Two goals from a Washington Capitals winger and an assist by a Columbus Blue Jackets center added up to an obvious conclusion Friday night when the Alaska Aces opened their season with a 6-3 come-from-behind victory on the road.
"Heck, we gotta stop calling them NHL guys. They're Alaska Aces," coach Rob Murray told KFQD radio after the win over the Colorado Eagles at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo.
Joey Crabb's two goals and Brandon Dubinsky's assist helped fuel a third-period fireworks display that carried the Aces to victory.
The game marked the regular-season ECHL debut for three Anchorage NHL players -- Crabb, Dubinksy and Nate Thompson of the Tampa Bay Lightning -- who are with the Aces because of the NHL lockout.
"You can't talk about our team without talking about those guys," Murray admitted in a post-game radio interview. "I believe these guys are good character guys, they're not just here to keep their legs in shape, they're dedicated to the team and they want to do everything they can to help the Aces win."
Down 3-2 after two periods, the Aces reeled off four goals in the final period.
A pair of non-NHL guys scored the pivotal goals to put the Aces up 4-3 eight minutes into the third period.
Garry Nunn tied the game after a goal-mouth scramble and Nick Mazzolini got the game-winner by intercepting a pass and scoring off his own rebound. The goals came in a span of less than two minutes.
Then the NHL guys cemented the game. Crabb scored twice for the Aces, with Dubinski assisting on the first one.
This is the second time the Aces have bolstered their lineup during an NHL lockout. In 2004-05, Anchorage's Scott Gomez, then with the New Jersey Devils, spent the season with the Aces and earned ECHL MVP honors.
Crabb finished with three points, as did Tommy Mele, who scored a goal in the first period and assists in the second and third. Nunn and William Wrenn of Anchorage also added goals in support of goaltender James Reid, who stopped 20 shots.
The Aces fired 40 shots at Colorado goalkeeper Kyle Jones and were particularly lethal on special teams.
The Aces didn't score a single even-strength goal all night. Five came on the power play and the sixth, Mazzolini's tiebreaker, was scored short-handed.
Murray said the success on the power play was the result of attention paid to Colorado's systems last season.
"We noticed a little chink in their armor," he said on KFQD, "we attacked it and it paid off."
Then he laughed.
"And we've got Scott Gomez as our power-play coach. That doesn't hurt," he said.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Alaska 0 2 4 -- 6
Colorado 0 3 0 -- 3
Second Period -- 1, Aces, Mele 1 (Nunn, Lafranchise), 8:12 (pp); 2, Colorado, Sides 1 (Nelson, Beatty), 10:17; 3, Colorado, Schneekloth 1 (Costello, Combs), 10:56; 4, Aces, Wrenn 1 (Mele, Crabb), 16:24 (pp); 5, Colorado, Ezekiel 1 (Hood, Schneekloth), 18:36.
Third period -- 6, Aces, Nunn 1 (Mele, Ward), 5:55 (pp); 7, Aces, Mazzolini 1 (un), 7:31 (pp); 8, Aces, Crabb 1 (Syvret, Dubinsky), 11:40 (pp), 9, Aces, Crabb 2 (Lafranchise, Ward), 15:59 (pp).
Shots on goal -- Aces 11-17-12--40. Colorado 10-9-4-23.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 5 of 8; Colorado 0 of 5.
Goalies -- Aces, Reid, 1-0-0 (23 shots-20 saves). Colorado, Jones, 0-1-0 (40-34).
A -- 5,289. T -- 2:07.
Referee -- Ryan Murphy. Linesmen -- Jon Shaw, Chris Wilson.