Aces claim clean victory

3-1: Alaska records fewest penalty minutes this season in win over Ontario Reign.

January 28, 2009 

Quickest Alaska Aces game this hockey season, clocking in at a brisk 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Fewest penalty minutes in an Aces match this season -- the home club and the Ontario Reign spent a combined 10 minutes serving sentences.

About as clean as earnestly engaged games come too -- hardly a dustup and just one significant stick infraction, that for high-sticking. No busts for boarding, or slashing, or cross-checking.

Yet what the Aces liked best about their 3-1 ECHL victory Wednesday over the Pacific Division leaders before an announced crowd of 3,470 at Sullivan Arena was that it reinforced the notion they have regained their groove.

The win extended the Aces' unbeaten streak to six games (5-0-1) and elevated them to 7-1-1 in their last nine games. That's their best run since they reeled off an 8-0-1 streak in the first half of November.

"You know, everybody trusts each other right now,'' said Aces captain Scott Burt. "Guys know their job and they do it, because they know the guy next to him will do his job.''

The Aces (25-14-3) prospered by virtue of gaining a two-goal lead early, using rookie goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux's 28 saves, winning the battle of special teams and keeping Ontario's counter- attacking in check.

The loss snapped Ontario's five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1). The Reign (23-15-3) put in honest work, but simply didn't receive any reward in the first game of a three-game series that continues Friday.

"That might have been our best effort in the last six games,'' said Ontario's Jon Rheault, who scored his club's goal.

Burt and linemate Vladimir Novak scored 36 seconds apart before the midway mark of the first period to stake the Aces to a 2-0 lead, and they never surrendered that cushion.

While Burt's opening goal came in part from his entire line driving to the net, it also came courtesy of some puck luck.

Novak marched to the Ontario net from behind the goal line and was rebuffed by Reign goalie Kellen Briggs (30 saves). Winger Brett Hemingway, stationed off the left post, squeezed the rebound back into the crease, and the puck came to rest on the goal line. An Ontario defender cleared the puck off the line. The puck appeared to hit Burt, who was belly-down on the rink, and ricocheted back into the cage.

"I might have hit it with my stick,'' Burt said. "They might have hit it. I don't know. Between me, Hemmie and Novie, we all got points, so we don't care who gets credit.''

Novak followed off the rush later in the shift, whistling a 40-foot wrister over the glove of Briggs, who was playing his second game this season and appeared to be screened by his defense.

"We haven't really been a team that's been high-octane offense in the first period, so it was nice to get a couple of quick goals and play with a lead,'' Lamoureux said.

Neither team scored for nearly 38 minutes after that. Lamoureux and Briggs, rivals from their days in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association -- Lamoureux at North Dakota, Briggs at Minnesota -- kept the shooters at bay.

Lamoureux's victory was his league-leading 20th.

"I think rebound control is really essential,'' he said. "If you give up rebounds, that's a strong part of their offense -- that and jumping on turnovers. But we didn't give up too many chances.''

In a typically low-scoring game between the teams -- their four matches this season have furnished Alaska wins of 3-1, 3-2 and 3-1, and Ontario's 3-2 win -- a turning point came in the second half of the third period.

By then, Aces leading scorer Colin Hemingway had struck on the power play five minutes into the period for his second goal in 16 games and a 3-0 lead. But Rheault countered less than four minutes later on a tap-in of Tim Kraus' splendid behind-the-back pass in the slot.

The Reign carried their momentum through two more strong shifts and enjoyed a late power play, but couldn't pull closer.

"That was a pivotal point there,'' Rheault said. "Chris Curran rang one off the post, and we had some other chances. I think we can feed off that (Friday).''

Shuffling the deck

The win, coupled with Stockton's 2-0 win at West Division-leading Victoria, pulled the Aces to within nine points of Victoria in the standings. The Aces have played three fewer games than the Salmon Kings.

Burt has scored goals in three straight games and in four of the last five. Brett Hemingway has recorded five assists in the last three games.

The Aces killed three Reign power plays and have limited Ontario to one power-play goal on 18 chances this season. Alaska went 1 for 2 on the power play and is 7 of 19 with the man advantage against Ontario this season.

Alaska's previous fastest game this season was a 2:09 match, four minutes slower than Wednesday, in a 6-3 win at Victoria on Nov. 19.

The previous low for combined penalty minutes in an Aces game was 12 in 4-2 loss at Las Vegas on Dec. 28. The penalty-free first period by both teams Wednesday marked only the third regulation period without a penalty in 126 periods they Aces have played this season.

The only Sullivan crowd smaller than Wednesday's for an Aces game this season was 3,347 -- 123 fewer than Wednesday's 3,470 -- for a 3-2 loss to Bakersfield on Dec. 3.

Find Doyle Woody's blog at or call him at 257-4335.

Ontario 0 0 1 -- 1

Aces 2 0 1 -- 3

First Period -- 1, Aces, Burt 8 (B. Hemingway, Novak), 6:52; 2, Aces, Novak 7 (Burt, Hellstrom), 7:28. Penalties -- None.

Second Period -- None. Penalties -- Schmidt, Aces (high-sticking), 8:38; Rheault, Ontario (tripping), 9:48; Turek, Aces (hooking), 15:15.

Third Period -- 3, Aces, C. Hemingway 16 (Imbeault, Schmidt), 5:20 (pp); 4, Ontario, Rheault 7 (Kraus, D. Walker), 8:23. Penalties --Mehalko, Ontario (tripping), 5:03; Burt, Aces (hooking), 15:11.

Shots on goal -- Ontario 7-14-8--29. Aces 14-11-8--33.

Power-play Opportunities -- Ontario 0 of 3; Aces 1 of 2.

Goalies -- Ontario, Briggs 1-1-0 (33 shots-30 saves). Aces, Lamoureux 20-10-3 (29-28).

A -- 3,470 (6,251). T -- 2:05.

Referee -- Shane Warschaw. Linesmen -- Travis Jackson, Nolan Rein.

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