Counterintuitive though it is, one peril of staring down vulcanized rubber for the Alaska Aces is the frequent, long stretches of play when the puck is nowhere near the Aces’ crease.
That was the case again much of Sunday afternoon, when the Aces logged a 3-2 victory over the San Francisco Bulls and wrapped a sweep of the three-game ECHL series at Sullivan Arena.
Aces goaltender Mark Guggenberger faced just 18 shots, but nine of those, and nearly all of the dangerous ones, came in the third period, when he made a 3-2 lead hold up.
Guggenberger got the paddle of his goal stick down to deny Kevin Baker blowing in off the right wing. He squeezed his left arm to his body to trap Dean Ouellet’s bid from point-blank range. He shrugged his left shoulder to repel Jordan Clendenning’s shot from the right circle. And he dismissed Evan Barlow’s shot from the slot.
Like most goalies, Guggenberger would prefer more shots to keep him engaged, allow him to get a good feel for the puck and help him develop rhythm. But he faced just 57 shots in his three series starts — he stopped 52 — while the Aces launched 105 shots on his San Francisco counterparts. Sunday, the Aces outshot the Bulls 31-18.
“You’d rather be the guy getting the workload, so you have to be patient and find other ways to be focused,’’ Guggenberger said.
He said he gives himself pep talks during the game and makes sure he’s mentally locked in every time the opponent touches the puck. Guggenberger said he became accustomed to relative inactivity when he played for the Western Hockey League champion Kelowna Rockets in 2008-09 — like the Aces, he said, that team could go long periods without surrendering a quality chance.
“It was a good learning experience for me, and it’s carried over,’’ Guggenberger said.
Though Guggenberger surrendered consecutive goals to Peter Sivak and Barlow in a late second-period span of 33 seconds – Sivak flicked a laser just past his left ear and Barlow squeezed a wraparound through him – the goalie was at his best protecting Alaska’s 3-2 lead.
“The third period, they could have had three (goals), and he stoned them,’’ said Aces coach Rob Murray.
With Gerald Coleman, the club’s No. 1 goalie the last two seasons, still rehabbing from offseason hip surgery, the Aces in training camp brought in returner James Reid and Guggenberger, who was the Central Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Goaltender and Rookie of the Year last season for the Texas Brahmas.
Coleman isn’t expected back until around Thanksgiving. And the Aces have placed Reid on the 21-day injured reserve, retroactive to Thursday. Murray said he’s looking for another goalie for the team’s upcoming five-game road trip, but for now Guggenberger is The Man.
That’s what I’m here for — to work,’’ said Guggenberger, 23.
Guggenberger improved to 4-1-0 with a 1.41 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
With Reid out, the 6-foot-3 Guggenberger handled the tough duty of playing three games in a span of just more than 46 hours.
“For Mark, it was a huge test — deal or no deal,’’ said Aces defenseman Russ Sinkewich. “He rose to the occasion.’’
Murray said Guggenberger is different from many goalies in that his in-game personality isn’t as reserved as many masked men. He can be chatty at the bench during media timeouts and he often bangs his stick on the ice to support teammates who make good plays.
Sinkewich, Guggenberger’s roommate, said the goalie can be gregarious but is single-minded when the puck drops.
“Don’t let his goofy demeanor and mustache fool you — the kid is extremely focused and committed,’’ Sinkewich said.
The Aces furnished Guggenberger with a 3-0 cushion Sunday.
Zach Harrison potted his first goal of the season 13 minutes into the game when he took a feed from Garry Nunn and rifled a shot over the left shoulder of Thomas Heemskerk (28 saves) to punctuate a dominating shift. Rookie defenseman William Wrenn’s third goal in just seven games, off a feed from Brandon Dubinsky, pushed the lead to 2-0 late in the first period.
Dubinsky scored his fifth goal, and seventh point of the series, on a power play early in the second period. A San Francisco clearing attempt was a bullet that landed on Dubinsky’s tape, and he showed off his NHL credentials with a bullet of his own over Heemskerk’s blocker for a 3-0 advantage.
San Francisco enjoyed four third-period power plays in search of an equalizing goal. But the Bulls damaged themselves by taking penalties that cut short three of those power plays.
And Guggenberger also inflicted ample damage on the Bulls in the final 20 minutes.
Shuffling the deck
Guggenberger twice last season for Texas played three games in three nights. In those six games combined, he went 3-3-0 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .892 save percentage.
Scary moment in the first period, when Guggenberger caught the Bulls in a line change and made a long pass to spring Joey Crabb on a breakaway just after an Aces power play expired.
Crabb was hauled down from behind by former UAF defenseman Joe Sova, who was struck by either Crabb’s skate or the boot of his skate. In any event, Sova was bleeding and left the rink for repairs. He skated back to the bench midway through the second period. Murray said it appeared Sova may have broken his nose — he had a gauze plug in each nostril — and also appeared to have stitches to his nose.
Crabb was awarded a penalty shot and got Heemskerk to commit but flicked a backhand wide of the left post.
The last time an Ace scored on a penalty shot was March 8, 2008, when Vladimir Novak scored on Victoria’s Julien Ellis. In the past four seasons, the Aces have been awarded just one penalty shot each season – current Aces assistant coach Scott Burt, Nunn, Wes Goldie and Ethan Cox all came up empty.
The Aces presented the local chapter of the American Cancer Society and Breast Cancer, Inc., with a check for $57,800 in a first-intermission ceremony.
The money was raised from the Aces’ annual two-game exhibition series — “Paint the Rink Pink’’ — to promote education and treatment of breast cancer.
Also during the first intermission, NHL center and former Aces pivot Scott Gomez and Continental Motors donated $47,000 to the Scotty Gomez Foundation. That’s the cash equivalent of the car Gomez won at his own golf tournament over the summer by carding a hole-in-one.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
San Francisco 0 2 0 — 2
Aces 2 1 0 — 3
First Period — 1, Aces, Harrison 1 (Nunn, Goulet), 12:47; 2, Aces, Wrenn 3 (Dubinsky, Imbeault), 18:40. Penalties — Guimond, San Francisco (holding), 5:15; Danis-Pepin, San Francisco (slashing), 12:47.
Second Period — 3, Aces, Dubinsky 6, 1:44 (pp); 4, San Francisco, Sivak 1 (Langdon, Clendenning), 18:29; 5, San Francisco, Barlow 2, 19:02. Penalties — Clendenning, San Francisco (slashing), :27; Robinson, Aces (holding), 4:35; Sinkewich, Aces, major (fighting), 10:37; Langdon, San Francisco, major (fighting), 10:37; Sivak, San Francisco, double minor (attempted butt ending), 14:01.
Third Period — None. Penalties — Thompson, Aces (boarding), 1:37; Wilson, San Francisco (high-sticking), 2:29; Goulet, Aces (hooking), 6:05; Robinson, Aces (slashing), 9:40; Barlow, San Francisco (boarding), 10:55; Mazzolini, Aces (goaltender interference), 12:05; Wilson, San Francisco (high-sticking), 13:15.
Shots on goal — San Francisco 3-6-9--18. Aces 13-11-7—31.
Missed penalty shot — Crabb, Aces, 14:52 1st period.
Power-play Opportunities — San Francisco 0 of 5. Aces 1 of 8.
Goalies — San Francisco, Heemskerk, 1-3-1 (31 shots-28 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 4-1-0 (18-16).
A — 3,464 (6,399). T – 2:25.
Referee — Don Jablonski. Linesmen — Travis Jackson, Chad Colliander.