Amid furious roster shuffling throughout North American pro hockey leagues with the end of the NHL lockout, the ECHL's Alaska Aces are navigating through their share of comings and goings.
Defenseman Corey Syvret has been loaned to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League and veteran winger Matt Robinson has left the Aces to rejoin his former club, the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League.
Those departures were balanced by the news that veteran defensemen Steve Ward and Sean Curry will return to the lineup Wednesday night, when the Aces entertain the Ontario Reign in the opener of a three-game set at Sullivan Arena.
The losses of Syvret and Robinson, combined with Alaska's four departed NHLers and last week's loan of defenseman Kane Lafranchise to AHL Oklahoma City, means the Aces have lost seven players inside one week.
Still, the Aces signed forward Alex Hudson in California on Sunday and he played in a 2-1 win at Ontario that afternoon. Also, coach Rob Murray expects two locals who have helped the Aces this season, defenseman Brad Gorham and forward Merit Waldrop, in the lineup Wednesday night. Murray said he expects to dress the ECHL maximum of 16 skaters.
With Ward, the club's captain, and Curry back from injuries, and Gorham, the former Seawolf and current engineer, back in the mix, Murray allowed Syvret to climb one rung on hockey's ladder.
"In certain situations, you can try to reason with an (AHL) team -- 'Hey, can you look elsewhere?' '' Murray said. "But being back home, we've got Ward and Curry coming back, and Gorham's here, so we're not that thin.''
When the Aces had their four NHLers, that gave them seven veterans -- Ward, Curry and Robinson are all vets too. That was a problem because ECHL rules permit teams to dress just four veterans in a game. Robinson was most often the odd-man out -- he played in just 16 of the Aces' 36 games prior to Sunday's tentative NHL labor agreement.
With NHLers Scott Gomez, Brandon Dubinsky, Joey Crabb and Nate Thompson now off the roster, Robinson seemed primed for regular duty.
"It now surprises me he's going to go,'' Murray said. "The timing seems bad.''
But Robinson said his return to Wichita was in the works prior to Sunday's NHL labor breakthrough.
"Obviously, now it looks kind of weird with the lockout over,'' Robinson said. "It was never anything with the guys, or coaching. I just wanted to get back to playing hockey. Just before (last week's) road trip, I kind of made my mind up.
"It was a little weird, but I had already talked to both coaches'' -- Murray and Wichita's Kevin McClelland -- "and decided. You want to play. That's what it comes down to.''
Robinson, who was in his second stint with the Aces, played the two previous seasons in Wichita, where he racked 73 goals in 121 regular-season games. Also, his wife, Samantha, is from Wichita.
Robinson's departure clears salary-cap space for the Aces -- salaries for veterans are generally among the highest on any ECHL club. Also, the Aces don't have a veteran problem any longer. They have two veteran slots open and Murray said he's hunting for candidates.
Ward, in his third season with the Aces, returns to the lineup after missing 33 games with a broken right leg that required surgery. He was injured Oct. 26 blocking a shot against San Francisco.
"I think it's good to go,'' Ward said. "It hasn't been the bone -- that's healed. It's the strength in my ankle, calf and leg -- that's what I've been working on.''
The Aces are coming off a road trip in which they only had five defensemen, one fewer than the usual complement, but went 2-0-1 and surrendered just three goals.
"Hopefully, Curry and I can get back in there and take up some of the load,'' Ward said.
Curry returns after missing four games with an upper-body injury.
Shuffling the deck
Crabb and Dubinsky got in one last skate with the Aces on Tuesday morning before heading off this week to their NHL destinations -- Washington for Crabb, Columbus for Dubinsky.
"Sad, sad day,'' Crabb said. "I didn't want to leave the ice.''
The Aces suspended their four NHLers Tuesday, but that was just paperwork, which prevents another team from claiming them and, thus, their ECHL rights.
"I want those guys to leave the league as Alaska Aces,'' Murray said.
The Florida Everblades of the ECHL on Sunday released NHL defenseman Ryan O'Byrne, who was then claimed off waivers by Reading, which subsequently suspended him.
Winger Jordan Kremyr, who has missed 23 games with an upper-body injury, is back practicing and Murray said he could return to the lineup as early as Friday. Also back practicing is winger Tommy Mele, who has missed 16 games with a thumb injury that required surgery, but he isn't as close to returning as Kremyr.
The Reign have taken some roster hits in the last few days. Both Ontario goaltenders have been summoned to the AHL -- Jean-Francois Berube was reassigned to Manchester by the Los Angeles Kings and Chris Carrozzi was recalled to St. John's by the Winnipeg Jets. Also, defenseman Vincent LoVerde was loaned to Manchester and NHL forward Kyle Clifford is headed back to the Los Angeles Kings.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY