Examining several BCHL Black Aces

After the Langley Rivermen clinched a spot in the 2024 playoffs this past March, they signed a Black Ace player and forward Caden Lee joined the Riv for its playoff run.

Black Aces are emergency backup players for teams used during the post-season. Black Aces practice with the team and can fill in if a player gets injured.

Several other BCHL teams had Black Aces join their rosters for the 2024 Fred Page Cup playoffs. For the Nanaimo Clippers, their Black Ace is defender Sean Barnhill. He joined the Clippers before their first-round playoff series against Victoria started.

What does Black Ace mean?

In poker, the dead man’s hand is two pairs of black aces and black eights. The hand is considered unlucky because of an infamous story from the Wild West.

In 1876, a gunfighter named “Wild Bill” Hickock was murdered while holding that poker hand. In hockey, the term originates with Eddie Shore, who was the legendary head coach of the American Hockey League’s Springfield Indians for more than 30 years in the mid-1900s.

Shore was the owner of the Indians, starting in 1939. He coached Springfield starting in the 1946-47 season, and from 1957 to 1962, coached former Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry. Cherry has described Black Ace players as being injured or in Shore’s dog house.

Shore had the Black Aces practice with the rest of the team but also gave them additional responsibilities. They painted seats, sold programs, made popcorn, and inflated balloons during Springfield’s home games.

Several BCHL players have taken to the ice in the National Hockey League as Black Aces over the years.

During the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, the Pittsburgh Penguins used several Black Aces and one such player was Penticton Vees, Prince George Spruce Kings, and Merritt Centennials alumnus Brad Thiessen.

Thiessen spent four seasons with the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton from 2009 to 2013. He ended his career in 2021 after playing five seasons with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. He has been the Monsters’ goaltending coach for the past three years.

Other BCHL Black Aces

In the Alberta Division, the Spruce Grove Saints signed forward Josh Polak as a Black Ace. Polak joined the Saints before the Alberta teams started their playoffs and the Strathcona County, Alberta product ended up playing seven games. He finished with a goal and two assists. Polak added an assist in three playoff games.

Another Black Ace who joined the Saints is defender Gabriel Kenny. Kenny and Polak are products of the Shawnigan Lake School hockey program in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League. Kenny, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, played one game for Spruce Grove, a 3-2 shootout win over Blackfalds on March 30.

In Brooks, Alta., forward Jack Good joined the Bandits as a Black Ace. Good hails from Ajax, Ont. and is a product of the St. Andrew’s College hockey program in Aurora, Ont. He got into four games for the Bandits and scored his first career BCHL goal on March 16 in a 6-5 overtime loss to Spruce Grove.

In 2022, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs saw forward Mateo Sjoberg join as a Black Ace. Sjoberg played one game for the Bulldogs in 2021-22 and five games at the start of the 2022-23 season. He was traded to the Bonnyville Pontiacs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League on Nov. 4, 2022. The Pontiacs sent him to the Olds Grizzlys on June 1, 2023.

On March 22, Blackfalds signed goaltender Sam Caulfield as a Black Ace. He played one game during the playoffs, allowing seven goals in a 10-3 loss to Sherwood Park on April 23. Caulfield will join the Blackfalds roster as a recruit for the 2024-25 season.

In Salmon Arm, B.C., goaltender Preston Lewis served as a Black Ace for the Silverbacks during their run to the Interior Conference Final. Lewis, who’s a hometown player for the Silverbacks, is one of the new recruits for them for the 2024-25 BCHL season.

Black Aces as future players

Above, I noted that two Black Ace players are also signed as committed players for the 2024-25 season. Goaltenders Caulfield and Lewis will be BCHL rookie players next season. Sjoberg briefly played for Alberni Valley a couple of years ago before being traded to Alberta.

While Black Aces have been around for decades, they’re becoming more prominent in the new-look, independent BCHL. They’re also luckier than the players in Don Cherry’s time. These players get the chance to play playoff hockey and can also join BCHL rosters the following season. Instead of being unlucky like “Wild Bill” in the Old West, they are as lucky as Thiessen was with the Penguins — and as a Black Ace, he ended up on a championship-winning team.