Aces win Brabham Cup

Alaska is only ECHL team to win back-to-back Cups, three in league history.

Anchorage Daily NewsMarch 30, 2012 

The Alaska Aces short-circuited on the power play, failing on all nine opportunities Friday night, including an extended two-man advantage.

They blew a one-goal lead they carried into the third period.

They lost, 2-1 in overtime, on the road to the Ontario Reign, who received the game-winning strike from Tristan King just 60 seconds into extra time.

And none of it mattered.

Just a few minutes into that match at Citizens Business Bank Arena in California, the Aces were already Brabham Cup champions as regular-season rulers of the ECHL and had rewritten the record books of the minor-league hockey circuit.

The defending Kelly Cup champion Aces, who secured the Brabham by virtue of Gwinnett's 5-3 loss at Florida, became the first team in the 24-season history of the league to win consecutive Brabham Cups and the first team to win the Brabham three times.

Winning the Brabham assures the Aces of home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs and gives them their third title of the regular season. They previously locked up the Western Conference crown, which earned them a first-round bye, and the Mountain Division championship.

The Aces have to like the symmetry of their path to this point. In 2011 and 2006, they also won their division, their conference and the Brabham, and both times they went on to win the Kelly Cup.

In Alaska's three Brabham Cup seasons, they have twice won that crown on the penultimate night of the season -- Friday, and in 2006. Last season, the Aces bagged the Brabham on the final night of the season.

The Aces on Friday also announced they will open the best-of-7 conference semifinals at Sullivan Arena with games April 13-14. They await the winner of a best-of-5, first-round series between the fourth-seeded Colorado Eagles and fifth-seeded Stockton Thunder.

Florida's victory over Gwinnett wrapped a few minutes into the Aces-Reign game. Entering Friday, the Aces owned a three-point lead on the Gladiators and also owned the tie-breaker -- non-shootout wins -- with two games to go in the 72-game grind of the regular season. The only way Gwinnett could win the Brabham was to beat Florida twice and have Alaska lose twice in regulation to Ontario.

Ontario, meanwhile, had much at stake. The Reign entered the night one point ahead of the Las Vegas Wranglers for the Pacific Division lead, a critical situation because the winner of the Pacific gets the No. 2 seed in the conference playoffs. Ontario's come-from-behind victory over the Aces proved pivotal because Las Vegas beat Colorado 6-4 on Friday.

Yet, even though they won, the Reign played a remarkably ill-tempered game, giving the Aces nine power plays, including three in the third period. Also, Ontario defenseman Adrian Van de Mosselaer received a major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct for his first-period hit on Aces winger Matt Ambroz.

Olson could face suspension. Aces coach Rob Murray said in his postgame radio interview that Ambroz, who did play after the hit, believes he has a concussion. The rookie endured a concussion in midseason and missed 10 games.

In any event, the Aces no doubt will be working on their power play during their bye. They have converted once in 23 man-advantage chances the last five games and gone 4 of 40 in the last eight games. Granted, Ontario owns the league's best penalty-killing crew, but Friday the Aces could not score during a 5-on-3 advantage that lasted for 81 seconds in the first period.

On top of that, Ontario's Geoff Irwin scored on a short-handed rebound five minutes into the third period to forge a 1-1 tie. Irwin's goal wiped out a 1-0 lead the Aces held since midway through the first period, when Wes Goldie scored on a redirection for his team high-tying 35th goal.

Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman made 18 saves and Reign backstop Jean-Francois Berube stopped 24 shots.

Shuffling the deck

Ambroz will not play Saturday. Nor will center Nick Mazzolini, who Murray held out of the lineup because Mazzolini has been suffering from a back ailment, and there is no reason to risk his health with two weeks to go before the club opens the playoffs.

Aces captain Brian Swanson will miss Saturday's game to attend the funeral of his grandfather in San Bernadino, Calif.

That will leave the Aces with 15 skaters, one short of the ECHL maximum. Murray said defenseman Danny Markowitz will likely play wing to give the club nine forwards and five defensemen.

Murray said rookie goalie James Reid will get the start Saturday.

Brock Shelgren, a defenseman who recently finished his college career at Michigan State, made his pro debut for the Aces. He went plus-1 with one shot on goal.

The four short-handed goals the Aces have given up this season tie Las Vegas for the fewest surrendered in the league.


Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

Aces 1 0 0 0 -- 1

Ontario 0 0 1 1 -- 2

First Period -- 1, Aces, Goldie 35 (Kissel, Marsh), 9:55. Penalties -- Estrada, Ontario (slashing), 6:28; Nunn, Aces (holding), 10:33; Van de Mosselaer, Ontario, major-game misconduct, served by King (elbowing), 13:34; Yaworski, Aces (hooking), 16:25; Olson, Ontario (boarding), 16:59; Mazur, Ontario (roughing), 16:59; Kremyr, Aces (roughing), 16:59; Sheen, Ontario (tripping), 19:15; Gabinet, Ontario, major (fighting), 19:49; Goldie, Aces, major (fighting), 19:49.

Second Period -- None. Penalties -- Goldie, Aces (hooking), 8:36; Couture, Ontario (boarding), 14:55; Mazur, Ontario (roughing), 14:55; Kremyr, Aces (roughing), 14:55; Bagron, Ontario (tripping), 15:35; Olson, Ontario (cross-checking), 17:28; Yaworski, Aces (roughing), 17:28.

Third Period -- 2, Ontario, Irwin 18 (Estrada, LoVerde), 4:58 (sh). Penalties -- Sheen, Ontario (tripping), 4:30; Huxley, Ontario, major (fighting), 6:56; Kremyr, Aces, major (fighting), 6:56; Mazur, Ontario (roughing), 12:16; Sheen, Ontario (holding), 15:30.

Overtime -- 3, Ontario, King 18 (Gabinet, Kraemer), 1:00. Penalties -- None.

Shots on goal -- Aces 11-7-7-0--25. Ontario 4-6-9-1--20.

Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 of 9. Ontario 0 of 2.

Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 18-5-4 (20 shots-18 saves). Ontario, Berube, 16-13-4 (25-24).

A -- 8,223 (9,592). T -- 2:34.

Referee -- Nic Leduc. Linesmen -- Steven Berry, Michel Voyer.

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