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Aces will hit the road with a bolstered blue line

Doyle Woody

And now for something completely different -- the Alaska Aces actually have more healthy defensemen than injured defensemen.

Coach Rob Murray said he planned to travel with seven blueliners when the ECHL hockey club departed town Friday on a five-game road trip that opens Saturday night against the Stockton Thunder.

The Aces on Thursday activated defensemen Kane Lafranchise, Sean Curry and Corey Syvret in preparation for the trip, which includes two weekend games in Stockton and three games next week in Las Vegas.

Alaska has been battered on the blue line this season, which is only seven games old and has 65 regular-season games remaining. Captain Steve Ward is out long-term with a broken leg that required surgery and the Aces on Thursday placed Dustin Molle (lower-body injury) on the 21-day injured reserve, where he joined blueliner Todd Orlando (lower-body injury).

Still, Lafranchise is back after missing the last four games after absorbing a hit to the head in a game. Curry, yet to play this season because of a groin injury suffered in training camp, is expected to make his Aces debut Saturday. And Syvret, who has missed three games with a broken finger, could probably play in Stockton if necessary, Murray said, but will likely be held out of the lineup until the team hits Las Vegas.

But seven defensemen are more than the Aces have enjoyed lately. They racked a three-game sweep of visiting San Francisco last weekend by using five healthy regular defensemen and Brad Gorham of Anchorage, the former UAA blueliner who is an engineer for BP. Even then, they made due for the second half of Sunday's series finale with five defensemen after Molle was injured.

While Murray recalled the Aces were down to four defensemen for a series last season and those guys flourished under a heavy workload, he's eager to have depth, and options.

"Obviously, on paper, everything looks great and, believe me, I'm thrilled to have these guys back,'' Murray said. "Let's put it this way -- we're a healthier D corps right now and, hopefully, that translates in continuing to win games.''

Curry, a veteran who played for Murray in the American Hockey League, called his injury "annoying'' and said he is ready to roll.

"It feels alright,'' Curry said. "Looking forward to getting back with the boys. It'll take a few games to get my wind, and get my legs under me, so I'll keep it simple.''

Lafranchise, injured Oct. 19 when Utah's Riley Armstrong delivered a head-shot that earned him a three-game suspension from the league, has been back skating since Saturday.

"Since then, no headaches,'' Lafranchise said. "Just skating every day and getting back at it. I feel good.''

Shuffling the deck

Murray said a new back-up goaltender he wouldn't identify will meet the team in Stockton.

The Aces need a back-up for Mark Guggenberger because goalie James Reid is on the 21-day injured reserve and Gerald Coleman continues to rehab after off-season hip surgery.

In other moves Thursday, the Aces placed veteran winger Matt Robinson and center Bobby Hughes (lower-body injury) on the reserve list.

Hughes suffered an injury in Friday's 4-1 Aces win and sat out the wins Saturday and Sunday.

In all, nine Aces players have already missed a combined 41 games due to injury. That total includes Coleman, who is not technically on the roster yet.

With all the injuries, and with goalie Micah Perletti helping at practice this week before he was released from his amateur tryout agreement after Thursday's practice, the Aces at one point this week had 27 players around.

Assistant coach Louis Mass is making the road trip.

The Aces catch Stockton when the Thunder are in the midst of three games in three days. Prior to playing the Aces on Saturday and Sunday, the Thunder on Friday night entertain the Bakersfield Condors.

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com