In his dotage, Scott Gomez joked, the story he tells of his game-winning, power-play goal Wednesday night, in his debut of his second go-round with the Alaska Aces, will be a rink recollection for the ages.
“Yeah, I beat four guys and went top shelf,’’ he said with a smirk.
In truth, Gomez wasn’t even certain he authored the game-winner at Sullivan Arena, where the third-period goal he was credited with proved the difference in a 4-3 ECHL win over the dangerous Colorado Eagles.
Gomez, the veteran NHL center from Anchorage who was the ECHL’s Most Valuable Player for the Aces during the NHL lockout of 2004-05, played his first game for the club in his second stint with it, prompted by yet another lockout. The Aces also include NHL forwards Joey Crabb, Nate Thompson and Brandon Dubinsky, all of Anchorage — Dubinsky is out with a broken hand suffered blocking a shot last week
Gomez collected a power-play assist on the Aces’ first goal, Garry Nunn’s marker, and with the game tied 3-3 and the Aces on the man advantage, delivered — allegedly — the goal that gave the Aces their only lead of the game before an announced crowd of 3,854.
Aces defenseman Corey Syvret partially fanned on his one-timer from the high slot, and as the puck slid slowly forward between the face-off circles, Nick Mazzolini whipped it toward the cage, where Gomez was stationed on the edge of the crease. Gomez wasn’t sure the puck hit him before ricocheting past Colorado goaltender Tyler Plante (34 saves), but he said referee Nick Leduc told him it did.
“Who cares?’’ Gomez said. “We got the two points.’’
Mazzolini, who usually is a center, but played left wing on Gomez’s line and on their power-play unit, was cool with Gomez getting credit.
“It was his first game back — he needed a big cheer, accolades, whatever,’’ Mazzolini said, dead-pan.
In any event, the Aces (9-4-0) extended their winning streak to five games and snapped the five-game winning streak the Eagles (6-5-2) were riding entering the opener of a three-game set that continues Friday night.
They did so by holding Colorado’s wickedly lethal power play in check — the Aces killed three third-period Eagles power plays, including one that covered the last 1 minute, 42 seconds, and all six the Eagles enjoyed. That marked the first time the circuit’s best power play, which generated 13 power-play goals in the previous five games, has been held scoreless since the Aces did it on opening night last month in Colorado.
Also, the Aces went 2 for 3 with the man advantage, plus got a lovely short-handed strike from Crabb and the first goal of rookie winger Jarred Smith’s career. And Mark Guggenberger, making his 10th straight start in net, stopped 28 shots. That included a perfect 18 saves in the third period and a glove robbery of Michael Forney with less than seven minutes to go to preserve the 4-3 lead.
Eight months removed from his last game — an NHL match for the Montreal Canadiens before injury cut his season short — Gomez said he was nervous Wednesday. Having Mazzolini and Nunn on his wings eased his concern.
“It’s fun,’’ Gomez said. “Mazz and Nunner — I didn’t realize how open they can get. Obviously, it’s my game to pass, but I was surprised by how open they got.’’
Nunn said playing with a guy who has scored nearly 800 regular-season and playoff points in the NHL and twice won the Stanley Cup, was a treat. Gomez has furnished nearly 600 assists in all his NHL games.
“You think there’s no room to pass, or he’s going to shoot, and he’ll get a pass over a stick and right onto your tape,’’ Nunn said. “You gotta be ready — he told me that.’’
Gomez said he tired some as the game went on and tried to keep his shifts short enough that he didn’t get stuck on the ice when fatigued. And like any player, he wasn’t invincible. He lost the opening face-off to start the second period, got caught flat-footed in the neutral zone and lost his man in his defensive zone, all of which helped lead to Joey Sides’ strike 12 seconds into the period.
Mostly, Gomez said he was just happy to win. The Aces also won his debut in 2004, when he furnished an assist and a shootout goal in a 3-2 shootout win over the San Diego Gulls.
With that, he was off to the training room to get in the cold tub and soothe legs that hadn’t been in a game in eight months.
Shuffling the deck
Smith’s goal, in his seventh pro game, was a slapper from atop the right circle, off a pass from Tommy Mele, and forged a 3-3 tie in the second period.
“Every time you move up a level, that first goal is exciting,’’ Smith said. “It was nice to help the team and tie the game. It was nice to have it be meaningful.’’
Smith’s two assists in Alaska’s previous game, a 6-4 win at Las Vegas last Saturday, marked his first pro points.
Crabb’s second shortie of the season came when he took a pass from defenseman Kane Lafranchise (two assists), blew around Forney on left wing, put the puck through the skates of stumbling defenseman Jake Marto (two assists) and beat Plante in tight.
Gomez’s wasn’t the only sweet season debut. Colorado forward Kevin Ulanski, who until recently was selling medical equipment, returned to the Eagles and generated one goal and one assist, and a plus-3 rating. Ulanski, the former University of Denver skater, last season earned 27-41—68 totals in just 56 games with Colorado.
Plante’s only previous experience at Sullivan was a gem. As a rookie for the Florida Everblades on Nov. 3, 2007, he stopped 31 shots in a 2-0 win over the Aces.
Colorado’s league-leading scorer, Chad Costello, assisted on Ulanski’s goal to extend his point streak to seven games — he owns 5-11—16 totals in that span. Sides has scored a goal in five straight games.
Mazzolini noted the explosiveness of Colorado’s offense — the Eagles entered having scored 35 goals in their five-game winning streak and they attack with skill and tenacity.
“Anything you give them, they take advantage of,’’ Mazzolini said.
Aces defenseman Russ Sinkewich, who leads the team in plus-minus rating at plus-8, was a scratch for the first time this season.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Colorado 2 1 0 — 3
Aces 2 1 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Colorado, Ulanski 1 (Marto, Costello), 9:01; 2, Aces, Nunn 3 (Lafranchise, Gomez), 9:57 (pp); 3, Colorado, Sol 2 (Marto, Ostrow), 12:08; 4, Aces, Crabb 5 (Lafranchise), 16:19 (sh). Penalties — Haltigin, Aces, double-minor (high-sticking), 1:26; Sides, Colorado (hooking), 9:34; Gomez, Aces (elbowing), 15:25.
Second Period — 5, Colorado, Sides 9 (Ostrow, Ulanski), :12; 6, Aces, Smith 1 (Mele), 12:17. Penalties — Bowman, Colorado (tripping), 1:02.
Third Period — 7, Aces, Gomez 1 (Mazzolini, Syvret), 6:29 (pp). Penalties — Forney, Colorado (high-sticking), 4:37; Goulet, Aces (high-sticking), 8:27; Goulet, Aces (tripping), 14:07; Mazzolini, Aces (interference), 18:23.
Shots on goal — Colorado 8-5-18—31. Aces 8-19-11—38.
Power-play Opportunities — Colorado 0 of 6. Aces 2 of 3.
Goalies — Colorado, Plante, 1-1-0 (38 shots-34 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 8-3-0 (31-28).
A — 3,854 (6,399). T — 2:22.
Referee — Nick Leduc. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.