Until Tuesday night, injuries had not proved a significant issue for the Alaska Aces this hockey season – compared to recent seasons, they were largely a healthy hockey crew.
But winger Bryan Cameron sat out Tuesday's 3-2 loss in Bakersfield with an upper-body injury, leading scorer Brendan Connolly left the match with an upper-body injury early in the first period and goaltender Troy Redmann left after one period – you guessed it, upper-body injury. All three are optimistically listed as day-to-day.
Combined with myriad erstwhile Aces who have been summoned to the American Hockey League in recent weeks, Alaska enters a pivotal three-game home series against the Utah Grizzlies beginning Friday with a threadbare lineup.
Coach Rob Murray on Thursday had just 15 skaters available to him. That's one shy of the maximum a team can dress for a game.
Put another way, seven of the team's top 10 performers in points per game – that's counting players who have skated in at least a dozen games – are either in the AHL, injured, or both. And that's not counting defenseman Corey Syvret, a first-pairing blueliner who has been out 13 games with a lower-body injury.
The timing is not terrific.
The Aces trailed Utah by two points for the last playoff position available in the ECHL's Pacific Division, though they have two games in hand on the Grizzlies. But the Aces also face a formidable schedule in their final 24 regular-season games – 15 of those games are on the road.
Alaska in its previous 11 ECHL seasons has never failed to qualify for the playoffs, and only once has it been eliminated in the first round. The Aces have advanced at least as far as the conference finals in seven of those seasons and captured three Kelly Cups.
Murray this weekend is counting on the Aces to duplicate the kind of game they generally played on a 2-1-1 road trip to California.
"Play a simple game, wait for opportunity to come to us and, hopefully, we cash in,'' Murray said.
Through 48 games, unofficially, 10 different Aces have missed a total of 98 games to injury. That puts Aces players on a pace to miss 142 games this season. Yet that would mark significant improvement over the previous six seasons, when the Aces averaged 266 games missed per season because of injuries.
With Redmann out, the goaltending mantle falls to Aaron Crandall. Murray said the Aces will use Jeff Barney as an emergency back-up goaltender (EBUG) – an EBUG can only be used in a game if the starter suffers an injury.
Shuffling the deck
The Aces will induct the inaugural class of the club's Hall of Fame between the first and second periods of Friday's and Saturday's games.
Centers Keith Street and Dean Larson, who skated for the Anchorage Aces, the predecessor to the Aces, and public address announcer Bob Lester will be honored Friday.
Former Aces center Kimbi Daniels, former winger Mike Scott and fan Bobby Hill will be honored Saturday.
The Aces will wear specialty throw-back sweaters that also are a nod to the Anchorage Centennial.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing