By Len Bardsley
© 2005 The Times of Trenton
Not many teams can replace an NHL All-Star with another player with NHL experience, let alone one who led the team in scoring the previous season.
That was the case for the Alaska Aces, however, when Kimbi Daniels stepped in for Scott Gomez after Gomez injured his pelvis after taking a hit from behind in Game 4 of the Aces’ first-round ECHL playoff series against Bakersfield.
Daniels played 27 games for the Flyers during the 1991-92 season and was the Aces’ top scorer the last two seasons, putting together a total of 125 goals and 180 assists since the 2000-01 season.
A slow start for Daniels and the homecoming of Anchorage native Gomez put the 32-year-old veteran center on the bench this season.
Daniels helped wherever he could, assisting head coach Davis Payne behind the bench, while trying to stay sharp just in case he was needed.
He finally got the call in Game 5 against the Condors.
“When it first happened it was a tough situation,” Daniels said of the benching. “It was such a tight series. We played three pretty close games with Long Beach. We wish he was playing, we are trying to hold things together and hope he returns.”
Daniels is excited to be playing again, he just wishes it is not in the spot of an NHL All-Star.
“No offense to the other three (veterans), but if it was going to happen we didn’t want it to happen to him (Gomez). I was content watching us go on. Now that he is not playing, myself and the other guys have to step up. No one will replace him, we all have to chip in and bring a piece of what he brought.”
Daniels thought about leaving Anchorage after having his spot taken by Gomez, but he found it difficult to leave the North Country when things were going so well for the team after being through some lean times with the Aces.
“I looked around to see what was out there,” said Daniels. “I took all things into consideration, from a family and hockey standpoint I decided I should stay. In a way, I wish I wasn’t playing.”
Daniels may not want to be playing because of Gomez’s misfortune, but he is thrilled to be part of the Aces’ turnaround. Daniels was with the Aces when they were considered hockey’s version of Siberia, a last-place team with owners who would not spend any money. A new ownership group and success on the ice has helped make the Aces the pride of Anchorage.
“It was tough the first two or three years to stick it out. There were so many nights you knew you just didn’t have a chance. It changed drastically last season. I am enjoying it. It is great for the city. We came close to losing this team. You can’t appreciate what a great hockey town this is until you have been here.”