When Alaska Aces coach Rob Murray acquired Chris Clackson from Gwinnett last month, he envisioned the third-year pro as a forward who could chip in some scoring and, more importantly, bring some sandpaper to the lineup.
Clackson on Sunday afternoon authored the game-winning, third-period goal that helped the depleted Aces to a 2-1 hockey win at Ontario to cap a three-game California road trip in which the ECHL-leading Aces went 2-0-1.
The Aces (28-8-1) have gone 11 games (10-0-1) without losing in regulation, which ties the franchise's fifth-best unbeaten streak in its 10 ECHL seasons.
The Aces were reduced to 14 skaters after losing their four NHL players, three of whom accompanied them on the trip, because the NHL and its players reached a tentative labor agreement Sunday. That's the fewest the Aces have suited up this season and two under the league's maximum. And they only got to 14 with the signing of forward Alex Hudson of Corona, Calif., near Ontario. Hudson was released earlier in the week by Bakersfield.
Despite that, and despite managing a season-low 14 shots on goal, they won in what was their third road game in less than 24 hours.
Clackson delivered the decisive goal with the game tied 1-1 three minutes into the third period. He finished Bobby Hughes' 2-on-1 feed with a shot that beat Chris Carrozzi (12 saves).
That marked Clackson's fourth goal in the last six games, and his second goal of the weekend.
He didn't score in Friday night's 3-1 win at Stockton, but fought Thunder enforcer Garet Hunt and also took a roughing penalty. In Saturday's 2-1 shootout loss to Ontario, Clackson furnished a goal, a fight, two roughing penalties and two boarding penalties. Sunday, he contributed his goal and a roughing penalty.
In 10 games with the Aces, Clackson owns 4-1--5 totals and 42 penalty minutes. He is also plus-7, and has yet to be a minus in a game.
You can tell what Murray thinks of him - with NHLer Joey Crabb out Sunday, the coach made Clackson an alternate captain.
"He's filled the bill quite perfectly,'' Aces coach Rob Murray said by cell phone. "I gave him an 'A' today. Right now, we need to find leaders, and he fits, the way he plays and the way he protects his teammates.''
Aces veteran goaltender Gerald Coleman stopped 17 shots Sunday to win his eighth straight start. He played two of the three road games, allowed just one goal each start, and has surrendered just seven goals in his last six games.
Coleman has combined with Mark Guggenberger, who backstopped the Aces shootout loss Saturday, for a 27-7-1 record, 2.21 goals-against average and .916 save percentage.
"The goalies have been great, and that's a big help,'' Murray said.
The Aces jumped to a 1-0 lead just 73 seconds into the game when Garry Nunn scored off a Nick Mazzolini feed. Ontario (24-9-2), also playing its third game in less than 72 hours, tied the game four minutes later on a goal from rookie Mario Lamoureux, the brother of former Aces goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux and former Aces winger Jacques Lamoureux.
Then, after more than 37 scoreless minutes, Clackson struck for what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Once again, the Aces never trailed. They haven't trailed in a game - remember, Saturday's setback came in a shootout - in 664 minutes, 16 seconds, the equivalent of more than 11 regulation games.
Shuffling the deck
The Aces' longest ECHL streak without a regulation loss is 16 games (15-0-1) by the 2005-06 team, which won the first of the franchise's two Kelly Cups.
The Aces own three 13-game unbeaten streaks, the most recent a 10-0-3 run last season.
Since a pair of losses at Stockton on Nov. 3-4 dropped them to 5-4-0, the Aces have gone 23-4-1 (.839 winning percentage).
Hughes has not registered a minus-rating in his last 11 games. Zach Harrison and Alexandre Imbeault each have not been a minus in their last 10 games.
The trade that brought Clackson to the Aces sent defenseman Russ Sinkewich to Gwinnett, where he has flourished.
"It was very fortuitous for both teams,'' Murray said.
Ontario was without NHLer Kyle Clifford, who played for them Saturday, but still dressed the maximum 16 skaters.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 1 0 1 -- 2
Ontario 1 0 0 -- 1
First Period -- 1, Aces, Nunn 12 (Mazzolini), 1:13; 2, Ontario, Lamoureux 14 (Calla, Huxley), 5:27. Penalties -- Brock Sheahan, Ontario (roughing), 19:13; Clackson, Aces (roughing), 19:13.
Second Period -- None. Penalties -- Syvret, Aces (holding), 6:51; Brodie Sheahan, Ontario (tripping), 9:08.
Third Period -- 3, Aces, Clackson 10 (Hughes), 2:55. Penalties -- Hughes, Aces (closing hand on puck), 10:05; Kraemer, Ontario (slashing), 18:34.
Shots on goal -- Aces 7-4-3--14. Ontario 9-4-5--18.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 of 2. Ontario 0 of 2.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 13-2-0 (18 shots-17 saves). Ontario, Carrozzi, 13-6-0 (14-12).
A -- 6,752 (9,616). T - 2:17.
Referee -- Marc-Andre Lavoie. Linesmen -- Brett Martin, Brent Tubbs.