Over the weekend, the Alaska Aces – Calgary’s ECHL affiliate – won their league championship, the Kelly Cup. The triumph was likely especially sweet for a pair of Flames properties who had seemingly fallen off the proverbial radar – forward Turner Elson and defenseman John Ramage.
Elson was arguably the star of development camp last year, but played just 37 games in a depth role with the Abbotsford Heat. He split February between Abbotsford and Alaska before getting sent down for good at the end of the month. Ramage impressed many in training camp and arguably looked the most pro-ready of the three first-year blueliners (the others were Patrick Sieloff and Tyler Wotherspoon). But Ramage couldn’t find his footing in the AHL and was sent down to the Aces in mid-March.
To delve into what happened with the Aces’ playoff run and how Elson and Ramage fared, I chatted with the play-by-play voice of the Alaska Aces, Mike Benson, last week. We had a lengthy conversation, so here’s some selected quotes regarding the play of Calgary’s two key prospects with Alaska.
ON TURNER ELSON
He was fantastic. I think he really showed a blossoming of his game based on how confident he was with the puck, his commitment, back-check, play in virtually every situation and that earned him some quality time on the top line when we were missing top guns in Brendan Connolly and Peter Sivak. You take his speed and put it with the play-making ability of a guy like Nick Mazzolini – who led the team in scoring for the entire post-season – it’s a terrific fit.
He really showed a tremendous presence with his speed, and with his confidence as well. He was a big, big part of the Aces in this playoff run.
The willingness to play anywhere – from the third line to the top line – because he knew his number would be called for any role, that helped his game, at least visibly with confidence. His speed and his skill with the puck is natural, so in essence once his confidence kicked in, his skill-set took over from there.
ON JOHN RAMAGE
He played [a defensive shutdown role] in Alaska for about three or four games, and then one day – I believe we were in Las Vegas – he had a sit-down with head coach Rob Murray and assistant coach Louie Mass about power-play time. And it wasn’t that he was going to complain, the topic was brought up and he said, “Well you know, guys, I actually ran the power-play when I was at Wisconsin,” and then from there they plugged him in as one of the point men on the man-advantage and lo-and-behold, scored a goal I believe in his first couple of games in that situation. He’s got an absolute cannon from the point.
ON THE IMPACT OF A KELLY CUP WIN
It’s the essence of getting through a long playoff run that makes it so satisfactory. For the younger players, once you win and win it all, that is a major feather in your cap. You can take it on to development camp, the rookie camp and beyond. Something that boosts you up the ladder, so to speak, whether it’s in the Flames organization or if you’re an ECHL contract guy looking for your next up with an ECHL team (or an AHL team), it said often that teams are looking for winners. And you have a group of 24 winners here with the Alaska Aces who have been through a long, grueling playoff run and know what it takes to win.