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Islanders sign former Laker Keith Aldridge
Aug. 13, 2004
SAULT STE. MARIE - After spending the last four years playing professional hockey in Germany, former Lake Superior State two-time All-America defenseman Keith Aldridge has signed with the New York Islanders, whose coaching staff includes former LSSU head coach Jeff Jackson.
Aldridge, 31, played at LSSU from 1992-96 and helped the Lakers win the 1994 NCAA title. His last opportunity to play in the National Hockey League was in 1999-00 when he appeared in four games with the Dallas Stars. At that time, however, he was asked to play forward.
"I think I'm in the prime of my career," said Aldridge from his home in the Detroit area. "I know I'm not a rookie, but I won't be erratic. I'm very confident in my game and think I should be in the NHL, especially if I can play my normal position."
Aldridge knows this might be his last chance to make it the NHL, and he is hoping that an NHL lockout won't prevent him from doing so. He is indebted to Jackson for helping him extend his hockey career.
"My wife and I just had our third boy, and we decided that we are not going back to Germany," Aldridge said.
He played one season with the Frankfurt Lions and the last three seasons with the Berlin Polar Bears. He compiled eight goals, 13 assist and 84 penalty minutes in 2003-04.
The 5-11, 185-pound defenseman joined the American Hockey League's Baltimore Bandits, then the top affiliate of the NHL's Anaheim Mighty Ducks, for the end of the 1995-96 season and all of 1996-97. He then played in his hometown of Detroit with the IHL's Vipers for two years, posting professional career highs of 28 assists and 43 points in 66 games in 1998-99. He split the 1999-00 season with the Michigan K-Wings and Dallas Stars, and 2000-01 with the Grand Rapids Griffins and Frankfort Lions.
"Keith has played pretty well during his professional career, but he's never really had an opportunity to play in the NHL," said Jackson from his home in Sault Ste. Marie. "He may have to start in Bridgeport, and that is because there may not be a start of the NHL season, but he will still get an opportunity to live his dream."
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers are the Islanders' AHL affiliate.
"The top-level pros in Europe are comparable to the American League players, but they are older players," Jackson said. "This will be a good indicator of where he is at in his career, and he is anxious to get back to North America. The last time I saw him play, he was with the Vipers. Steve Stirling, our head coach, saw him play at an all-star game in Sweden."
Jackson and Aldridge connected again at the 1994 Laker Hockey Reunion held last month in Sault Ste. Marie. That's when Jackson learned of Aldridge's desire to return to the United States.
"Jeff Jackson has helped me tremendously, and I have thanked him many times," Aldridge said. "When you are a bubble player, you need someone on your side to give you that push. I hope I make him look good."
Jackson compared Aldridge two other "proven smaller defensemen" - Brian Rafalski (Wisconsin/New Jersey Devils) and Dan Boyle (Miami/Tampa Bay Lightning) - who paid their dues for a few years before making it in the NHL. He said that the Lightning have four premier defensemen, but Aldridge has the potential to make the Islanders' roster.
"(Islanders general manager) Mike Milbury said that, too," Aldridge said. "They have four defensemen, plus a couple others who have been there for a while. I'll be fighting for one of three spots."
Aldridge and his wife, Angie (LSSU '97), have three children: Laker (3 ½), Gunner (2) and Walker (4 months). He totaled 37 goals and 102 assists for 139 points during his LSSU career and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 1996.
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