As the second-stingiest team in the ECHL last hockey season, when they surrendered just one fewer goal than South Carolina, the Alaska Aces savored grand goaltending.
Tuesday's announcement that masked man Mark Guggenberger has re-signed with the club makes it look like the Aces could be enjoying more of the same in the upcoming season.
Guggenberger and Gerald Coleman, whose re-signing was announced last week, formed a terrific tandem that limited opponents to a mere 2.39 goals per game.
"Goaltending is imperative,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray. "We're in a position right now where we have great goaltending.''
Guggenberger, 24, earned second-team all-league accolades last season -- his second season as a pro, and his first in the ECHL -- after going 25-8-5 with a 2.23 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and three shutouts. He shared fourth place in both wins and shutouts on the circuit and ranked third in goals-against average and fourth in save percentage.
All that came one season after he was the Central Hockey League's Most Outstanding Goaltender and Rookie of the Year.
Murray believes Guggenberger can continue his ascent.
"He's a young guy, and eager,'' Murray said. "Forwards are on a time limit, defensemen have a little longer, and I think goalies have even longer than that in their development.
"I would say he's on an upward (trend), and he just needs to make sure he keeps getting better at this trade.''
Murray said Guggenberger will begin the preseason in training camp with the Iowa Wild of the American Hockey League. Iowa is the affiliate of the NHL's Minnesota Wild, Guggenberger's hometown team -- he's from Richfield, in the Twin Cities area.
When Coleman missed the first 16 games last season while rehabbing after offseason hip surgery, and with James Reid shelved by an ankle injury, Guggenberger started 15 of the club's first 16 games. That included a stretch of 13 consecutive starts in which he went 10-3-0 to get the Aces off to a strong start in what became their third straight season as Brabham Cup champs of the regular season.
Guggenberger could find himself in a similar position this campaign. Coleman again underwent offseason hip surgery, though he believes he's on a faster time table than last season, when he debuted Nov. 23. Also, the Calgary Flames, Alaska's NHL affiliate, have indicated they will probably send a goalie to the Aces, Murray said.
That could eventually create a logjam in goal -- two goalies are ideal; three leaves someone the odd man out. But Calgary only lists five goaltenders in its system, so two will be ticketed to the Flames, two to the AHL affiliate in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and one, presumably, to the Aces.
The Aces found themselves with three goalies last season when Coleman returned. But Reid was out long-term, and when he became healthy he was traded.
Still, if one of those five goalies in Calgary's system gets injured, or other circumstances occur, Murray would not have to worry about his crowded net.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it,'' Murray said.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY