I lived in Anchorage, Alaska from 2003-2007, which as you may remember were the glory days of being a hockey fan. There was the peak of the trap’s prevalence, there was the ’04-’05 NHL lockout, and there was the time following that where the NHL aired a single game a week on OLN (the Outdoor Life Network…then Versus, now NBC Sports), which I probably caught a couple times a month at most.

Things were bleak.

However, Scott Gomez decided to return to Anchorage for the lockout, and instantly there was on-ice entertainment to be found north of 60.

Gomez was named league MVP despite scoring only 13 times, which was mostly on purpose. Like a good rec league player with class, he made a concerted effort to set up his teammates. The numbers don’t tell the complete story, but he was dominant while barely trying.

I understand why Gomez committed to the multi-league drop: Alaskans, for the most part, are proud to be Alaskans. They all love the summer weeks months, love the outdoors, and seem to have the common bond of having been through hell in temperature reverse, which is the seven-eight months of winter (and that estimate’s the southern portion, Anchorage area). So, it only makes sense to go home and entertain the people who helped you get where you ended up.

Well, Gomez is headed back to practice with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces again (and maybe play down the road), only this time he’s bringing reinforcements.

Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus Blue Jackets…weird), Nate Thompson (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Joey Crabb (Washington Capitals), all Anchorage-ites with NHL experience, are going to join the Aces this year to treat their home crowd to a guaranteed first place team, assuming the NHL lockout persists (as most of us are assuming it will at this point). 

A cursory search shows that zero other NHLers are heading to play for ECHL teams, meaning that the games are going to be grossly lopsided.

This is cool, sentimental, fun and all that, but I do have one concern: that the games will actually be gross. As in, that players could get hurt battling against guys so far out of their league. Gomez worked fine as an ECHL stud because his preference would always be zero contact, and he played that way to the extreme while he was down there.

The other three guys headed to the ECHL this season aren’t exactly afraid of contact.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that playing people above your ability-level in a physical sense can result in injury. It’s not just the physical size of the bigger players that’s scary, it’s their stability, their speed going into hits, their smarts and more.

Joey Crabb isn’t exactly a wrecking ball, but he’s a good size guy that’ll hit NHLers. Dubinsky loves his contact. Thompson thrives on it.

Playing even shinny-level puck against NHLers makes you more aware of every bump and clip. They’re huge, solid dudes. Nate Thompson could kill someone with a solid run, or even catch someone who would easily see him coming in the NHL completely off guard in the neutral zone.

Part of making the best league in hockey is knowing where people are coming from, where they are and where they’re going to be – some guys are stuck in the minors because they’re just not as sharp. These NHL guys are going to have to be hollering “head’s up” at opponents constantly if they intend to play their same physical brand of hockey and would prefer not to put anyone in the hospital.

I really like the story, but I’m going to keep an eye on how things go for the NHLers in the ECHL. The average height and weight there doesn’t compare to that of the NHL. The general awareness is even farther off, and as much as I hope they just cruise through their opponents and have fun, it’s not impossible to foresee a few guys getting hurt.

Comments (14)

  1. Thompson plays for the Lightning now, not the Isles…

  2. Screw the KHL I wish espn aired these games!

  3. Will Gomez go out to prove he can still score?

  4. Gomez did get hurt playing for the aces, broke his pelvis from a cheap shot on him during a game. Crabb plays for the Capitals and Thompson plays for the Lightning

  5. Crabb plays for the Capitals now, not the Maple Leafs…

  6. Is that Wade Redden I spy?

  7. Scott Gomez was on former teammate Jason Strudwick’s radio show a few weeks ago (sounded half-cut) and said playing in Alaska was one of the most fun experiences of his life. He said there were 7 of his best friends he grew up playing with in Alaska on the time and it was something he never would have been able to do if there wasn’t a lockout. Pretty cool.

    Another thing I was wondering was how big is hockey in Alaska? Nobody ever seems to talk about it. Is it the predominant sport? Who do people cheer for? Is it second to Minnesota in its fanaticism?

    • Major in AK!! Red Wings have a huge fan base up here. As far as the Aces, they are a big draw after winning the championship 2 out of the last 6(?) seasons! Former Aces coach went to coach the Blues and that started a following. As far as playing in the rink – Justin can elaborate on what it’s like.

    • Didn’t a scrappy bunch of Alaskan beer leaguers almost take down the vaunted New York Rangers?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mystery,_Alaska

  8. Is it my imagination, or does Gomez have his face shield on upside-down in that photo? That notch is supposed to accommodate a person’s nose, isn’t it? But then the screw holes on the sides shouldn’t match up.

    I am quite puzzled. The play might be less than in the NHL, but they all wear the same stuff, don’t they?

  9. It would be nice if a few more NHL players would come down to the ECHL and play a bit… would definitely help attendance in the ECHL buildings and bring a bit more recognition to those of us in cities where MLB and NFL rule.

  10. Gomez did well last time he was in the ECHL, but he didn’t actually score that many more points than he did at the time in the NHL. He led the league, but by a narrow margin. That was when he was in his prime (the next year in the NHL was the best of his career, as I recall).

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