“Black Aces”, Assemble!

The Bridgeport Sound Tigers, as expected, were swept by the Toronto Marlies in the first round of the AHL Playoffs. The Sound Tigers’ loss is now the Islanders’ gain as the team recalled six players, forming this year’s “Black Aces”.


The Origins

Why the name? It goes back to the Old West, when Wild Bill Hickok was shot while playing poker. His hand? Two eights, the jack of diamonds, and the black aces. That hand would famously be known as the “Dead Man’s Hand”. If you are holding this hand, you have run out of luck.

So what does this have to do with hockey? Hockey Hall of Famer Eddie Shore bought the Springfield Indians of the AHL following his playing career with the Boston Bruins. He started to call the players who were working their way back into the lineup, his “Black Aces”; the players that were coming off injuries or working their way out of the dog house. They had run out of luck as far as Shore was concerned.  Perhaps one of Shore’s most famous “Black Aces” was Don Cherry, who recalls his time with Shore:

“Anyone who crossed Shore became a ‘Black Ace,’ one of the many extras he kept on the squad – but wouldn’t dress for punitive purposes.  The Black Aces had to work extra hard in practice and were always available to play should any of the regulars enrage Shore even more.  In addition to scrimmaging with the team, the Black Aces were required to do odd jobs around the arena such as painting seats, selling programs, making popcorn, and blowing up hundreds of balloons before the ice shows.”

While you would not see a first-round draft pick these days, or any player in fact, paint seats or blow up balloons, they are expected to work extra hard in practice and be ready at a moment’s notice.

The Islanders’ “Black Aces” feature some familiar faces and a highly touted prospect.


Michael Dal Colle

It was a roller-coaster season for the 2014 fifth overall selection. Dal Colle started the season with the defending Memorial Cup Champions Oshawa Generals. After struggling for the first portion of the year, Dal Colle was traded to the Kingston Frontenacs. The trade sparked the 19-year-old. Dal Colle scored 27 goals and 28 assists in 30 games. Kingston was bounced from the OHL Playoffs by the Niagara IceDogs, and 2014 28th overall selection Joshua Ho-Sang.

Dal Colle’s season was not over yet. He joined the Sound Tigers for their playoff run. The cup of coffee he had with the Sound Tigers this spring is significant for his development according to Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson:

“At the end of the day, you’ve got a junior kid coming in getting a taste of the pro game before he even gets a start to his true pro career. I think that’s a huge step in the right direction. I think he’ll be that much further ahead coming into training camp.”

Dal Colle had an assist in three playoff games for the Sound Tigers.

Being around the team during the playoffs, Dal Colle will gain valuable experience, even if he is in the press box.

Scott Mayfield

The defenseman is no stranger to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, having played in Games 6 and 7 against the Capitals a season ago. The second-round pick in the 2011 NHL Draft played in six regular season games this season, scoring his first career NHL goal. The style of Mayfield’s play, a tough, stay-at-home defenseman, could entice Jack Capuano to dress him if there is an injury.


Christopher Gibson

The goaltender was acquired in training camp as part of the Michael Grabner trade. Gibson started against the Capitals in the overtime playoff clincher. He stayed with the team during the first round against the Florida Panthers, but returned to Bridgeport to start their final game of the playoffs.

Bracken Kearns

The 34-year-old played the final two regular season games. He assisted on Alan Quine’s first career NHL goal. Kearns led the Sound Tigers in scoring this season with 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists). Kearns played 26 games with the San Jose Sharks between 2012 and 2014.

The Others

Marc-Andre Cliche was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche for Taylor Beck at the trade deadline. Cliche has 151 games of NHL experience (150 with Colorado, 1 with Los Angeles). Justin Florek scored 7 goals and 9 assists in 76 games for the Sound Tigers.

The six will join James Wright, who was recalled last week. The forward scored 14 goals and 27 assists in 73 games for Bridgeport.