The Alaska Aces have retained a linchpin from their run to the ECHL's Kelly Cup by re-signing veteran winger Brendan Connolly, who will be entering his sixth professional season as a pain in the ass to opponents.
Connolly, 28, furnishes a unique combination: He is a proven goal scorer – four straight seasons of 20 or more goals – who doubles as a 5-foot-8, 185-pound package of sandpaper. He's a regular in post-whistle scrums, eager trader of chirps and frequent visitor to penalty boxes league-wide – basically, the template of a player his team loves and opponents loathe.
Aces coach Rob Murray said he's thrilled to keep a first-line winger who was an alternate captain last season. Connolly's 22-27—49 totals in 51 regular-season games placed him 10th on the circuit in goals per game (.431) among players with 20 or more goals. He added 3-16—19 totals in 19 playoff games. In 70 games combined, Connolly racked 145 penalty minutes.
Connolly's propensity for both points and penalty minutes is a trade-off Murray, the former NHLer who was no soft touch in his playing days, can embrace.
"His feistiness and the way he plays the game, he should be a fan favorite,'' Murray said. "It's just competitive edge. I can't fault him for it -- it's his passion and compete-level that drives him over the edge now and then.
"In saying that, I can't say there was one time last season it cost us a game. He's getting under other team's skin on a nightly basis. It's nice to have him to build around.''
Connolly led the Aces in power-play goals (eight) and added one short-handed goal. He played in all situations.
The Aces on Thursday also announced the return of center Tim Coffman, who started strongly last season before he was shelved for one-third of the season with a broken foot. Alaska released Coffman late in the season when it had a glut of forwards and needed to jettison bodies.
With the returns of Connolly and Coffman, the Aces have announced the signings of eight players for the upcoming season. Three of those players, including defenseman Corey Syvret, are returners and five are newcomers.
Based on Alaska's announced signings, a couple of retirements and many players from last season's club who have signed elsewhere, the Aces' lineup will be significantly altered in the upcoming season.
Connolly last season also earned a call-up to the American Hockey League, furnishing Abbotsford one goal and one assist in six games.
Alaska acquired Connolly in the 2013 offseason from Greenville in exchange for the rights to J.M. Rizk, who went 2-4—6 in 23 games for the Road Warriors last season.
"I'd say we won that trade,'' Murray said.
Coffman, 26, was the ECHL's Rookie of the Month for October last season after producing 4-3—7 totals in five games. He ended up with 9-13—22 totals in 35 games.
Murray said he didn't think Coffman's conditioning was strong when the center arrived at training camp last season. He said Coffman told him he will be more prepared this fall.
The Aces released Coffman late in the regular season to accommodate the ECHL's roster limit. Ironically, it was Connolly's return from the AHL that forced the Aces to make that move.
"We didn't get rid of him because we didn't like him,'' Murray said. "We just had to make some tough decisions at the end of the season and he took the fall for that.''
Shuffling the deck
Aces winger Evan Trupp of Anchorage, who last season earned his first call-up to the American Hockey League and an AHL deal with then-Calgary affiliate Abbotsford, has signed with the AHL's Worcester Sharks.
Trupp in 51 regular-season games for the Aces last season earned 17-33—50 totals. He delivered 6-8—14 totals in 21 playoff games as the Aces rolled to the Kelly Cup.
Murray said his trade of winger Brett Findlay's rights to Orlando in exchange for future considerations was part of a gentleman's agreement he made with Findlay's agent when he signed Findlay as a free agent midway through last season.
Murray said he agreed, when he signed Findlay after the San Francisco Bulls folded, that he would not put Findlay on Alaska's protected list at season's end. Findlay enjoyed his Aces experience and decided he would prefer to be on the protected list unless he received a better offer, Murray said.
When Findlay signed an AHL deal with the Toronto Marlies, Murray shipped his rights to Orlando, the Marlies' affiliate.
So, basically, the Aces will get a player in return for Findlay, a decent deal result considering they wouldn't have received anything out of Findlay's departure had he not been protected.
"He was superb for us from the time he got here until the end,'' Murray said. "We won the championship and guys should get a shot at the next level.
"We promised to help him out if he got a better (AHL) deal, so we did.''