Aces rookie Elson low on maintenance, high on performance

Doyle Woody
Bill Roth

Work as a third-line checking winger -- that's cool with Turner Elson.

So was his move in the previous playoff round to the Alaska Aces' second line after his coach changed the lineup.

Ditto for Elson's subsequent promotion to the top line, a switch prompted by a teammate's injury. Of course, it's not as if playing on Nick Mazzolini's wing is a burden, giving the captain's station as the leading postseason scorer in the ECHL playoffs. There's pressure to perform playing with Mazzolini, sure, but Elson figures, hey, bring it on.

His motto: Whatever it takes, happy to be here, hope to help.

The 21-year-old rookie is working under an NHL contract with the Calgary Flames yet doesn't give off a hint of entitlement in the ECHL, two rungs below the world's best league.

"It doesn't matter to me what line I play on, as long as we win,'' Elson said.

As the Aces prepare to open the best-of-7 Kelly Cup Finals against the Cincinnati Cyclones with Friday night's Game 1 at Sullivan Arena, Elson is simply psyched to get a shot at a ring.

Elson, who of late has continued to effectively use his speed and to bang bodies while also furnishing a goal in each of Alaska's last four games, has proved poised and low-maintenance.

"He seems wiser than his years, I suppose, more professional than your average rookie,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray, the former NHL center.

Elson, as they say, plays a little bigger than his 5 feet, 11 inches and 190 or so pounds. That's carry-over from his teenage years. When he debuted at 17 for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, Elson said, he was just 5-9 and 130, but he understood a delicate game wouldn't cut it.

The team owner was -- and remains -- former NHLer Brent Sutter, one of the six Sutter brothers to play in the NHL. Those men are not known for subtleness.

"I knew he wanted hard work, guys who are physical and who aren't scared -- guys who play like he played in the NHL,'' Elson said.

It probably didn't hurt that Elson is the fourth oldest among five boys in his family.

In Elson's first WHL game, against the Kootenay Ice in 2009, he scored one goal, assisted on two others, fought twice -- and wondered what in the world he had gotten himself into.

"I thought, 'This is crazy -- I feel like these guys are animals,' '' he recalled.

In 119 regular-season games over the final two seasons of his four-year career with the Rebels, Elson generated 46 goals and 103 points. He also caught the attention of the Flames, who signed him as an undrafted free agent.

Elson began this season with the Abbotsford Heat, Calgary's farm team in the American Hockey League and the Aces' affiliate. He was in and out of the lineup with the Heat, earning 2-1--3 totals in 37 games on a checking line.

When Abbotsford first assigned Elson to the Aces, in early February, he said he saw the move as an opportunity to get more ice time and develop his skills. Elson said he always tries to anticipate worse-case scenarios so he's prepared for bad times as well as good.

"I knew it was going to happen in my first year, and that I needed to be playing,'' he said.

In 18 regular-season games for the Aces, Elson generated 5-10--15 totals and a plus-10 rating, and he owns 4-3--7 totals and a plus-7 rating in 15 playoff games. Plus, he's given Murray options -- Elson can play on any line and fit in.

"He's very versatile that way,'' Murray said. "He's multi-faceted. He has the skill set to be anywhere up and down the lineup, and given the opportunity, he's taken advantage of it.''

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog

ECHL Kelly Cup Finals

Cincinnati Cyclones vs. Alaska Aces

Best of 7

Game 1 - Friday, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.

Radio - Live, AM-550 and FM 103.7 KFQD

 


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com