The Alaska Aces soon will see plenty of the Missouri Mavericks – two ECHL exhibition games and three regular-season games in a seven-day span next week – and now they have an erstwhile Maverick in their midst.
Aces coach Rob Murray engineered his sixth trade of the offseason Thursday, acquiring rookie center Liam Stewart from Missouri for undisclosed cash – in the ECHL, that's usually a nominal amount.
Murray said Stewart, 21, received a strong recommendation for former Aces assistant coach and captain Scott Burt. Burt is an assistant coach for the Western Hockey League's Spokane Chiefs, where Stewart played the previous four seasons.
Stewart, a 6-foot-1, 180-pounder, last season earned 25-28—53 totals in 71 games for the Chiefs. The season prior, he went 7-21—28 in 43 games.
"He obviously made a huge jump from two years ago to last year,'' Murray said. "That's how it should work. He had a good progression. Burtie really likes the way he skates, which is good for our (Olympic-sized) ices surface.''
After his WHL career ended last spring, Stewart played two playoff games for ECHL Quad Cities and scored one goal.
The Aces play exhibition games Monday and Tuesday nights against the Mavericks at Sullivan Arena. The teams open the season with a three-game series at Sullivan, Oct. 17-19.
Stewart's arrival will put the Aces' training-camp roster at 25 players – 13 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.
The Aces are likely to have 23 players on their season-opening roster. One of the goalies is Jeff Barney of Anchorage, who is helping out the team during training camp and won't be on the season-opening roster. That means Murray, at this point, would only have to make one cut before the regular season starts.
The Aces still are owed a player from the Fort Wayne Komets to complete an offseason deal in which Murray traded them the rights to rookie defenseman Justin Hamonic.
Burt, reached by cellphone as the Chiefs bused from British Columbia to Portland, Oregon, on Thursday, likened many parts of Stewart's game and demeanor to his own as a player. The three-time Kelly Cup winner, who captained the Aces' 2011 Cup-winning club, four times scored 20 or more goals in the ECHL, and proved an exceptional penalty-killer and shot-blocker.
"What I told Rob is, he's a strong-minded person,'' Burt said. "He's got a ton of speed, and speed kills. He's got a scoring touch. And he takes pride in shutting down a team's top line, and those players don't come around often.
"We played him all the time against other teams' top line.''
Shuffling the deck
The Aces own the ECHL rights to forward Brodie Reid – those came from a trade of defenseman Brad Richard's rights to Elmira – but Reid, according to eliteprospects.com, has signed with Bolzano in Italy's Serie A league.
Like the NHL, overtime in the ECHL this season will feature teams playing three skaters aside, reduced from the previous four skaters aside. Murray said teams in preseason games have the option of playing the five-minute overtime regardless of the score after regulation. He said he's open to that idea and will likely see if Missouri coach Richard Matvichuk feels likewise.
The Mavericks' myriad Alaska connections include assistant coach John-Scott Dickson, who began his pro career with the Aces in 2005-06, playing 19 games for the club.