Granted ample opportunity for the first time in his career, Troy Redmann late last hockey season offered evidence he can shoulder the load as a No. 1 goaltender.
After shoulder surgery derailed his first full season as a pro before it started, Anchorage's Steven Summerhays is ready, well, to shoulder the load.
So, it's game-on in the upcoming battle to be the Alaska Aces' principal goalie.
The ECHL club Tuesday revealed its first two signings of the season, announcing agreements with Redmann, 29, and Summerhays, 24. All ECHL contracts are one-year deals.
That the Aces made two masked men their first announced signings was not coincidence, but rather a signal to their fan-base that they believe they have strongly addressed last season's principal shortcoming. Alaska, the 2013 Kelly Cup champion and three-time Cup winning franchise, could not overcome the worst start to a season in franchise history and did not make the playoffs for the first time in its 12 ECHL seasons.
"There's no mystery we struggled out of the gate last year because of our goaltending,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray.
Redmann, of Brea, California, largely solved that deficiency after he was acquired off waivers from Colorado in the second half of the season, not long after he backstopped the Eagles to a 5-1 victory over the Aces.
Although Redmann twice had led Team USA to world championships in roller hockey, his professional ice hockey resume was light – six games total, all as a stop-gap for clubs in dire need of short-term help.
Redmann can be unorthodox – he's a scrambling goaltender who plays a hybrid style that mixes stand-up and butterfly techniques. He produced well. Redmann for the Aces went 11-5-3 with a 2.78 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and one shutout. Those were the best combined numbers of any of the five goalies the Aces (35-30-7) employed across a 72-game season.
"He proved to me he's a No. 1 goalie in this league,'' Murray said.
Murray said he expects improved conditioning Redmann promised heading into the offseason will sharpen the goalie.
Summerhays, meanwhile, by season's start will not have played a hockey game in 18 months, since he backstopped the ECHL's Fort Wayne Komets to victory shortly after wrapping a terrific career at Notre Dame.
The Aces signed Summerhays last summer, but he injured his left (glove-side) shoulder making a lunging glove save while playing in a shinny game in Anchorage that summer. Summerhays said he was diagnosed with unusual rotator cuff damage and underwent surgery last September. That left him idle for 12 weeks – no exercise permitted – before he underwent extensive physical therapy. And that's for a guy who said he previously never missed more than about a week because of injury in his career.
Summerhays, currently training at Notre Dame, where ice time and workout facilities are available to former players, in a phone interview said he is healthy and eager for Aces training camp, set for early October.
"That's what got me through the rehab, and training, and skating five days a week – every day, all I think about is playing again,'' he said. "It's so close, after a long journey.''
As a senior at Notre Dame in 2013-14, Summerhays went 21-14-2 with a 2.04 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and a nation-leading seven shutouts. His 13 career shutouts are a Notre Dame record. Prior to attending Notre Dame, Summerhays was the U.S. Hockey League's Goaltender of the Year in 2010, backstopping the Green Bay Gamblers to a championship.
Murray said he's confident Summerhays can regain his college form.
"He's going to be a guy we'll bank on, we'll lean on,'' Murray said.
Expect the Aces, per tradition, to announce signings weekly throughout the remainder of the offseason.
Alaska has home exhibition games scheduled Oct. 12-13 against the Missouri Mavericks before entertaining the Mavericks in a three-game series to open the regular season, Oct. 16-18.