On Sunday afternoon, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms completed their regular season by downing the Syracuse Crunch by a score of 5-2. For most of their roster, the competitive hockey season was now finished. But a select few would travel to Philadelphia to practice with the Flyers and be on reserve for a possible NHL playoff appearance.
They are the "Black Aces," AHL regulars who get the call during the NHL playoffs because the roster rules now permit teams to be over the regular season 23-man limit. Today, the Flyers finally announced which players would receive the honor this season, choosing to recall Mark Alt, Davis Drewiske, Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, Cole Bardreau, Chris Conner, Taylor Leier and Anthony Stolarz.
The eight players will now practice with the team on a daily basis, and theoretically could be activated for a playoff game. But most likely, this will simply be a learning experience for the eight rather than a true opportunity to shine on the biggest stage of the hockey world.
Morin, Hagg and Stolarz are the highest-profile names on the list. Samuel Morin remains one of the team's most hyped prospects, a 6 foot, 7 inch defenseman who finished with 19 points in 76 games during his first professional season. Robert Hagg had a disappointing second year in the AHL, but bounced back late and clearly impressed the Flyers' front office enough to deem him worthy of the honor of being a Black Ace. Stolarz actually spent time on the Flyers roster this season, but never saw time in an actual game. Still, his 0.916 save percentage with the Phantoms was a big step up from an uneven first season in the AHL.
Taylor Leier is the only other Black Ace to have played for the Flyers this season, though Mark Alt did don the Orange and Black for one game in 2014-15, while both Davis Drewiske and Chris Conner have NHL experience with other clubs. Colin McDonald was also called up yesterday, and considering the fact that he was not dressed for Game 3, it's possible that he will essentially serve as a Black Ace as well.
It's a mild surprise that Petr Straka was not named a Black Ace, considering his 37 points in 64 games, but his late season play did not match his stellar scoring start. Danick Martel also was an option (he led the Phantoms in goals with 22), but was passed over as well.
If all goes well for the Flyers, the Black Aces will probably never see a minute of postseason ice time, so don't expect to see Samuel Morin battling Alexander Ovechkin in the coming week. But it's still a well-earned honor for all of the players named, as they will get to experience a glimpse of playoff hockey.