Already teeming with talent at defense, the Alaska Aces bolstered their blue line Tuesday with the return of rookie Zach Davies from the American Hockey League.
The Abbotsford Heat, Alaska's affiliate, loaned Davies back to the Aces in advance of Thursday's opener against the Idaho Steelheads in a best-of-7, ECHL Western Conference semifinal series. Davies in 31 regular-season games for the Aces delivered 7-10--17 totals and a plus-7 rating, and he provided Abbotsford with three goals in 14 regular-season games.
With All-Rookie defenseman Brad Richard out indefinitely with a lower-body injury, Davies' return gives the Aces seven defensemen -- teams customarily dress six -- and furnishes coach Rob Murray with options.
Murray could stick Davies into the lineup and remove a defenseman. Davies, who can play in all situations, would also give Murray another piece on the power play, which torched Las Vegas for a 35.7 percent conversion rate in an opening-round sweep.
Murray could move physical defenseman Zach McKelvie, who played wing at Abbotsford this season, to a forward position to provide more grit up front. McKelvie then would be available to swing back to defense if a blueliner was in the penalty box or suffered an injury during a game.
The coach's decision likely will be influenced by the status of winger Turner Elson, who sat out practice Tuesday to receive treatment for a lower-body injury suffered in Game 4 at Las Vegas. Murray said Elson is expected to practice Wednesday, which should give Murray an indication whether Elson is healthy enough to play Thursday. In Tuesday's practice, rookie Andy Taranto skated in Elson's place at right wing on center Tyler Mosienko's line.
"There's a few different scenarios,'' Murray said. "Realistically, it's a tough coaching decision (on defense). The guys we've played have played well. Whatever decision I make, I hope everyone's on board with it.''
Davies did not play in Abbotsford's two playoff losses to Grand Rapids -- the Heat face elimination in their best-of-5, Calder Cup series in Wednesday night's Game 3 in Michigan -- and said he was excited to return north.
"I played most of the season for this team, so I'm pretty invested in the outcome,'' Davies said.
The Aces still could get one more player from Abbotsford -- long-time Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise is on Alaska's playoff roster.
Aces captain Nick Mazzolini said Davies' return gives a confident team another boost.
"We've very skilled right now and getting Davies back only gives us more depth,'' Mazzolini said. "I think we're in a good spot. Our goalies feel good, and when your goalies feel good, your D feel good. And when your defensemen feel good, the forwards feel good.''
The Steelheads, who are scheduled to arrive in Anchorage on Wednesday, are coming off the longest game in the ECHL's 26-season history. Idaho eliminated the Colorado Eagles in Game 6 Monday night, 3-2, when David de Kastrozza scored deep into the fourth overtime in Boise to end the game after 137 minutes, 18 seconds, the equivalent of more than two regulation games.
Tweeted Idaho defenseman Charlie Dodero: "Need a new set of legs.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
ECHL Kelly Cup Western Conference Semifinals
Best of 7
Alaska Aces vs. Idaho Steelheads
Game 1 -- Thursday, Steelheads at Aces, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.
Game 2 -- Friday, Steelheads at Aces, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.
Game 3 -- Monday, Aces at Steelheads, CenturyLink Arena, 5:10 p.m.
Game 4 -- Wednesday, May 7, Aces at Steelheads, CenturyLink Arena, 5:10 p.m.
Game 5 -- Thursday, May 8, Aces at Steelheads, CenturyLink Arena, 5:10 p.m.*
Game 6 -- Saturday, May 10, Steelheads at Aces, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.*
Game 7 -- Sunday, May 11, Steelheads at Aces, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.*
* If necessary
By DOYLE WOODY