In honor of keeping my lists going, and the team being in Alaska, I’d like to take a brief moment to throw out there the names of 5 of the most infamous Aces players in my perceived history of this rivalry.
5. Chris Minard – To some, he’ll always be “that guy who played with Scott Gomez”. But to me he’s a great lesson in watching hockey players evolve. During the lockout, Minard went from a decent minor league goal scorer to a 49-goal scorer overnight, skating with Gomez. Everyone doubted him because of his lack of skating prowess. Then they doubted him in the AHL and in a four season span he led his AHL club in goal-scoring three times. Then he was in the NHL. He has almost 300 goals in his pro career, not bad for a guy that’s been overlooked his whole career. Lesson: go to where the goals are scored, and shoot the puck.
4. Dean Larson – Just a scoring machine. In his eight seasons playing pro, all for the Aces, he never had less than 72 points in a season. Four times he had 100 or more points. Six times he had 61 or more assists. I also have a sneaking suspicion that he used to get a lot of “phantoms” on home ice. For those of you who don’t know, a “phantom” is a point you get and don’t deserve. Someone once commented to me that Larson had a four-point night, and was on the bench for three of them. For what it’s worth, he was a really talented offensive weapon that found his way onto the scoresheet, even if you didn’t notice him all night. You’d think he didn’t do much and look down and he’d have three assists. They retired his number in Alaska. How funny is it that Larson is only 4th on my list? You know this is a good rivalry.
3. Ruslan Batyrshin & Jason Boily – I know what you’re thinking. WHO???? But stay with me.
On March 22, 2003 the last place Aces were in town against the Condors, who were challenging for home ice in the first round of the playoffs, and those two players were ejected after delivering illegal hits on Condors players. Batyrshin’s boarding of Christoffer Norgren broke the Condors d-man’s neck, while Boily’s cheapshot on Paul Rosebush led to Rosebush grabbing him and beating the hell out of him. Rosie unfortunately broke his hand on Boily’s helmet. Both Condors were lost for the season. I think what bothered me the most was that Aces team wasn’t any good. Batyrshin had over 250 PIMs that season and two goals in 59 games. Boily had 133 PIM in 35 games and just one goal. It was the only 35 games of his pro career.
It felt like they were trying to take out our good players all night. They were probably just playing with the hard desperation of a team out of the playoffs trying to win a game and ruin someone’s night. Despite the Condors winning 20 more games than Alaska that year, Bakersfield was only 6-4-4 in the season series. Two more wins against them in the regular season and the Condors would have had 2nd place.
Anyway, these two unlikely stars on my list pull in at #3 because I still say that the Condors would have won the 2003 Taylor Cup if they would have had those two guys. Rosebush was Rosebush: a heart-and-soul guy that scored 22 goals and was a +23 who killed the Gulls all season (who eliminated Bakersfield in the first round… again). Norgren was a great shut-down d-man with a booming shot and a physical presence who eventually went on to a big career in the Swedish Elite League after that. That was a great Condors team.
2. Scott Gomez – The aforementioned makes a return to the list. He would be higher for just the one big incident, but he only played one season with Alaska so he’s #2.
Before he became the brunt of “$7 Million players that go a year without scoring” jokes, he was an NHL All-Star who came home to play during the lockout. I gave Gomez credit for not trying to embarrass players in our league – he only scored 13 goals that season (along with a whopping 73 assists to win the scoring title). But Gomez literally ran that team. He WAS the team’s breakout. HE ran the power play. And he is also a part of one of the most infamous moments in minor league hockey in the last decade or two.
When Condors F Ashlee Langdone propelled him through an un-latched door on the Aces bench, the Anchorage native lay motionless in the doorway, half on the floor with his legs sticking out onto the ice. Chaos ensued. A mini-brawl erupted. Almost nobody knew what happened in the arena. It was behind the play and wasn’t even really visible on the game tape. Gomez was rushed to the hospital for outlandishly-rumored reasons from a shattered pelvis to a broken back. The Aces chances at a Cup were over. His career was presumably over the way everyone reacted. Head Coach Davis Payne threatened Californian writer Mike Griffith in the bar after the game. The two teams had a full-scale confrontation in the hotel that almost led to another brawl. Even our fans got into it with their players.
Meanwhile death threats poured into the Condors office. And it was only Game 4 of a Best-of-Five series. For the decisive Game 5 in Alaska, the Condors had a police escort from the airport and our hotel was changed abruptly and secretly. A cop stood next to me during my broadcast. And then the Aces rolled the Condors 4-0 to advance. Even the following season when a Condor was victimized by a cheap shot and broke his leg in Alaska, their PA guy shouted into the mic “That’s for Scotty!” while they replayed it on the big screen in the arena repeatedly, to the delight of the fans.
After the dust settled, despite the hysterics, it turns out that Gomez would go on to live a productive life. He didn’t miss a single game the entire following season, and had the best year of his career with New Jersey. It was probably one of the most overblown “injuries” in the history of minor league hockey.
1. Kimbi Daniels – How can you follow that up? Only with Kimbi Daniels. Our fans just hated him. Or loved him. They chirped him. He chirped back. Either way, Kimbi found a way to impact more games in this all-time series than I care to remember. And he kept doing it after he left the Aces, even as a member of the Roadrunners. He wore that funny tinted visor before anyone had seen one.
You don’t come into this building for eight years without fans noticing you, and likely hating you. He was pesky, elusive, talented and did things that just made you hate him. Like take a ridiculous flop to draw a penalty and then score on the ensuing power play. He must have done that 90 times against Bakersfield in his career. He played eight seasons with the Aces but he had at least 60 points in each of his six full seasons with the team. I would love to know how many points in his career he had against the Condors. If he had ever been a Condor, he would have been legendary. Now, however, he’s just infamous.
Kevin Bartl is the Vice President of Communications and a broadcaster for the Condors, in his ninth season in Condorstown. Follow him on twitter @KevinBartl or email with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.