Just in case, Caron was an Ace up the sleeve

By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / June 9, 2011

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Jordan Caron has not played a hockey game in two months, but yesterday, the 20-year-old right wing from Quebec got a text message from Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney: It was time to stop being a Black Ace and start being a real Bruin.

The Bruins are short a forward with Nathan Horton suffering a severe concussion in Game 3. Rookie Tyler Seguin was back in the lineup for Game 4 last night after sitting out the previous game in favor of veteran Shawn Thornton.

So Caron participated in the morning skate, just in case. He took part in the pregame skate but was not active for the game.

“You never know what could happen in the course of a day,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Players can get sick, or something can happen, so we are playing it safe.’’

After the morning skate, Caron stood in front of a stall with his nameplate on it, absorbing the excitement of going from sideline sitter to Stanley Cup finalist in one day.

“Right now, I’m just the extra guy,’’ he said.

Caron played 23 games with the Bruins in the first half of the season, his last appearance coming Feb. 13. After producing three goals and four assists, he was sent to Providence and spent the rest of the year playing for the Bruins’ AHL team.

At the end of the regular season, he was one of 10 minor league players summoned to join the Bruins’ practice squad, which is nicknamed the Black Aces.

For two months, including three rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Caron never skated with the team, just practiced with the other Aces, who followed the big team around like a pack of puppies. Four were sent home May 5, leaving a group of six — Caron, defensemen Colby Cohen and Matt Bartkowski, centers Trent Whitfield and Jamie Arniel, and goalie Anton Khudobin — to stay sharp by playing shinny with each other.

“We’re just five guys out there, and it’s hard to keep the pace very high for an hour,’’ said Caron. “You’re only five guys. I think Butch [Providence assistant coach Bruce Cassidy] did a good job of keeping us ready, and if I have to play, I’ll be ready.’’

The Black Aces wear suits to the games, perch in the press box, and watch the game closely, trying not to jump out of those suits in frustration.

“It’s nerve-racking,’’ said Steve Kampfer, who as a rostered player is not a Black Ace but joins the Aces in the press box when he is a healthy scratch, “because you can’t control it.’’

According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the nickname “Black Aces’’ originated with legendary Bruin Eddie Shore, a hockey character if there ever was one, who bought the AHL’s Springfield Indians in 1939 as his playing career came to a close.

Shore made his Black Aces, players working their way back into the lineup from injuries or residence in Shore’s doghouse, do all the grunt work. They had to do the hockey drills like everybody else, and according to one of Shore’s best-known Aces, former Bruins coach Don Cherry, they also had to paint the seats, pop the popcorn, sell programs, and blow up balloons before ice shows, too.

Keith Jones, a nine-year NHLer who is now a television commentator for Versus, was a Black Ace for the Washington Capitals in 1992. Fresh from college, he joined the Baltimore Skipjacks of the AHL for six games after completing his season at Western Michigan and then was one of the spares called up when the Capitals played the eventual Cup champion Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.

“I was so impressed with these guys,’’ Jones said of the big leaguers. “I figured that the only way I’m going to get in this game is if the nine guys ahead of me get hit by a bus.’’

Jones said it was the job of a Black Ace to absorb the NHL culture.

“You’re there not to be noticed, but to blend in,’’ said Jones. “For so long you’re trying to make it to the NHL and you’re trying to get noticed. Then you’re lucky if two guys even say hi to you.

“Still, it’s a nice thing when it happens. It means the organization has plans for you. It’s a good learning experience.’’

For Caron, it was exciting just to practice with the team.

“It’s the Stanley Cup Final, so just to be around the team and playing practice with them and stuff [is exciting],’’ said Caron. “If I get the call, I’ve got to be ready. It should be fun.’’

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