With a roster loaded with newcomers, a new coach and a new vice president of hockey operations, the theme of the Anchorage Aces' Friday and Saturday exhibition games at the Soldotna Sports Center was new.
But seasoned observers of the area hockey scene couldn't help but pick out something about the games that was decidedly old-school.
Anthony Zurfluh, who was born and raised in Soldotna, skated the exhibition games with the Anchorage side in hopes of landing a spot on this year's roster.
The Aces, with 12 new players, lost to the Colorado Gold Kings 3-2 Friday in front of about 2,000 fans. The result of Saturday's game was not available as the Clarion went to press.
Zurfluh, a 6-foot-1, 206-pound defenseman, played for Soldotna High School at the sports center for three years before leaving his senior year to play junior hockey. He graduated from high school in 1995.
The 24-year-old is now in his fourth year of professional hockey. He played two seasons ago with the Aces, but said he left last season after not seeing eye-to-eye with former Aces coach Walt Poddubny, who resigned his post in May of this year.
With new coach Butch Goring on board, Zurfluh is once again excited about being a member of the Aces. Goring played 16 seasons in the National Hockey League, winning four consecutive Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders from 1980 to 1983. In 1980, Goring nabbed the Conn Smyth trophy for the most valuable player in the playoffs.
Goring also has NHL coaching experience, serving with the Islanders from 1999 to 2001, and with the Boston Bruins.
"He's got as much respect as any coach I've ever played for," Zurfluh said. "Even the old guys respect him."
In addition to getting a chance to play for Goring, there are several other things that have Zurfluh energized.
First, he has enjoyed the opportunity to practice and play at the sports center again. The Aces opened up training camp at the sports center on Sept. 29.
"It's been nice being able to go home after practice instead of going back to the hotel," Zurfluh said. "It seems like seven or eight years since I've been able to do that.
"It takes the pressure off to be able to get away from things for a while. It's a relief."
Zurfluh also has gotten engaged to Dustie Miller and completed work on a log cabin in the area.
"We'd like to reside in the area one day, and I would like to coach and give back to the game," Zurfluh said. "But right now I'm going to work hard at keeping my dream alive."
Zurfluh survived an early round of cuts by the Aces, but he said he's not sure how many more cuts the team has to make.
"I don't get involved in the numbers game because I'd drive myself crazy," Zurfluh said. "Hockey's a business. You're never safe.
"I have to work hard each day, because it could be my last."
GOLD KINGS 3, ACES 2
Colorado 0 1 2 -- 3
Anchorage 0 2 0 -- 2
First period -- None. Penalties -- Colorado 1 for 2:00; Anchorage 1 for 2:00.
Second period -- 1. Colorado, Baxter (un.), 5:02; 2. Anchorage, Wrobel (Geller, Cunningham), pp, 17:03; 3. Anchorage, Zukiwsky (Daniels, Cunningham), pp, 17:03. Penalties -- Colorado 5 for 10:00; Anchorage 4 for 8:00.
Third period -- 4. Colorado, Perry (Lyons, LaFleur), 3:11; 5. Colorado, Johnson (Lammens, Baxter), 13:08. Penalties -- Colorado 1 for 2:00; Anchorage 1 for 2:00.
Shots on goal -- Colorado 14-11-9--34; Anchorage 8-10-15--33.
Power-play opportunities -- Colorado 0 for 4; Anchorage 1 for 5.
Goalies -- Colorado, Daubenspeck (33 shots-31 saves); Anchorage, Bailey (34 shots-31 saves).
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