 11-4--15 totals. Steelheads forward Justin Dowling has put up 2-9--11 totals in his seven-game point streak.

The Aces are 0-1-0 against Idaho this season -- the Steelheads won 2-1 in Boise on Nov. 21.

Find Doyle Woody's blog at or call him at 257-4335.

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