The Alaska Aces on Saturday night assured themselves of a stress-free last week of the ECHL's regular season and home-ice advantage throughout the Kelly Cup playoffs.
They're the Brabham Cup champions -- yet again, for third straight hockey season, trumping the league record they already own -- after their 2-1 road win over the Colorado Eagles in Loveland.
The victory at the sold-out Budweiser Events Center makes Alaska's two remaining games, Friday and Saturday at Ontario, little more than a formality. The Aces (48-15-7) can rest players bruised from the grind of the 72-game regular season and manage the ice time of others.
Alaska's win lifted it to 103 points in the league, leaving Ontario (97 points, with three games left) unable to leapfrog the Aces, which own the tie-breaker (wins in regulation) over the Reign.
With Saturday's victory, the Aces also wrapped up the Western Conference crown and the Mountain Division title, giving the franchise three more banners to hang at Sullivan Arena, where they have unfurled banners with great frequency in their 10 ECHL seasons. The Aces are two-time Kelly Cup champions, last seizing the title in 2011.
The goaltender on that club was Gerald Coleman, the same guy who backstopped Saturday's sublime experience with 30 saves. He stopped all 13 shots he faced in the third period.
Alaska pulled itself to the brink of banners with Friday night's come-from-behind, 5-3 win over the Eagles. That victory snapped a three-game losing streak and a four-game winless streak, both of which marked the Aces' longest droughts of the season, which is saying something considering they have played 70 games.
The Aces on Saturday also extended their league record to four Brabham Cups -- no other team has won more than two in the ECHL's 25 seasons.
Alaska has won the Brabham Cup in both of bench boss Rob Murray's two seasons with the club.
And the Aces barely stumbled after the NHL lockout ended in early January, which removed four NHLers from Anchorage from their lineup. The Aces went 27-8-1 with NHLers for a .764 winning percentage. Without them, they have nonetheless played at a remarkably high level - 21-7-6 for a .706 winning percentage.
It proved fitting that the Aces clinched the Brabham by killing off a Colorado power play in the last two minutes -- Alaska's penalty-killing crew is tops in the league and snuffed all four man advantages by Colorado's league-leading power play.
The Aces used goals 21 seconds apart from wingers Tim Hall and Chris Clackson early in the second period to rebound from a 1-0 deficit.
Greg Gardner gave the Eagles (33-30-6) a 1-0 lead when he scored just less than four minutes into the second period.
Yet the Aces answered, and emphatically, inside of three minutes on the goals from Hall and Clackson.
Hall, who missed nearly the entire regular season with a concussion, delivered off helpers from Bobby Hughes and Alexandre Imbeault. Hughes was stopped on a first-period penalty shot by Adam Brown, so his assist furnished some salve. Imbeault sat out Friday and has been troubled by a bad back for weeks, but was back in the lineup for a critical game.
Clackson's goal seemed fitting too because it came from a crew of particularly diligent grinders -- Clackson furnishes a physical force with a decent scoring tough, and Jordan Kremyr and Zach Harrison, who assisted, can usually be counted on for high-octane energy.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 0 2 0 -- 2
Colorado 0 1 0 -- 1
First Period -- None. Penalties -- Crum, Aces (interference), :46; Lange, Colorado (holding the stick), 5:39.
Second Period -- 1, Colorado, Gardner 1 (Forney, Schneekloth), 3:46; 2, Aces, Hall 2 (Hughes, Imbeault), 6:15; 3, Aces, Clackson 15 (Kremyr, Harrison), 6:36. Penalties -- Trupp, Aces (hooking), :47; Rush, Colorado, major (fighting), 4:20; Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 4:20; Nunn, Aces (high-sticking), 16:10.
Third Period -- None. Penalties -- Molle, Aces (interference), 17:32.
Shots on goal -- Aces 11-12-5--28. Colorado 5-13-13--31.
Missed penalty shot -- Hughes, Aces, 2:21 1st period.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 of 1. Colorado 0 of 4.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 23-6-2 (31 shots-30 saves). Colorado, Brown, 21-14-1 (28-26).
A -- 5,289 (5,289). T -- 2:33.
Referee -- Geoff Miller. Linesmen -- Robert Keltie, Chris Wilson.