Steve Summerhays and Tyler Currier are already friends and occasional workout partners.
Now, the two young pros from Anchorage are sharing a hockey homecoming.
The ECHL champion Alaska Aces on Thursday announced they have signed Summerhays, a goaltender who last spring wrapped a notable career at Notre Dame, and Currier, a former UAA forward who spent his rookie campaign last season in the Central Hockey League.
Those signings bring to six the number of players the Aces have revealed for the upcoming season.
The Kelly Cup champions, who have won four straight Brabham Cups as regular-season champs, previously announced the return of defenseman Corey Syvret, and the addition of Las Vegas center Chris Francis, and defenseman Mike Slowikowski and forward Ridge Garbutt, rookies from Division III Utica College.
For Summerhays, who turns 24 in a week, the full-time homecoming is a long time coming. He left Anchorage after his freshman year at Dimond in 2006 to play two seasons of elite youth hockey Outside for Michigan-based Belle Tire. From there, he starred for the U.S. Hockey League's Green Bay Gamblers for two seasons -- he was the circuit's Goaltender of the Year the second season -- and then spent four seasons at Notre Dame, where he owns the school record for career shutouts (13).
Now Summerhays is ready to start his pro career in earnest -- he won both his games for ECHL Fort Wayne last season after his college career closed -- for a club that lost both its goaltenders from last season. Aces veteran Gerald Coleman, who backstopped the club to the last two of its three Kelly Cups, retired after persistent hip ailments. Olivier Roy, who split playoff starts with Coleman last spring until a strained groin shelved him in Game 1 of the Finals, is not expected to return.
"I couldn't have asked for a better spot to end up,'' Summerhays said by cellphone Thursday from South Bend, Indiana. "To have (the goalie position) wide open, at least at this point, I don't think you can ask for a much better spot for a rookie trying to work into the league.''
Aces coach Rob Murray said he has watched ample Notre Dame games on television the last couple seasons and liked Summerhays' ability. After talking to the goalie, Murray said, he was sold.
"I like his dedication, I like his work ethic, I like his demeanor,'' Murray said.
Last season for Notre Dame, Summerhays went 21-14-2, with a 2.04 goals-against average that ranked him sixth in Division I, .923 save percentage and nation-leading seven shutouts, one shy of the single-season school record held by Jordan Pearce of Anchorage.
The Aces last season led the ECHL in team defense by permitting 2.31 goals per game, and they are annually among the league leaders in that category. They also led the league in shots per game and in shots allowed per game, outshooting opponents by an average of more than eight shots per game.
Notre Dame finished fifth in Division I in team defense (2.15 goals per game) and outshot opponents by an average of nearly seven shots per game.
In short, Summerhays is accustomed to going long stretches without facing much rubber. Aces goaltenders frequently have had to get used to that.
"Playing (at Notre Dame) for four years, there were a lot of games where we'd get 35-40 shots to the other team's 18-20,'' Summerhays said. "You could go five, 10 minutes with only one or two shots, then you're expected to make a big save, a game-changer.''
Summerhays said he regularly commuted 75 minutes between South Bend and Fort Wayne last spring, when he got his first taste of pro hockey and also finished his degree in finance. The 6-foot, 190-pounder won both his games for the Komets, posting a 1.92 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. He stopped six of seven shooters in a shootout victory over Toledo.
Summerhays spent part of his summer in Australia playing for Team USA in a five-game exhibition series against Canada. He is currently training at Notre Dame, where he said alumni have ice time and workout facilities available to them.
Currier, 26, spent last season with the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League, earning 4-5—9 totals in 35 regular-season games. The 6-2, 206-pounder is a high-energy player who likes to hit.
"He's willing to bang, play a hard game, win battles,'' Murray said.
Currier said he had the opportunity to sign with the ECHL's expansion Indy Fuel – the team hired former Mavericks coach Scott Hillman as its bench boss – but couldn't turn down his hometown Aces.
"How do you say no to the best team in the league?'' Currier said.
Currier said he played center for the Mavericks. At UAA, he played center and wing, and spent considerable time at defense.
"As long as I'm on the ice, I'm happy,'' Currier said.
Currier said he has spent the summer training and also working full-time in the family business, Currier's Asphalt Maintenance.
He said he's eager to advance up pro hockey's ladder -- the ECHL is one step above the Central Hockey League -- and play in front of friends and family. But he also knows nothing is given, not even to a hometown player.
"The contracts in this league are all one-year contracts, but really they're day-to-day contracts,'' Currier said. "You've got to come with your hard hat every day.''