Davis Payne posted a 104-67-17 record and led the Florence Pride to the playoffs in each of his three seasons.
So how did Pride management reward the former NHL and Greenville Grrrowl forward for two-plus winning seasons? With the proverbial kick to the curb.
The Alaska Aces saw to it that Payne wasn't unemployed for long and now are reaping the rewards of hiring one of the bright young coaches in the ECHL.
For the first time in nearly four years, the Aces are a first-place team, taking over the top spot in the Pacific Division on Dec. 2.
Alaska is enjoying a rare weekend off sitting on a 15-8-2 record for 32 points, four points ahead of Las Vegas and Idaho. The last time the Aces were in first was as a member of the West Coast League in March 1999.
"The state of Alaska doesn't get much respect as far as (the University of Alaska-Fairbanks) and (UA-Anchorage) goes, and especially what the Aces have been doing in the past," Rookie goaltender Lance Mayes said in the Anchorage Daily News. "It's good to finally bring this kind of thing here."
Payne, 33, took the job over the summer and assembled a team that exemplifies the new-look ECHL's emphasis on youth.
Rookie Joe Talbot (14 goals-18 assists-32 points) is tied for fifth in the ECHL in scoring, and fellow rookie Charles Linglett (11-20-31) is tied for seventh. Rounding out the Aces' aces is second-year pro Mike Scott, whose 28 points were tied for 10th in the league.
Mayes, a UA-Fairbanks product, was among the league leaders with a 6-1-0 record and .919 save percentage, while veteran Dan Murphy (9-7-0, .905 save percentage) has been the Aces' workhorse.
"Obviously, it's important to these people who have been craving a team which will create some success for a long time," Scott said. "There are probably a good 2,000 people who come to every Aces and Seawolves games, who have cheered on teams which didn't have success. "It's nice to do something for them."
PAYNE TO PAIN: In Florence, Payne's replacement might be wishing he chose a different career path.
Under new coach Perry Florio, the Pride are off to the worst start in franchise history at 8-11-3, an abomination considering Florio's past success and the talent he has assembled in the Pee Dee.
The Long Island, N.Y., native was fired in January by Roanoke despite coaching the Express to a 27-17-3 start last season. He posted a 100-73-18 record in three seasons with the Express but was pushed out the door over a rift with veteran Mike Peron, who was close friends with Express owner Ashby Coleman.
Like Payne, Florio also landed on his feet, taking over in Anchorage as interim head coach down the stretch after first-year coach Ron Davidson was fired. Florio guided the last-place Aces to a 9-7-3 finish.
The Aces asked him back for 2003-04, but Florio declined. He then said no thanks to the Augusta Lynx in June when interim general manager Larry Kish made him his top choice to replace David Wilkie.
At the time, Florio said he was concerned about the unstable environment in Augusta, what with the turmoil surrounding the former owners and the team's woes on the ice the past two years.
Kish hired Stan Drulia two weeks later.
Maybe the Lynx job isn't so bad, after all.
GOALIE GOAL: Brian Eklund of the Pensacola Ice Pilots became the seventh ECHL goaltender in history to score a goal in a 5-4 shootout loss at Mississippi Dec. 5.
Eklund's goal came at 5:35 of the first, when the puck got past a Mississippi defenseman and rolled the length of the ice into an empty net vacated because of a delayed penalty. Eklund was the last Pensacola player to touch the puck.
The 23-year-old Eklund, who was 12-4-1 with a .930 save percentage and league-high 602 saves, is a 2000 seventh-round pick by Tampa Bay.
COAST TO SHOW: What a long, strange trip it's been these past few days for goaltender Joey MacDonald.
In a span of three hours Tuesday, MacDonald was assigned from Grand Rapids of the AHL to the Toledo Storm of the ECHL, and then to the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL.
MacDonald, who was the Storm's MVP in 2001-02, was packing up his bags to leave for Toledo when the phone rang.
It was Red Wings assistant coach Joey Kocur on the other end delivering the news every player dreams of hearing.
The 23-year-old MacDonald was being called up to the NHL to backup Curtis Joseph for the Red Wings in Buffalo on Wednesday. The move came after injuries to Dominik Hasek and Manny Legace.
"I think I kind of made his day when I told him, 'Don't catch the plane to Toledo, you're going to Buffalo instead,' " Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill told the Toledo Blade.
MacDonald was 5-1-2, with a .938 save percentage with Grand Rapids.
ONE-TIMERS: It's official. Lynx all-time leading scorer Lars Pettersen signed with the Reading Royals and made his debut against Trenton on Saturday. Pettersen began the season in Norway. To clear a spot for Pettersen, the Royals released former NHL forward and Lynx Darryl Laplante. ... After opening 9-0-2 at home, the Florida Everblades suffered their first lost at TECO Arena on Tuesday as former Lynx Brent Gauvreau scored a pair of goals in a 3-2 Mississippi Sea Wolves win. ... Speaking of Gauvreau, the once-troubled Augusta center looks like a shoo-in to make the Western Conference All-Star team. All-Star voting, conducted by media, coaches and broadcasters, concluded last week. Voters were allowed to select one player at each position from their respective conference. The Chronicle's selections: Goaltender, Marc Magliarditi, Las Vegas (10-2-0, .933 save percentage); Defenseman, former Lynx Jim Baxter, Mississippi (six goals, 20 assists, plus-13); defenseman Corey Neilson, Pensacola (seven goals, 21 assists, plus-1); right winger Gauvreau (12 goals, 22 assists, second in ECHL in scoring); center Louis Dumont (14 goals, 14 asissts, ECHL all-time scoring leader, former Lynx); left winger Linglett, Alaska (11 goals, 20 assists).
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425
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