ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Four time zones and a few thousand miles separate the Alaska Aces and Kalamazoo Wings, but their meeting in the ECHL's Kelly Cup finals is rife with relationships.
In a hockey world smaller than a penalty box, six degrees of separation are seldom required to make a connection -- often, just one degree suffices.
Take Aces sniper and league MVP Wes Goldie and Kalamazoo forward Darryl Lloyd, who produces both points (51 in the regular season) and pesky penalties (130 regular-season minutes). They played three seasons together with the Victoria Salmon Kings, and Aces winger Scott Howes was on the island too, in one of those seasons.
"I could never understand why guys got so wound up by him," Goldie said of Lloyd, who has unnerved opponents throughout his career. "He doesn't say much. He's just got that (hair) sticking out of his helmet and he's physical.
"I've seen so many guys get rattled, but we've got a team that keeps its cool, so we'll be OK."
Aces coach Brent Thompson and Wings coach Nick Bootland crossed paths in the 2002-03 season, when they played together for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. They touched base a few times during this season, Thompson said.
Two nights ago, Aces veteran defenseman Bryan Miller received an email from Wings forward Brian McGuirk, who was a freshman at Boston University when Miller was a senior.
"He told me to keep my head up (facing) the fore-check because that's kind of his game," Miller said, smiling. "We were good buddies. We've talked a few times during the year."
Miller's first pro coach in the American Hockey League was Robbie Ftorek, the father of Kalamazoo's Sam Ftorek, who played against the Aces when he was with the Fresno Falcons in the 2004-05 season.
Aces winger Dan Kissel and Wings defenseman Wes O'Neill both went to Notre Dame -- Kissel was a freshman when O'Neill was a senior. O'Neill briefly played with Aces defenseman Russ Sinkewich at AHL Lake Erie two seasons ago. And Sinkewich and Wings forward Brandon Svendsen were college teammates at Bowling Green for four seasons and have stayed in touch since.
Kalamazoo's Steven Tarasuk was the defensive partner of Alaska's Alex Dzielski for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League in the 2007-08 season until Tarasuk was traded.
For some of the Wings, playing on the Olympic-sized ice at Sullivan Arena won't be new -- been there, done that.
Kalamazoo veteran forward Kory Karlander, runner-up to Goldie as league MVP, made his college debut at Sullivan for Northern Michigan in 1992 and furnished one goal and one assist in a loss to UAA that night.
Kalamazoo forward Brady Leisenring, who incidentally was a teammate of Alaska's Miller in USA Hockey's National Team Development Program 10 seasons ago, was named Most Outstanding Player of UAA's Nye Frontier Classic when he helped Vermont to the tournament title in 2005. Kalamazoo's Dean Strong also played for Vermont that season and delivered the game-winning goal in a 2-0 tournament win over a UAA team that included Aces defenseman Chad Anderson.
Leisenring also played against the Aces when he was a Fresno Falcon for two seasons.
Sullivan was also the site of a career benchmark for Kalamazoo's Patrick Asselin. He scored his first two pro goals in North America for the Utah Grizzlies in a 5-1 win over the Aces in November 2010.
Kalamazoo goaltender Ryan Nie, who in the regular season tied Alaska's Gerald Coleman for most wins (30), should have good memories of Sullivan. Playing for Bakersfield in December 2008, he won consecutive starts against the Aces at Sullivan by stopping 57 of 62 shots.
All that's in the past, though.
Starting Saturday night, with Game 1 of the finals at Sullivan, the Aces and Wings will forge a connection that links all of them forever.