When the ECHL season reached the holiday break and Kane Lafranchise had not yet achieved his goal of rising to the American Hockey League for the first time, the Alaska Aces defenseman vowed patience.
"I never really thought about it, so it wouldn't get in my head and throw me off my game,'' Lafranchise said. "I just kept playing hard and thought, 'Don't be satisfied.' ''
Lafranchise's reward finally arrived this week -- the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons requested his services, so the Aces loaned them the third-year blueliner.
Lafranchise, 24, took a red-eye flight out of Anchorage at midnight Tuesday and met the Barons in Grand Rapids, Mich., where they play Friday in the first of three roads games in three nights.
Oklahoma City will be the first pro team Lafranchise has played for other than the Aces. He's the first Aces player promoted to the AHL during this season, although winger Tyler Ruegsegger, whose ECHL rights belong to the Aces, has spent the entire season with AHL Abbotsford.
Lafranchise, the former UAA skater, has proved Alaska's best defenseman this season and helped them generate the best record (26-8-0) in the 23-team ECHL. With 4-17--21 totals in 30 games, he is tied for sixth in the league in scoring among defensemen. He also owns a plus-minus rating of plus-10 -- no surprise there, since he's plus-45 in 121 career regular-season games for the Aces.
He plays in every situation -- power play, penalty kill, 4 on 4, the last minute of a one-goal game, whether the Aces need a goal or need to prevent one. In all that ice time, Lafranchise has remained an offensive threat, become even sturdier defensively and has taken just seven minor penalties. He's also a strong skater.
"He's probably established a pretty good reputation around the league,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray.
Lafranchise attended training camp this season with the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters, and though he didn't make the cut with them, the experience gave him a taste of the game at a higher level and bolstered his resolve to move up hockey's ladder.
"After I got back from Lake Erie, my goal was to get back (in the AHL) as soon as possible,'' Lafranchise said by cell phone from Grand Rapids. "I realized that it was a possibility, after the start I've had, that it could be sooner rather than later.''
For Lafranchise, the fact Oklahoma City summoned him added to the reward -- the Barons are the affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, Lafranchise's hometown team.
"That's kind of the cool part,'' Lafranchise said. "You always want to get called up, and it's a bonus it's Edmonton's (affiliate). My family and friends are really excited.''
Lafranchise's roommate on the road with Oklahoma City is familiar to him -- defenseman Taylor Fedun is an Edmonton native and Lafranchise's former teammate on the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Spruce Grove Saints.
Lafranchise said he has not received any indication whether he'll play Friday -- Thursday's practice with the Barons will be his first. When he's called upon, he knows he will be nervous, so he'll play it safe.
"Just be a puck-moving D-man and keep it simple,'' Lafranchise said.
Shuffling the deck
With Lafranchise gone, veteran Sean Curry out with an upper-body injury, fill-in Brad Gorham back to his day job as an engineer and captain Steve Ward still not quite ready to return from a broken leg, the Aces suddenly are down to five defensemen.
"It happens real quick,'' Murray said.
Murray said the team will travel Thursday -- it has a game Friday at Stockton, and games Saturday and Sunday at Ontario -- with 11 forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders.
NHL center Scott Gomez, who has been out with a lower-body injury, practiced Wednesday and is scheduled to be back in the lineup in Stockton.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY