Irregular lineups are the new normal for the Alaska Aces

Doyle Woody

In their last nine hockey games, the depleted Alaska Aces have used defensemen to play wing, hired a local forward to aid their lineup, anxiously awaited the arrival of a new player only to discover his gear did not arrive on his flight, finished one game with just 13 skaters and endured multiple bouts of food poisoning/flu.

And, of course, they've suffered more injuries -- at this point, that's starting to seem like a given.

"We've got bodies dropping every game,'' said coach Rob Murray.

Yet, through all that -- and while not once dressing the preferred complement of 10 forwards and six defensemen who are full-time employees -- the Aces have somehow managed to go 6-3-0.

In that stretch, the Aces once dressed 10 and six, but that was with Merit Waldrop of Anchorage in the lineup, which he may be again as the Aces on Wednesday night open a three-game set against the visiting Stockton Thunder.

Five times, Murray penciled in a lineup of nine and seven, once with Waldrop among the nine. Twice, the lineup was eight and seven, and once it was eight and eight.

Ah, the joys of the ECHL, where circumstances -- injuries, illness, call-ups to a higher league -- occasionally leave teams with ample leg room on the team bench.

"There are going to be stretches of any hockey season when teams go through something like this,'' Murray said. "Do you go on a losing streak or do you continue to muck it out?

"Right now, the guys who are playing are playing hard, and getting the job done.''

Only four skaters who have been with the Aces all season have played in each of the club's 28 games -- Nick Mazzolini, Garry Nunn, Zach Harrison and William Wrenn.

Even so, Nunn played his shifts between vomits in last Friday's 5-4 win at Utah -- with food poisoning/flu, "Nunn was basically curled up into a ball on the training table,'' Murray said -- and produced a goal and two assists before he was unable to play the third period.

The Aces were so short-handed that night Murray hoped forward Chris Clackson would arrive in Utah in time to play. But several of Clackson's flights were delayed, so he touched down in Utah halfway through the game, then discovered his equipment did not arrive.

Mazzolini said it felt like he and Crabb were playing every other shift by the end of that 5-4 win.

"You just take it shift by shift, and do what you can,'' Mazzolini said. "Otherwise, it's chaos.''

Alaska on Wednesday night will be without rookie winger Jarred Smith, who took a wicked hit from Utah's Ian Schultz in that 5-4 win -- the ECHL suspended Schultz, who received a major penalty for charging, for one game. Center Nate Thompson will remain out of the lineup injured. Murray listed center Scott Gomez, who has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury, as questionable.

Several other players remain injured -- forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Tommy Mele, Jordan Kremyr and Tim Hall, defenseman Steve Ward and goaltender James Reid. Provided Waldrop is available, it's a decent bet Alaska's lineup on Wednesday will feature nine forwards and seven defensemen.

Shuffling the deck

Wrenn missed Tuesday's practice with illness.

The Thunder arrive fresh off Monday night's 6-4 victory over the San Francisco Bulls before a crowd of 12,881 at HP Pavilion, home arena of the NHL's San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks, affiliated with the Bulls, waived admission.

Stockton's Toni Rajala racked a hat trick, giving the Finn 16-12--28 totals in just 19 games. The 21-year-old is in his first season of North American pro hockey -- he has also played five games for AHL Oklahoma City -- but we can still find an Alaska connection with the kid.

Rajala played the previous two seasons for Ilves Tampere in Finland's elite league, where one of his teammates was former UAA defenseman Nils Backstrom. Backstrom this season is playing for Timra IK in Sweden's elite league, where one of his teammates is his fellow blueliner and former Seawolves teammate Mat Robinson, who is, of course, not to be confused with current Aces winger Matt Robinson.

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

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