Easy pickens: Ripe Aviators move upward

Aviators center Matt Atsoff snatches the puck from the Danbury Whalers during Brooklyn’s 4-2 victory at Floyd Bennett Field on Friday.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Some of the Aviators’ best stickmen are skating up the ranks — making moves that have been great for individual players, but bad for the Brooklyn squad as a whole.

This season, at least 12 Aviators have been called up to play in higher-ranked AA leagues in fixed posts or on a temporary basis, but these elevations have been a strain on a team struggling to move up the ranks in the Federal Hockey League.

“The Federal Hockey League is technically a developmental league, so [the call ups] make me look good and it makes my players look good,” said Aviators Coach Rob Miller. “Does it hurt us here? Yes, but it’s the right thing to do — to let them go up and get them to the next level.”

Of the Aviators to receive the coveted call, Jarret Rush, Vladimir Nikiforov, Jason Dolgy, and Chris Jones have left the Aviators for good — moving on to play for the Eastern Coast Hockey League, the Central Hockey League, the Southern Professional Hockey League, and for French leagues respectively.

“[These players] are doing something the teams that hired them specifically need,” Miller said. “[Nikiforov] is a goal scorer, Rush is a steady defensemen — it’s just what that team needs and our players are good enough to provide it.”

Other call ups are generally on a short-term basis: a higher ranked AA team will find themselves a player short for an upcoming match, so they ask coach Miller to loan one of his hot-shots for a game or two.

Yet these loans may leave the Aviators in hot water for an upcoming game — and the Aviators desperately need to win a few games. The A’s are currently in fifth place with 16 wins, one overtime win, five overtime losses and 15 losses. It’s a far cry from the 21-game winning streak that helped the Aviators sail into last season’s playoffs.

Still, Miller says it’s against his nature to keep his team from grabbing that brass ring when its presented to them.

“Say we’re really short on defensemen,” said Miller. “I’ll tell the player we’re short and leave the decision up to him. I don’t hold guys back here.”

The Aviators may relinquish its key players from time to time, but the Brooklyn team has been doing some recruiting of their own — veteran skater and former Aviator Michael Thomson is making a return to the Floyd Bennett Field Aviator Sports and Events Center tonight, just in time for the Aviators’ rematch against the their hated rival, the Danbury Whalers.

“Last season [Thomson] did very well,” said Miller. “He played 39 games and had 47 points. He’s going to help us out offensively for sure.”

Thomson left the Aviators after last season to stay with his girlfriend, who moved to California. However, despite his best efforts, he couldn’t stay away from Brooklyn and professional hockey.

“I missed [the Aviators] a lot,” said Thomson. “At first I was trying not to pay attention to the team because I missed it so much, but eventually I started checking out the team online, looked at their status on Facebook and talked to them on the phone and, after a while, I couldn’t wait any more. I had to come back.”

At 27, Thomson will be one of the oldest players on the team and plans on bringing his knowledge of professional hockey to the rookies to help them get their call up.

“I think the biggest thing with guys in single A hockey, because its very hard to get moved up, is to not get down and not stop working hard,” said Thomson. “Everybody thinks that they can come here, put up the numbers and get called up — that’s not necessarily how it works. I’ve always been known as a very offensive guy and I wasn’t known so much for my defense, but last year I decided I was going to be the best defenseman on the team and that’s when I started getting called up.”

The Brooklyn Aviators will return to the Aviator Sports and Events Center [3159 Flatbush Ave. in Floyd Bennett Field in Marine Park, (718) 758-7580] on Feb. 3 for a rematch with the Danbury Whalers. Tickets are $12 ($10 for seniors and children under 14) For more info, visit www.BrooklynAviators.com.

Reach reporter Colin MIxson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.

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