In Alaska Aces training camp a year ago, defenseman Dustin Molle of Anchorage figured to be a bubble guy -- he might make the hockey club, he might not.
Molle not only made the grade, he made his mark. He proved reliable on the blue line and capable of playing wing when the Aces needed someone to fill in up front, and he always had his teammates' backs.
Molle, 27, played 55 games, furnished five assists, accumulated 141 penalty minutes and led the team with 17 fighting majors. His plus-9 rating ranked fifth on the team.
Friday, the Aces announced they have signed the former UAA and UAF defenseman for the upcoming season. Alaska also announced the return of winger Spencer Bennett, who they acquired last season from the Orlando Solar Bears.
The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Molle, the sixth defenseman the club has either announced as signed or coming to camp on a tryout, is entering his fourth season as a pro. Aces coach Rob Murray described him as a consummate teammate.
"He's going to do anything and everything to be in the lineup,'' Murray said. "If it takes fighting, if it takes playing forward instead of 'D'. Any defenseman doesn't want to play forward, but like I told him, that's an asset to have.
"I'll never ask a guy to go out and fight. But he did a great job of it last season, took on a lot of big guys and did well. It's in his toolbox, and you can't discount that. It's valuable.''
Molle, reached Friday in Kasilof, where he has been commercial fishing, said he's eager for another campaign with the Aces, who he helped win an unprecedented third straight Brabham Cup as ECHL regular-season champions.
"It was a lot of fun last season,'' Molle said. "We had a really good team with a lot of really good guys. It was a blast, a lot of fun to come to work every day.''
Bennett, 22, is entering his third pro season. Between a lengthy absence due to injury as a rookie and being a victim of the numbers game in Orlando, he still has only played 40 regular-season pro games. In 22 games for the Aces after they acquired him in exchange for goaltender James Reid, Bennett racked 8-6--14 totals and a plus-8 rating. Those eight goals in what amounts to nearly one-third of a 72-game ECHL season project Bennett, who is 6-3 and 185, as a 26-goal scorer -- he scored 37 goals and 70 points in 72 games his last season in the Western Hockey League.
"He's a kid who probably needs to work on his consistency,'' Murray said. "But he's a big body, he skates decently and he really has a good shot. He probably needs to be more physical because he is big.
"This becomes his opportunity to showcase his abilities.''
First, Murray said, Bennett will attend training camp with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.
The Aces have now announced signing 14 players to either a standard ECHL contract or a tryout deal. The breakdown: Seven forwards, six defensemen and one goaltender.
Dustin Molle said his younger brother, Bryant, 26, who won an ECHL Kelly Cup with the Reading Royals last season and has re-signed with that club, will attend training camp with the AHL's Hershey Bears.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
By DOYLE WOODY