Aces bring Zuck home, sign 2 others

Doyle Woody

Eli Zuck is a hometown kid, but between attending high school at a prestigious prep school/hockey factory in Minnesota, playing juniors Outside and spending four college seasons at Minnesota State-Mankato, it's been the better part of a decade since he was home full-time in Anchorage.

That's no longer the case. Zuck, who turns 24 Friday, is set to begin his pro career with the ECHL's Alaska Aces.

The center is one of three additions the club announced Thursday. The Aces have come to terms with winger Robert Farmer, who is intriguing because he's the rare Brit trying his game in North America, and defenseman Ben Parker, a rookie who earlier this year wrapped up a four-year career at Canisius College.

The three newcomers raise to 19 the number of players the Aces have announced for 2013-14 -- the breakdown is 10 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders.

Zuck said he talked to a few ECHL teams, but the quality of the Aces organization and the chance to play in his hometown in front of friends and family swayed his decision.

"Obviously, my No. 1 choice was to come back here,'' he said. "It's a good fit.''

Zuck attended high school and played at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault, Minn. He was one of the first Alaskans to do so in what has developed into a trend that has delivered numerous Alaskans, boys and girls, to Division I college hockey.

After Shattuck, Zuck played a season in the Midwest-based U.S. Hockey League, and then put in four seasons with the Mavericks. Zuck said he has spent the last five or six summers training in Faribault, including part of this summer training and working hockey camps.

But now he's home, and coach Rob Murray believes Zuck could slot into the mix as one Mankato guy replacing another Mankato guy with Shattuck roots.

Three-year Aces center Zach Harrison, who played in college for the Mavericks and developed into Alaska's third-line center and a principal penalty killer, had his request to be traded granted in the offseason. That vacated role could be filled by Zuck.

"Essentially, without anointing him the next Harry, with Zach leaving, (Zuck) has the potential to be that third-line center -- good penalty killer, good on draws, good defensively,'' Murray said.

Zuck last season earned 2-9--11 and plus-12 totals in 31 games for Mankato. He furnished 12-32--44 totals and plus-6 in 117 career games.

"Everything has to be earned, nothing is given,'' Zuck said. "But (Murray) said roles are open. I feel like I'm comfortable playing center, and I've always been pretty good defensively and on the PK. That's where my strength was in college.''

Farmer, 22, of Nottingham, England, last season earned 20-31--51 totals in 52 games with the Braehead Clan in the Great Britain-based Elite Ice Hockey League. One of his linemates was the Clan's leading scorer, Ash Goldie, brother of former Aces sniper Wes Goldie.

"I talked to Ash, and Ash told me he can play,'' Murray said.

Two seasons ago, Farmer, who has extensive experience representing Great Britian in international competition, generated 28-27--55 totals in 61 games for the EIHL's Coventry Blaze. He was also named the Young British Player of the Year.

Parker, 23, accumulated 6-21--27 totals in 132 career games at Canisius. Last season, when he put up 3-9--12 totals and a team-best, plus-10 in 41 games, Parker helped the Griffins finish third in Division I in penalty killing at 90.1-percent efficiency.

In all four of his seasons, Parker earned Atlantic Hockey All-Academic honors.

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The Alaska Aces thus far have announced 19 players for the 2013-14 season:

Forwards (10) -- Nick Mazzolini, Evan Trupp, Andy Taranto, Peter Sivak, Jordan Kremyr, Tommy Mele, Spencer Bennett, Eli Zuck, Tim Coffman, Robert Farmer.

Defensemen (7) -- Kane Lafranchise, Sean Curry, B.J. Crum, Dustin Molle, Brad Richard, Matt Ridley, Ben Parker.

Goaltenders (2) -- Gerald Coleman, Mark Guggenberger.