February 4, 2005
Chris Minard is doing pretty well for a guy who didn’t look capable six years ago of getting through a season of junior hockey.
Minard, skating for the Alaska Aces, leads the 28-team ECHL with 29 goals in 41 games.
“I just try to get open and go to the net hard,” Minard, 23, said from Anchorage in downplaying his knack for finding the back of the net. It helps that one of hockey’s best playmakers, Scott Gomez, who would be playing for the New Jersey Devils if not for the NHL lockout, is feeding him passes. Gomez has a league-high 46 assists.
Minard, a 6-1, 200-pound native of Owen Sound, Ontario, has a good shot because he has good hockey hands, and he’s a hard worker.
He shares the same goal as his peers in the third-rung pro league.
“I want to play at the highest level I can,” he says.
He was up with the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals for a game last month and he knows what he has to do to get back there.
“I have to be stronger on my skates and on the puck and be more consistent,” he says.
His big brother, Mike, 28, tends goal for the Columbia Inferno. Mike has an NHL win to his credit from the 1999-2000 season when he was in the Edmonton Oilers organization. On Jan. 26, they became the first brothers in the ECHL all-star game in its 13-year history.
Roger and Wendy Minard, who had just been to Anchorage to visit Chris, were in Reading, Pa., to watch their sons play on opposing teams. They are among families that billet junior players who arrive from outside the region to play for the Attack.
Chris Minard overcame a series of concussions to become a pro. During his first full year in the OHL with the Attack, he had his bell rung three times.
“I missed a lot of games,” he recalls. “The last concussion, I missed 25 games and sat out the remainder of the year.”
In his last year of junior, with the Oshawa Generals, he scored 36 goals and assisted on 35.
Pro hockey has taken him to both ends of the continent. He spent 2002-2003 in Florida with the ECHL’s Pensacola Ice Pilots and 2003-2004 with the Central Hockey League team in San Angelo, Texas, scoring 39 goals, before joining the Aces.
“I thought it would be a good experience,” he says of heading to Anchorage. “We get a lot of snow back home in the winter and this doesn’t seem that much different, and it’s a hockey town.
“It’s just like playing in Canada.”
Sullivan Arena holds 6,250 and average attendance at Aces games is 4,496.
“All our traveling is done by plane,” says Minard. “We play batches of games.
“We’ll go to California and play five or six road games at a time. It’s a good set-up, and it’s a good group of guys. You get treated really well up here.”
When Gomez decided to join his home-state Aces, he landed on a line with Minard and Charles Linglet of Montreal, who couldn’t believe their good fortune when coach Davis Payne told them that Gomez would be skating between them.
“It was great,” says Minard. “Anytime you can add an NHL-caliber player to your team, it’s a pretty good thing.
“He makes our team that much better. He carries the puck and it’s our job to try and get open. He led the NHL in assists last year (with 56) so, obviously, he can pass the puck.
“He’s from here and he grew up with five or six guys on our team. He fits in well.”
Payne loves the way Minard fits in, too.
“He’s having an outstanding season,” says Payne. “He arrived with a lot of confidence based on the success he had last season and he’s carried that through into this season.
“He’s good with the puck and shoots the puck like good goal scorers can. He works hard. He’s a mellow guy who doesn’t get too high or too low but during games he’s intense. He’s quick with a smile and a good guy to have on your hockey team.”
© The Canadian Press 2005