It’s a tough crowd to win over and impress up here in Anchorage.
First year head coach Brent Thompson came up to the Alaska Aces organization following in the footsteps of the likes of Keith McCaimbridge and Davis Payne.
McCaimbridge, in his two years at the helm, led the Aces to the national Conference semifinals in 2007-08 and then took the team one game away from the Kelly Cup in 2008-09 after the Aces won both the Conference finals. Not to mention the fact that he was the captain of the Aces championship team back in 2006.
He now is an assistant in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose.
Payne, who now is the head coach of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, led the Aces to their first title in the 2005-06 season and three straight appearances in the Conference finals. The ECHL Coach of the Year in 2006-07 got the call-up to the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen where he was an assistant then head coach before getting the call from the big club in St. Louis.
Now back to Thompson, who by no means is a slouch when it comes to coaching or hockey reputation. Along with a 14-year professional playing career that included time in the NHL, he spent four years as an assistant with Peoria working alongside Payne.
However, despite guiding the Aces to a first round playoff appearance after a season that saw them go 36-28-8, loyal Aces fans were already calling for a change of the guard.
Tough place to coach, indeed.
In response, Thompson gutted the roster from last year and has brought on so far an eye-catching 12 rookies fresh out of the junior or college ranks.
And there is still time to pick up more before training camp begins in October. Not to mention the very likely chance that their affiliate clubs, St. Louis and Peoria, will send prospects down to the Aces for development.
So far, only three players have returned from last year, forward captain Scott Burt, forward Curtis Fraser and defenseman Bryan Miller.
However, the Aces hope the addition of two veteran players will help guide a young (but hopefully hungry) team.
The Aces picked up perennial goal scorer Wes Goldie from the rival Victoria Salmon Kings. All Goldie has done is amass 289 goals and 461 total points in 555 total ECHL games. He should be well known by Aces fans as a constant thorn in their side seeing as 175 of those goals came in the last four years with Victoria, some of which came at the agony of the Aces.
Brian Swanson should prove to be a very useful pick up as well for the Aces. The Eagle River native is a well-traveled veteran center who has 70 games of NHL experience and 257 games in the AHL under his belt. The former Colorado College standout has spent the past six seasons overseas in Germany playing in the Elite League there.
With a solid core of veterans and proven pro players, Thompson can now look to take his pick of the young generation coming into Anchorage.
Though many fans will not recognize any of the new faces or names coming in, they can expect one thing: these guys will be working hard around the clock to earn their spot.
Let’s face it; they have to now. It’s their first “play for pay” job and they need to make their names known.