The Alaska Aces, who entered the ECHL's holiday break routinely dressing makeshift lineups, are slowly getting back bodies from their glut of injured players.
Friday night, they entertain the Colorado Eagles, who have been even more severely short-handed.
Still, both hockey teams are streaking -- the Aces have won five straight games, the Eagles four straight.
When a three-game series opens at Sullivan Arena on Friday, the Aces will likely see the return of veteran defenseman Sean Curry and rookie winger Jarred Smith. Curry has missed two games with a lower-body injury and Smith has missed four games after taking a hit to the head.
The Aces have played their last dozen games without the preferred lineup of 10 forwards and six defensemen -- they've gone with nine and seven several times, and often with fill-in players for home games, and even dressed eight forwards and eight defensemen in one game. Even so, they went 9-3-0 with irregular lineups.
Aces coach Rob Murray said he thinks his club should be fine after the short holiday break. The Aces practiced Thursday afternoon for their first work since wrapping a three-game sweep of Stockton on Saturday.
"I don't see that we shouldn't be sharp,'' Murray said. "It might be sloppy at first, but we should be OK.''
The Eagles last week racked up a three-game sweep of visiting Bakersfield despite each night dressing a lineup of just 13 skaters, three below the ECHL maximum. Colorado even outshot Bakersfield by nearly a 2-to-1 margin -- the tally favored the Eagles, 113-65. Granted, Bakersfield entered the break having won just two times in regulation in 30 games.
Colorado will likely start the series without Chad Costello and Jack Combs, the league's top two scorers. Both are up with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League and played Thursday night for the Sound Tigers.
Shuffling the deck
The Aces practiced Thursday without winger Chris Clackson and defenseman Corey Syvret, whose travels back to Anchorage were delayed by bad weather in the Lower 48. The Aces expect both to be back in town in time for the series opener.
Captain Steve Ward, coming back from a broken leg that required surgery, is back practicing, though he's likely a couple weeks away from returning to games.
Also back practicing regularly is forward Brandon Dubinsky, who could see some action in the series. He's been out with a broken hand.
Both Ward and Dubinsky suffered their injuries blocking shots.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY