That Gerald Coleman proved a winning goaltender for the Alaska Aces on Friday night was not a jaw-dropping result -- in two previous seasons with the hockey club, he went an astounding 64-24-7 in all games (.711 winning percentage).
That Coleman produced 29 saves in his season debut, and was nearly flawless after not playing for almost seven months following offseason hip surgery -- now, that was impressive.
Coleman, who backstopped the Aces to the ECHL's Kelly Cup in 2011 and has served as their No. 1 masked man the previous two seasons, helped generate Friday's 5-1 road win over the beleaguered Utah Grizzlies.
And he did not get broken in gently.
The Grizzlies (6-8-1) peppered Coleman with 10 shots and pierced him for one goal, by NHLer Brad Mills, in the opening seven-plus minutes, a span in which Coleman's teammates did not fire a single shot on goal.
But Coleman's ability to keep the game under control until his teammates found their stride enabled the Aces (12-5-0) to keep pace with Idaho atop the Western Conference standings.
Once the Aces got going on a night when NHL center Scott Gomez sat out with what coach Rob Murray called a "tweak,'' they owned the Grizzlies, who have endured injuries and been prone to giving up goals galore.
Though the Aces only fired 22 shots in all, that total was somewhat misleading -- they outshot the Grizzlies 22-20 after those first seven-plus minutes. And they greeted Utah newcomer Shawn Hunwick (17 saves) rudely -- the rookie goalie made his Grizzlies debut after being acquired from South Carolina.
Veteran defenseman Sean Curry bagged his first goal for the Aces on a power play 12 minutes into the period to rack a 1-1 tie and center Nick Mazzolini furnished a 2-1 lead late in the period with his team-leading 10th goal.
Mazzolini has scored in three straight games and his goal marked his seventh in the last seven games. And winger Garry Nunn, who set up both Curry and Mazzolini, has contributed five assists in the last five games.
Zach Harrison and NHL winger Joey Crabb added second-period goals, and Crabb added a late short-handed, empty-netter when Grizzlies coach Kevin Colley pulled Hunwick for an extra attacker when his team went on the power play.
Crabb's shortie was his league-leading third this season and his eighth goal overall, and marked Alaska's sixth-shorthanded goal already this season.
The Aces killed all three Grizzlies power plays and have surrendered just nine power-play goals this season while killing off 89.8 percent of opposing power plays.
Shuffling the deck
Coleman's start gave Mark Guggenberger a much-needed night off. Guggenberger had made 13 consecutive starts.
Crabb added an assist for his second three-point night this season -- he also had two goals and a helper on opening night. He leads the team in points with 8-9--17 totals in 16 games.
Mazzolini checks in second among Aces in scoring with 10-6--16 totals in 17 games. Nunn ranks third, and leads the team in assists, with 3-12--15 totals in 17 games.
Alaska improved to 5-4-0 on the road.
Defenseman Dustin Molle returned to the lineup after missing nine games with a lower-body injury. With Gomez out, Murray's lineup featured nine forwards and seven defensemen, the first time this season the Aces have deviated from the usual complement of 10 forwards and six defensemen.
Gomez became the 12th Aces player to miss a game because of injury. Aces players have already missed a combined 108 games with injuries this season.
Defenseman Alain Goulet was scratched.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 2 2 1 -- 5
Utah 1 0 0 -- 1
First Period -- 1, Utah, Mills 5 (Burrows, MacKenzie), 3:33; 2, Aces, Curry 1 (Nunn, Crabb), 11:57 (pp); 3, Aces, Mazzolini 10 (Nunn), 18:50. Penalties -- Molle, Aces (hooking), 5:12; Falite, Utah (tripping), 9:58; Donovan, Utah, major (fighting), 18:52; Mele, Aces, major (fighting), 18:52.
Second Period -- 4, Aces, Harrison 3, 1:58; 5, Aces, Crabb 7 (Thompson, Haltigin), 5:12. Penalties -- Wrenn, Aces (interference), 7:55.
Third Period -- 6, Aces, Crabb 8, 18:05 (sh-en). Penalties -- Cameron, Utah (high-sticking), 6:39; Sinkewich, Aces (roughing), 17:39.
Shots on goal -- Aces 6-8-8--22. Utah 15-9-6--30.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 1 of 2. Utah 0 of 3.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 1-0-0 (30 shots-29 saves). Utah, Hunwick, 4-5-0 (21-17).
A -- 4,247 (10,200). T -- 2:17.
Referee -- Andrew Wilk. Linesmen -- Brett Martin, Todd Owen.