Who says you can’t go home? Certainly not Scott Gomez or Brandon Dubinsky. The Anchorage natives are both suiting up with their hometown ECHL team, the Alaska Aces, during the NHL lockout.
Dubinsky currently leads the Aces in both goals, eight, and points, with twelve, in twelve games played. The 26-year-old Blue Jackets forward was recently named ECHL Player of the Week after netting seven points – including a hat trick – in three games against the San Francisco Bulls. While a player of his caliber should have no problem dominating the league, he has cooled off slightly since his scalding-hot weekend against the Bulls. Dubinsky posted only five points in the five games since then, maintaining his point-per-game pace but allowing a slew of players to pass him in the ECHL scoring race. Dubinsky’s scoring chances may be further hampered by injury. He left the ice during a game with Las Vegas with an apparent hand injury; no further details were available.
This is Dubinsky’s first go-round in the ECHL; during the last lockout, the then-18-year-old was still with Portland of the Western Hockey League. Gomez, on the other hand, has been to this rodeo before.
During the 2004-05 lockout, Gomez led the Aces in scoring, with 13 goals and 73 assists for 86 points in 61 games, earning him recognition as the league’s Most Valuable Player. His 73 helpers and 86 points were best in the league, and there’s no doubt he was instrumental in helping linemate Chris Minard dominate the league in goal scoring with 49. The team made it as far as the ECHL Semi-Finals, losing out to the eventual Kelly Cup Champion Trenton Titans in seven games.
While Gomez skated with the Aces during this season’s training camp, he was not on the active roster. He’s expected to make his debut at home on November 14 against the high-scoring Colorado Eagles. With Dubinsky out, Alaska can certainly use him on the ice. Gomez joins a roster already stacked – relatively speaking – with NHL talent. Fellow Alaska natives Nate Thompson of the Lightning and Joey Crabb, now with the Capitals, are also in the Aces’ lineup. Only four other NHLers are currently playing in the ECHL. The San Francisco Bulls boast Edmonton’s Theo Peckham and San Jose’s Ryan Clowe while the Wild’s Devin Setogutchi and unrestricted free agent defenseman Paul Mara are playing for the Ontario Reign.
One catch with the return of their native son Gomez, though, is that the Aces will have to make room for him. According to Doyle Woody of the Anchorage Daily News, ECHL teams are limited to playing four veterans per game; any player with over 260 professional games is considered a veteran. Gomez would be the seventh veteran player on the Aces’ roster, along with Dubinsky, Thompson, Crabb, winger Matt Robinson, defenseman Sean Curry, and injured captain Steve Ward. This all but assures Robinson and Curry a pair of nice warm seats in the pressbox for the duration of the NHL lockout once Dubinsky returns. It also means that any other Alaska natives looking to make a comeback with the Aces – I’m looking at you, Matt Carle and Ty Conklin – will have to battle their fellow NHLers for ice time.
Both Gomez and Dubinsky come into this offseason with something to prove. Dubinsky’s coming off his lowest-scoring professional season, with only ten goals and 34 points. He was acquired by Columbus in the offseason as part of the return for Rick Nash and will obviously look to prove that he can step up and be a true top-line player with the Blue Jackets. Gomez brings a career total of 169 NHL goals to Alaska, but only scored nine in the past two seasons. His last ECHL appearance in 2004 was followed up by an NHL season in which he set career highs in goals (33) and points (84). Perhaps some time with the Aces is exactly the kind of confidence-boosting game action to help both Dubinsky and Gomez get their careers back on track.
Hopefully, both Dubinsky and Gomez can find their game north of the 60th parallel. It’ll be good news for Blue Jackets fans and Habs fans… eventually.
Right now, though, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the Alaska Aces.