Former Bulls Findlay and Morrison weren't unemployed long -- they quickly became Alaska Aces

Doyle Woody

When the ECHL's San Francisco Bulls folded on Monday, Jan. 27, putting Jordan Morrison and Brett Findlay out of work, the linemates and teammates -- former teammates at that point, we suppose -- did not lack for suitors.

Morrison, a 27-year-old veteran center, estimates he talked to a dozen hockey teams, mostly in the ECHL, but also in Europe, and he debated heading overseas to "make a quick buck for a couple months."

Findlay, a 21-year-old rookie winger, figures he talked to the same number of clubs, mostly in the ECHL and some in the Central Hockey League.

"Basically, within an hour of ceasing operations, guys were fielding a dozen calls,'' Morrison said.

Both called the experience "overwhelming.''

Inside a week, though, both players landed in Anchorage. They signed with the Alaska Aces, a perennial power on the minor-league circuit, winners of two Kelly Cups and winners of an unprecedented three straight Brabham Cups as regular-season champions entering this season. They had played against the Aces at Sullivan Arena, and those experiences left an impression.

"You see what hockey means to this city,'' Findlay said. "You see how this team has depth, and is good and has a chance to win a championship.''

"I've played in this (Western Conference) for a few years, and I've seen what they've done in the last decade,'' Morrison said.

Morrison and Findlay are among at least 14 former Bulls who within a week or so of the Bulls' demise landed new gigs. Most of those players were under ECHL contracts, so they immediately became free agents, and nearly all are now with ECHL teams. Some were under contracts at a higher level and were assigned to ECHL clubs.

Prior to San Francisco folding, the Bulls had more than a week empty on the schedule following a 3-2 shootout win Jan. 19 at Stockton. Morrison and Findlay said players were told they wouldn't be practicing while the club tried to quickly find new ownership. For months, rumors had circulated that the franchise was in trouble.

"We didn't want the team to fold,'' Morrison said. "We tried to wait it out.''

On that fateful Monday, the players were told in a team meeting that the Bulls were history. Management held individual meetings with players, Findlay and Morrison said, and the players were told that teams interested in them would be calling pronto. Aces coach Rob Murray was soon in touch with both players.

Hockey players working far away from home -- Findlay is from Echo Bay, Ontario, and Morrison from Uxbridge, Ontario -- usually aren't pack-rats. So gathering up their things -- "A hockey bag, clothes, a computer and not much else,'' Morrison said -- and catching a flight didn't take long.

Findlay debuted for the Aces in last Friday's 3-2 shootout win over Idaho. Morrison debuted Saturday in a 4-2 loss to the Steelheads.

"It's like being traded, I guess,'' Findlay said. "The only difference is you'll never play that team you were on.''

Next up for Findlay, Morrison and the Aces are five consecutive games against the Stockton Thunder, and the newcomers find irony in that scheduling. As Bulls, Findlay and Morrison played five consecutive games against the Thunder just after Christmas.

"I think we play them 25 times this season,'' Findlay said.

Shuffling the deck

The Abbotsford Heat, the Aces' affiliate in the American Hockey League, on Monday returned winger Evan Trupp of Anchorage to his hometown team, which should lend the Aces an offensive boost.

Trupp was second among Aces scorers when he received his first promotion to the AHL, going 10-20--30 in 33 games with the Aces. He earned 1-3--4 and plus-3 totals in seven games with the Heat.

Abbotsford also assigned rookie winger Turner Elson to the Aces. He had two goals in 30 games for the Heat after racking 26-31--57 totals and a plus-26 rating last season in his final major junior campaign for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League.

"I hope he's excited to come here,'' Murray said of Elson. "Nobody wants to be sent down, but at the end of the day, you want to play. You don't want to be in the stands.''

Injuries have already caused Aces players to miss a combined 191 games this season, and there's another man down -- rookie center Eli Zuck of Anchorage is out with an upper-body injury. Zuck early in the first period last Saturday shared a wicked chest-to-chest collision with Idaho winger Andrew Conboy. Neither player appeared to see the other and they slammed together violently in the neutral zone.

The Aces already are without injured defensemen Corey Syvret and James Martin, and defenseman Ben Parker missed the team's last game with an upper-body injury, but practiced Tuesday. Also out with injuries are forwards David Eddy, Andy Taranto and Tim Coffman.

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