Kane Lafranchise went along for the ride in 2011, when the Alaska Aces cruised to the franchise's second Kelly Cup as ECHL champions, and he received a ring for his role in the journey.
Still, he didn't fully feel like rink royalty. With the Aces loaded on defense, particularly after standout Daryl Boyle returned from the American Hockey League for the second round of the playoffs, Lafranchise as a rookie was relegated to a reserve role and didn't play in any of the Aces' 13 postseason games.
In this spring's playoff run, Lafranchise is the standout defenseman who recently returned to the Aces from the AHL, and he is intent on making a meaningful contribution to a championship.
"This team is obviously really, really good,'' Lafranchise said. "I wanted my chance to be part of it and earn that ring. The first one was great to get, but I didn't feel like I earned it.''
Lafranchise, 25, and in his third full professional season, rejoined the Aces last week in the middle of their second-round playoff series against the Idaho Steelheads. After Alaska's AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat, were eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs on Saturday, May 3, they returned to British Columbia from Michigan the following day. At the airport in Vancouver, Lafranchise said, Heat coach Troy Ward told the blueliner he was booked on a flight to Boise the next day so he would arrive in time for Game 3 of the Aces-Steelheads series.
Sounded good to Lafranchise -- he had unfinished Kelly Cup business.
In three victories in Idaho, Lafranchise, a mobile blueliner with offensive tools who plays in all situations and has been paired with rookie John Ramage, furnished two assists and a plus-3 rating. He wasn't on the ice for any of the Steelheads' five goals in that span.
"He has a lot of poise out there,'' said Louis Mass, the Aces assistant coach in charge of the defense. "It looks easy right now.''
The Aces on Friday night open the best-of-7 Western Conference Finals against the Bakersfield Condors at Sullivan Arena.
After playing 14 games for the Aces early in the season and delivering 3-3--6 totals -- Lafranchise was promoted to Abbotsford in late November and spent the rest of the season with the Heat. He played 34 regular-season games for them, generating 13 assists, and skated in all four of the club's playoff games. His playoff goal against the Grand Rapids Griffins marked his first AHL goal.
While Lafranchise last season played a combined 10 AHL games in his first taste of the league one step below the NHL, this season is the one in which he became an AHL regular. The former UAA defenseman missed about six weeks with a lower-body injury, but after returning to the Heat's lineup at the end of February, he played in 24 of Abbotsford's final 25 games.
"I've kind of taken the long road,'' Lafranchise said. "The term 'late bloomer' might get thrown around. I've never been satisfied, just kept working.
"At the end of the day, I want to be at that (AHL) level and, obviously, get to the NHL.''
In Abbotsford, near Vancouver, Lafranchise was closer to his hometown of Edmonton, so his folks got to see him play. And he got some time to play uncle to a new nephew-- his sister, Jenna, who lives in Edmonton, gave birth to her first child, Jace, in December.
When Lafranchise was told he was returning to the Aces, the only ECHL club he has ever played for, he said he was eager to help out coach Rob Murray and company.
"Louis and Rob have helped me so much, helped me develop,'' Lafranchise said. "I jumped all over the opportunity to come back. I love it here.''
Previously with the Aces, as when he played for UAA, Lafranchise wore No. 4. When he rejoined the Aces, defenseman Drew MacKenzie was wearing that number. And that was cool with Lafranchise, who took No. 6.
"I've always had No. 4, it's my lucky number,'' Lafrachise said. "But it's just a number. D-Mac's had it all season and he deserved to have it. When you've been gone so long, the last thing you want to do is disrupt the chemistry.
"Besides, when you win a championship, no one asks what number you wore.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY