For most of the past three months, Sean Curry's work days consisted of doing things that prepared him to, well, actually do his job -- playing hockey shifts at night -- for real.
Three times a week, the veteran defenseman spent two and a half hours doing rehabilitation exercises to aid his comeback from a serious groin injury suffered Oct. 18 in the Alaska Aces' second game of the season. He ran in a pool. He did strengthening exercises with bands. He iced. He endured the cold tub. Maybe six weeks ago, he began light skating.
When Curry's teammates played home games at Sullivan Arena, he watched from a table where injured players and healthy scratches sit. When the team played on the road, he followed the games online.
For 35 consecutive games, Curry was a spectator. And like pretty much all hockey players, he despised it.
"I was miserable sometimes,'' he said after practice Tuesday morning at Sullivan Arena. "You have to stay positive, have some hobbies, keep busy.''
Last Saturday, Curry finally returned to the lineup, scoring a short-handed goal that became the game-winning strike, firing three shots on goal and going plus-1 in a 4-1 ECHL win at Colorado.
Just as importantly, he felt good, strong and healthy during the game, and felt relatively good the next morning.
"Lower-body was fine,'' Curry said. "My shoulders were sore, from the hitting. It was like being training-camp sore.''
Curry's return proved timely because the Aces have been thin on the blue line throughout their first 38 games. Curry was injured while pivoting away from a fore-checker in the first period of the second game of the season. Zach Davies, who has been back in the lineup for 10 games, missed 24 games with a broken wrist that required surgery. Corey Syvret has missed 25 games and remains out with a lower-body injury. James Martin missed the last game with a lower-body injury and is shelved. And Kane Lafranchise was promoted to Abbotsford of the American Hockey League two months ago, and remains there, but with a banged-up knee that has him sidelined.
In Curry, the Aces regain a big, physical player (6-foot-5, 227 pounds) with nearly 700 games of pro experience. He kills penalties and owns a hard shot.
Aces coach Rob Murray, obviously, is pleased to have back a player he knows well and trusts. Curry played for the Aces last season, and earlier in his career played for AHL Providence when Murray was an assistant coach there.
"Sean looked really good,'' Murray said. "He had a shift or two early with a couple of big hits, he moved the puck well. He kept his shifts short and didn't get in trouble.
"He gained his confidence right off the hop, and then got that short-handed goal. I don't know if it could have gone any better.''
Curry said he felt prepared to play at game speed after all his rehab and demanding post-practice conditioning sessions with assistant coach Louis Mass. After going three months without playing a game, he said he was a touch anxious -- "a good nervous, excited.''
In the first game back, Curry said, his goal was to play within himself.
"I just wanted to keep it simple -- short shifts, 25-30 seconds,'' Curry said. "Playing with Zach Davies helped too.''
Shuffling the deck
Aces winger and alternate captain Jordan Kremyr returned Monday night from a six-game stint with Abbotsford in his first AHL action. Kremyr is from Cloverdale, British Columbia, about 30 minutes from Abbotsford, so friends and family got to see him play in the town where he played junior B hockey as a 17-year-old.
Kremyr said he played a fourth-line role for the Heat. He didn't have any points, but earned an even rating and had seven shots on goal.
"Get pucks out, get pucks in, get some hits,'' he said.
The promotion to the AHL came after two and a half seasons with the Aces.
"There were points I wondered if it would ever happen,'' Kremyr said. "I just kept my nose down and kept working, and it paid off.''
Murray said Zach McKelvie, assigned to the Aces by Abbotsford, will make his Alaska debut at defense Wednesday night against visiting Idaho. McKelvie's brother, Ryan, was an assistant coach at UAA for the 2010-11 season before becoming head coach at Division III Lake Forest College in Illinois, where he is in his third season behind the bench.
The Aces on Monday released defenseman Brad Gorham of Anchorage, an engineer and former UAA skater who has helped them out in each of the last two seasons when they were short on the blue line. Gorham has played 12 games for the Aces this season and played a combined 18 regular-season and playoff games for them last season.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
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By DOYLE WOODY