After three years and six professional hockey teams between the ECHL and American Hockey League, Pekin native Bryce Aneloski has found a home away from home.
The 6-foot-2 defenseman inked a one-year deal to re-sign with the Missouri Mavericks, located in Independence, Mo., after a stellar third pro season.
Last year with the Mavericks, the ECHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, Aneloski led all Maverick defensemen in goals with eight and points with 28 and was second among defensemen with 20 assists.
Aneloski went through the free agency process and entertained offers from other teams, but the 26-year-old knew he wanted to be in Missouri and continue to live in Kansas City.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Aneloski said. “ I had an opportunity to look around and see what teams were interested. Once Missouri offered me (a contract), I compared that to the other offers I got. There’s no doubt that Missouri is one of the best places to play in the ECHL. It’s a great city and a great fan base.”
Finding stability — a luxury that typically evades minor league hockey players — was key to Aneloski’s desire to stay in the Kansas City area.
The Mavericks went 52-15 last season, but fell short of a championship. Aneloski hopes to lead the team through a deep playoff run during the upcoming season.
Entering his fourth season, Aneloski faces high expectations.
“It’s great to have (Aneloski) back with the Mavericks,” Missouri coach John-Scott Dickson said in a statement. “He’s a right-handed, puck-moving defenseman with some size who skates well. We expect a lot of leadership from him, as well, since this is his fourth year as a pro.”
Aneloski has played 15 career games in the AHL including a stint last season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The AHL is the league just below the NHL, or the “AAA” hockey league. The ECHL falls just underneath the AHL, establishing itself as the “AA” hockey league.
Three years ago, Aneloski made his AHL debut with the Toronto Marlies, an affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“The AHL is probably the second-best league in the world behind the NHL,” Aneloski said. “A majority of guys who play in the AHL either at one time played in the NHL, or will play in the NHL. It’s just a matter of time.
“It’s a heck of a league and you have to prepare yourself everyday and be a true professional. It’s the same with the ECHL. You have to work on your game and make sure whenever you get the opportunity to go up, you’re ready to play and make the most of that opportunity because you never know when it’s going to come.”
Aneloski’s goal is to be an every day AHL player. For whatever reason, he said, that opportunity hasn’t presented itself yet.
Whether he’s in Kansas City or Orlando, Fla. — where he spent two seasons — Pekin holds a special place in Aneloski’s heart.
“I will always hold Pekin in a high regard. It’s where I grew up and where I learned to play hockey,” Aneloski said. “It’s an unbelievable place and it will always hold a special place in my heart.”
In time, the 2010 seventh-round pick of the Ottawa Senators wants to come back to the area and host or participate in hockey camps.
After so many area athletes helped him along the way, he said it’s his duty to come back and do the same for the next generation.
“They did me a favor. Now it’s my turn to help along the next generation of kids,” Aneloski said.