The Honor Of Being A “Black Ace”
The Black Aces, as they are known today, are the healthy scratch players on a team’s roster that are working their way toward being in the line-up. Following the conclusion of the Monarchs season, a total of 12 Monarchs players were recalled to the Los Angeles Kings. These players make up most of the Kings “Black Aces” this year as they will be practicing and working out in Los Angeles throughout the playoffs as they patiently wait for their chance to crack the line-up.
Today, it is seen as a compliment if you are recalled from your minor league team to be a Black Ace but given the origin of the term that was not always the case.
The term Black Ace is connected to the unlucky “Dead Man’s Hand” in poker, which is the hand that Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot and killed. The hand he was holding was two eights, a jack of diamonds and, of course, two black aces. You are said to have run out of luck if you are holding this poker hand.
According to the Hockey Hall Of Fame, the phrase was used by Hockey Hall of Famer Eddie Shore in 1940 when he was the owner of the American Hockey League’s Springfield Indians. Shore began calling his extra skaters his “Black Aces.” Those skaters were considered to be “out of luck” as they would not be playing in the game and needed to work their way back into the line-up after recovering from either an injury or being in Shore’s doghouse.
“Anyone who crossed Shore became a ‘Black Ace,’ one of the many extras he kept on the squad, but wouldn’t dress for punitive purposes,” explained Don Cherry, an “alumni” of Shore’s Black Aces, in his book, Grapes: A Vintage View of Hockey. “The Black Aces had to work extra hard in practice and were always available to play should any of the regulars enrage Shore even more.”
Shore was pretty famous for how hard he made his Black Aces work. Cherry also went into detail in the book describing some of the tasks the Black Aces had to do to get back into the line-up.
“In addition to scrimmaging with the team, the Black Aces were required to do odd jobs around the arena such as painting seats, selling programs, making popcorn, and blowing up hundreds of balloons before the ice shows,” wrote Cherry in his book.
Luckily for the modern age Black Aces, they do not have to worry about how many balloons they can blow up. Their hard work is limited to daily, grueling, up-tempo practices and is viewed as an important part of the organization’s present and future. The player’s viewpoint has also changed as it has become a valuable experience in their personal development.
“It is a huge honor to get a chance to come to Los Angeles and get to watch the playoffs here and see how these guys prepare and play,” said Monarchs right wing Brandon Kozun who is currently one of the Kings Black Aces. “Anytime you get a chance to be around an NHL team and learn from the staff they have here in L.A., it is beneficial. You see what it takes to play at the next level and try and soak in as much of the experience as you can.”
Former Monarchs and current Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin is seeing the reward from the experience of being a Black Ace.
Muzzin was a Black Ace last season as the Kings went 16-4 during their run to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. He practiced with the Kings, was at every game and celebrated with his teammates when they hoisted the Cup. Muzzin is now a key contributor on the Kings blueline as they defend their Stanley Cup title.
“Muzzin had a chance to see what it’s like and now he’s playing, so it definitely is helping him and I am sure it will help the Aces here as well,” reflected Kozun.
Our Black Aces of today could be our Kings of tomorrow.