For more than two and half hours Friday night, tensions simmered between the Alaska Aces and Bakersfield Condors, but nothing more menacing transpired than a couple of fights, a few dustups and an major penalty for elbowing.
None of that particularly registered as over the top in pro hockey, and certainly none of it approached the carnival level players routinely refer to as a Gong Show.
When the final horn sounded on the Aces' 5-4 victory, though, the curtain went up at Sullivan Arena and the circus began before an announced crowd of 4,249 under the big top.
Bakersfield's Guillaume Lefebvre challenged Alaska goaltender Gerald Coleman, they tussled -- and then mayhem became manifest. In a matter of minutes, various bouts broke out and the ice surface was littered with sticks, gloves and helmets.
And more than the combined dozen guys who are permitted on the ice at any time were on the Olympic-sized sheet, which means some players left the benches.
And that means the folks at the ECHL office will surely be reviewing some footage today and suspensions could be forthcoming.
A couple of likely candidates for suspension are Condors enforcer Erick Lizon and Aces captain Scott Burt, neither of whom was on the ice for the final shift, but both of whom were involved in the post-game festivities. Alaska defenseman Alex Dzielski and Bakersfield defenseman Joey Ryan were also cited for leaving the bench.
After the final summary was compiled, well after the teams left the ice, the math came up to 214 combined penalty minutes, with Bakersfield getting 122 minutes to Alaska's 92.
That these teams should descend into chaos proved about as shocking as gambling in Casablanca.
The Aces still were upset about a hit to the head Bakersfield's Bobby Robins delivered on Aces defenseman Bryan Miller in California on Jan. 14, and about a run Condors defenseman Joe Rullier took at Aces center Brian Swanson that same night. Coleman and Bakersfield forward Pascal Morency did not come to a meeting of the minds that night, either.
Friday, the teams nearly made it off the ice without engaging the nuclear option. Sure, Coleman and Morency had a slashing/punching encounter in the first period, Rullier received a major elbowing penalty for his hit on Aces winger Kory Falite with six minutes to go, and there were a couple of fights sprinkled in - Lizon and Dzielski fought, and so did, to a degree, Aces sniper Wes Goldie and Lefebvre.
But things blew up at the buzzer, a split second after the Aces prevented the Condors from forging an extra-attacker equalizer.
"That's just the makeup of their team,'' Goldie said. "It's too bad -- they have a good team, and they could be really good if they were just hard-nosed.
"But they got a little stupid in the end, especially when they were losing. It's definitely a hard-fought win. The guys stuck together. We don't have a goon squad.''
Bakersfield coach Marty Raymond said his club can be hot-headed and needs to remain tough, but be more disciplined.
"I would say this year I have an emotional team, a lot of young guys,'' Raymond said. "It was certainly an emotional affair, and it's been that way the last two games.''
Coleman, who is 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, said he was hardly surprised things degenerated.
"For some reason, ever since we were (down) there, Morency always tries to come after me,'' Coleman said. "I'm the kind of goalie that doesn't get bothered by it, just laughs. And I can take care of myself.''
Chaos aside, Goldie scored two goals to regain the league lead with 25. Aces rookie defenseman Craig Gaudet bagged his first pro goal, which put Alaska ahead 5-2 early in the third period and proved the game-winner, and his first pro assist, and went a game-best plus 3. And Miller furnished one goal and two assists.
Also, Bakersfield made a tremendous comeback when Jean-Francois David scored short-handed to cut Alaska's lead to 5-4 with 1:59 to go.
Goldie said the Aces aren't a team built for a Gong Show, but had each others' backs Friday, though they would prefer to simply play hockey in tonight's rematch.
"We like to say 'you just have to play whistle to whistle' -- let your play do your talking, not your mouth,'' Goldie said.
Coleman said the most important outcome Friday was likely not the one many fans will be talking about.
"In a game like this,'' he said, "everyone forgets the score, and it's another two points for us.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Bakersfield 0 2 2 -- 4
Aces 2 2 1 -- 5
First Period -- 1, Aces, Goldie 24 (Howes, Dzielski), 1:14; 2, Aces, Anderson 4 (Ruegsegger, Nunn), 15:08. Penalties -- Coleman, Aces (roughing), 4:55; Morency, Bakersfield, double-minor (slashing, roughing), 4:55; Morency, Bakersfield, served by Lizon (unsportsmanlike conduct-disputing decision), 4:55; Gergen, Bakersfield (tripping), 8:38; Dzielski, Aces, double-minor, served by Falite (roughing), 12:14; Robins, Bakersfield (roughing), 12:14; Lefebvre, Bakersfield (misconduct), 20:00.
Second Period -- 3, Bakersfield, Gergen 4 (Broda, Goulet), 3:17; 4, Bakersfield, Trukhno 7 (Morency, Cascalenda), 3:38; 5, Aces, Goldie 25 (Miller, Swanson), 8:28 (pp); 6, Aces, Miller 5 (Harrison, Gaudet), 11:12. Penalties -- Rullier, Bakersfield (holding), 4:05; Burgdoerfer, Bakersfield (hooking), 7:45; Harrison, Aces (holding), 8:56; Burt, Aces (roughing), 9:46; Robins, Bakersfield (roughing), 9:46; Gergen, Bakersfield (slashing), 18:12.
Third Period -- 7, Aces, Gaudet 1 (Miller, Burt), 4:24; 8, Bakersfield, Broda 3 (Cascalenda), 8:37; 9, Bakersfield, David 7 (Morency), 18:01 (sh). Penalties -- Goldie, Aces, major (fighting), 4:06; Lefebvre, Bakersfield, major (fighting), 4:06; Robins, Bakersfield (elbowing), 4:24; Dzielski, Aces, major (fighting), 8:38; Lizon, Bakersfield, major (fighting), 8:38; Rullier, Bakersfield, major (elbowing), 13:56; Anderson, Aces, major (fighting), 20:00; Burt, Aces, major-double game misconduct (fighting, secondary altercation, leaving the bench), 20:00; Coleman, Aces, major-game misconduct (fighting, secondary altercation), 20:00; Dzielski, Aces, major-double game misconduct (fighting, secondary altercation, leaving the bench), 20:00; Lefebvre, Bakersfield, major-game misconduct (fighting, secondary altercation), 20:00; Lizon, Bakersfield, major-triple game misconduct (fighting, secondary altercation, leaving the bench, abuse of officials), 20:00; Morency, Bakersfield, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 20:00; Ryan, Bakersfield, misconduct-game misconduct (unsportsmanlike conduct, leaving the bench), 20:00.
Shots on goal -- Bakersfield 9-7-5--21. Aces 12-11-11--34.
Power-play Opportunities -- Bakersfield 0 of 2; Aces 1 of 7.
Goalies -- Bakersfield, Tordjman, 14-11-2 (34 shots-29 saves). Aces, Coleman, 18-10-1 (21-17).
A -- 4,249 (6,396). T -- 2:35.
Referee -- Joe Sullivan. Linesmen -- Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.