Aces newcomer Skelly proving he can score goals at the next level

Doyle Woody

Since the Alaska Aces plucked Shawn Skelly from the Augusta RiverHawks of the Southern Professional Hockey League three weeks ago, he has been the club's top scorer, generating five goals and seven points in seven games.

Granted, Skelly has delivered goals -- sometimes prolifically, always steadily -- at every level from juniors to Division III college hockey to the SPHL. Still, the ECHL, the league in which the Aces grind, is a step up from the SPHL.

The way Aces coach Rob Murray figured it, he needed to put Skelly in position to succeed, which is why he has kept the newcomer playing wing on one of the team's top two lines and furnished him with ample power-play time.

"He's got that knack -- he's really good around the net,'' Murray said. "A guy with his skill set, if you're going to use him, the power play is where he needs to be. You can't put him on the third line.

"You've got to put a skill player with other skill players. You can't argue with five goals in seven games. He's doing what he needs to do.''

Last weekend in a shootout loss and overtime loss in Las Vegas, Skelly played on a line with center Bobby Hughes and another newcomer, Spencer Bennett. Skelly furnished three goals and an assist in the series and cranked off 11 shots, the most by a player on either team.

Skelly, 26, is understandably thankful for significant ice time and a legitimate shot at cracking the ECHL full-time.

"That's the role I've been in for years, and it's what I've become accustomed to, playing with offensive-minded guys,'' Skelly said. "Any type of offensive guy, who likes to score goals or set up guys, it boosts your confidence when you play with those guys and it allows you to be comfortable in your surroundings.

"And getting to play with better players, it's a lot easier to adjust.''

Not that Skelly hasn't already endured some disappointment in less than two seasons of pro hockey.

He said he was the last guy cut in training camp by ECHL Gwinnett in 2011 and the last guy cut in training camp by Texas of the Central Hockey League last fall, when he was one of the players squeezed by the trickle-down effect of the NHL lockout. Skelly said his two-game promotion to ECHL Toledo last season, while a decent experience -- it was his first taste of the league -- didn't come with much playing time. He was basically the 10th forward and spent a lot of time mired on the bench as what players call the "grocery stick,'' the guy who separates the forwards from the defense.

In 83 career SPHL games, Skelly bagged 37 goals. At Division III Adrian College in his home state of Michigan from 2007-2011, Skelly put up ridiculous numbers -- 102-128--230 totals in 113 career games. The Bulldogs in his career went 102-12-2 (.972 winning percentage) and lost to St. Norbert College (Wis.) in the national championship game his senior year.

"We had absolutely insane success,'' Skelly said.

His four seasons at Adrian coincided with the program's first four seasons as an NCAA team, and he holds school career records for, well, just about everything -- goals, assists, points, power-play goals (47), game-winning goals (20) and shots on goal (593).

Aces bench boss Murray said he tried to get Skelly during last season, but Skelly said the timing wasn't right for him. When Murray came calling again, through agent Russ King, who recently signed Skelly and also is Hughes' agent, Skelly was ready.

"This time, there was just no doubt I had to make the jump,'' Skelly said. "(Murray) gave me an opportunity. It wasn't just a roster spot.''

At last, as a newcomer to the Aces, he's been given the chance he coveted.

"Finally,'' Skelly said, "the cards have come my way.''


Shuffling the deck

The Aces are close to tying a team record for most consecutive games that go to overtime or a shootout.

They've been involved in three straight such games -- an OT loss to San Francisco followed by a shootout loss and an OT loss at Las Vegas. Four times in their ECHL history, the Aces have played four consecutive games that went beyond regulation.


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