Anchorage — OK, Wednesday was clearly not just another night at the rink in the grind that is the ECHL’s 72-game regular season.
Not with the Alaska Aces posting a come-from-way-behind 4-3 shootout victory over the Ontario Reign at Sullivan Arena.
Not with Jarred Smith’s game-winning shootout goal striking the crossbar, then ricocheting off the leg of Reign goaltender Dustin Carlson and just across the goal line — all of which prompted referee Joe Sullivan to begin to signal no goal, only then to switch gears and signal goal, and end of game.
Not with Carlson, who two days ago was holding down three jobs in Columbus, Ohio, playing terrifically in his first game in more than nine months.
Not with these top two teams in the Western Conference — the Aces (29-8-1) lead the entire 23-team league and the Reign are excellent (24-9-3) — playing extra time for the third time in their four meetings and producing a fourth straight one-goal game.
Not with the Aces stretching their string of games unbeaten in regulation to 12 (11-0-1), the fifth-longest such streak in their 10 ECHL seasons, and winning their seventh straight home game.
Not with Aces captain Steve Ward returning after missing 33 games with a broken right leg that required surgery – he suffered that injury blocking a shot on Oct. 26.
And certainly not with the Aces possibly losing their second-leading active scorer, winger Garry Nunn, with an injury to his left foot that left him in a walking boot and using a crutch to get around afterward.
The five-round shootout was extended to a sixth round with the teams tied 3-3. After Ontario’s Chris Huxley failed to score to start the sixth round, the rookie Smith skated in on Carlson and fired a wrist shot that struck iron and then ricocheted back into Carlson before crossing the goal line to give the Aces a decisive 4-3 edge in the skills competition.
A shootout attempt is like a penalty shot and here’s what Rule 24.2 in the ECHL Official Rules says about penalty shots: “No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind (an exception being the puck off the goal post or crossbar, then the goalkeeper and then directly into the goal.).
Smith said he was momentarily bummed when it initially appeared the shootout would be extended to seven rounds between two teams that went to a nine-round shootout before Ontario won in California on Saturday.
“As I was curling (away), I was like, ‘C’mon, I beat him clean,’ ” Smith said. “Then he backed into it, and it went in.’’
Carlson, who made 23 saves in regulation and OT after not playing in a game since March 31, was thrilled to be back working in the game he cherishes. The former Ohio State goalie was living and training in Columbus and working three jobs — valet parking, working for a doggie day care business and coaching youth goalies — when Ontario summoned him. The Reign needed goalies because their two, Jean-Francois Berube and Chris Carrozzi, were summoned to the American Hockey League once the NHL lockout ended.
Carlson, who split last season between Ontario and Toledo, flew Tuesday from Columbus to Chicago to Seattle, where he met up with the Reign and accompanied them to Anchorage. Wednesday’s morning skate was his only practice with the club.
“No. 1, I was so excited to play this game again — I love it to death,’’ Carlson said. “My mind-set was, ‘You have to be good because it might be your last chance.’ ”
Things were looking up for Carlson and company midway through the game. C.J. Stretch’s first-period goal and second-period strikes by Brady Calla and Kyle Kraemer forged a 3-0 lead on the Aces and goalie Gerald Coleman (29 saves).
But the Aces rallied. Alexandre Imbeault scored 24 seconds after Kraemer’s goal, roofing a wrister off Bobby Hughes’ 2-on-1 pass.
“We managed to stop that (Ontario) momentum cold,’’ said Aces leading scorer Nick Mazzolini.
Just 2:13 later, fill-in center Merit Waldrop of Anchorage bagged his first pro goal since March 2010 when he drove the net on a power-play rush. Hughes’ shot was stopped by Carlson, but the rebound glanced off Waldrop’s skate and in a split-second before he crashed into the net and knocked it off its moorings. In the final minute of the period, Hughes stripped Colton Yellow Horn of the puck at the Ontario line and beat Carlson with a long wrister between the goalie’s right arm and body to rack a 3-3 tie.
Hughes, whose one goal and two helpers marked his first three-point game as an Ace, said Imbeault’s goal triggered the comeback.
“It seems like when you get a quick goal, the bounces just seem to go your way,’’ Hughes said.
Smith said the comeback after the Aces mustered just four first-period shots, stemmed from patience and improved execution.
“It was a really good win, considering how poorly we started,’’ he said. “When you get down like that, you just have to think, ‘One at a time,’ and take it shift by shift.’’
The Aces lost Nunn late in the second period, just prior to Hughes’ game-tying goal. Nunn was struck by friendly fire — defenseman Sean Curry, who owns a blistering shot, fired a slapper that hit Nunn on the inside of his left foot and felled the winger. Twice, Nunn hobbled upright only to crumple to the ice.
Nunn said X-rays after the game were inconclusive and he will have another exam Thursday to determine the extent of his injury.
“It doesn’t feel great,’’ Nunn said. “It hit me square on, a heavy shot.’’
As the 5-foot-9 Nunn spoke outside the Aces’ dressing room, the 6-foot-5 Curry approached and hugged his teammate.
“Don’t worry about it,’’ Nunn told Curry. “I’m sure you weren’t aiming for me.’’
Shuffling the deck
After converting 10 of 51 shootout attempts (19.6 percent) last season, the Aces are 14 of 24 (58.3 percent) this season. They are 3-1 in shootouts.
Mazzolini is 3 for 3 in the shootout, tying him with departed NHLer Joey Crabb for the best mark among Aces.
Ontario rookie Mario Lamoureux, the younger brother of former Aces goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux and former Aces winger Jacques Lamoureux, scored in the shootout to make him 4 of 5 this season. Jacques Lamoureux, stationed here in the Air Force, dressed for the short-handed Reign, who used Anchorage’s Drew O’Connell as their emergency backup goaltender.
Stretch’s first-period goal marked the first time in 683:01 — the equivalent of more than 11 regulation games and a period – that the Aces have trailed.
Waldrop’s power-play goal was Alaska’s first in the last four games.
Alaska and Ontario, which played two games in California last weekend, play Friday and Saturday nights at Sullivan to make it five straight games between the teams.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces win shootout 4-3
Ontario 1 2 0 0 — 3
Aces 0 3 0 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Ontario, Stretch 19 (Brodie Sheahan), 18:45. Penalties — Brodie Sheahan, Ontario (hooking), 8:08; Curry, Aces (cross-checking), 10:51.
Second Period — 2, Ontario, Calla 3 (Burt, Brodie Sheahan), 1:01; 3, Ontario, Kraemer 10 (Yellow Horn, Clune), 12:41; 4, Aces, Imbeault 9 (Hughes), 13:05; 5, Aces, Waldrop 1 (Hughes, Imbeault), 15:18 (pp); 6, Aces, Hughes 7, 19:41. Penalties — Imbeault, Aces (high-sticking), 1:07; Ontario bench minor, served by Brodie Sheahan (too many men), 6:35; Pender, Ontario (interference), 8:19; M. Lamoureux, Ontario (tripping), 14:33.
Third Period — None. Penalties — Molle, Aces (interference), 10:41; Stretch, Ontario (slashing), 11:02.
Overtime — None. Penalties — None.
Shootout — Aces 4 (Mazzolini G, Imbeault NG, Hughes G, Goulet G, Clackson NG, Smith G), Ontario 3 (Stretch G, Beeman, NG, M. Lamoureux G, Yellow Horn NG, Kraemer G, Huxley NG).
Shots on goal — Ontario 10-10-11-1—32. Aces 4-9-12-1—27.
Power-play Opportunities — Ontario 0 of 3. Aces 1 of 5.
Goalies — Ontario, Carlson, 0-0-1 (26 shots-23 saves). Aces, Coleman, 14-2-0 (32-29).
A — 3,487 (6,399). T — 2:32.
Referee — Joe Sullivan. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Travis Jackson.