Strong in regular season, Aces goaltenders flourish in playoffs too

dwoody@adn.comApril 18, 2013 

  • Stockton Thunder

    Alaska Aces

    ECHL Western Conference Semifinals (Best-of-7)

    Games 1 and 2, Friday and Saturday, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.
    Radio: Live AM-750 and FM-103.7 KFQD

— To address precision in language, we turn to Alaska Aces coach and crossword puzzle aficionado Rob Murray, who reports he does not have a goaltending "problem'' with Gerald Coleman and Mark Guggenberger.

The two goalies delivered nearly identical statistics -- namely, outstanding ones -- in the ECHL regular season and Murray continued to split starts between the two in eliminating San Francisco in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.

"People keep saying, 'That's a nice problem to have,' '' Murray said. "I tell them, 'It's not a problem.' A problem is when you have to keep switching goalies, hoping one of them will get the job done.''

Coleman, who will start Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Stockton Thunder at Sullivan Arena on Friday night, and Guggenberger both say they have no problem sharing the workload. Each believes he merited playoff starts, and believes his counterpart did too.

That healthy competition keeps them both sharp, the goaltenders said.

"It's been the case all year,'' Guggenberger said. "You're not going to just play because of what you did last week, or the week before. Every week is a new ballgame.''

Said Coleman: "You never want to be the weak link. You never want to be the chink in the armor.''

While the majority of hockey playoff teams rely on a clear No. 1 goaltender -- Stockton's Olivier Roy, for instances, made all seven starts in winning a first-round series against Las Vegas -- using a tandem successfully in the postseason is not unprecedented. The Aces used Matt Underhill and Chris Beckford-Tseu to win the 2006 Kelly Cup. And Cincinnati Cyclones goalies Jeremy Smith and Robert Mayer shared the Kelly Cup MVP honor in leading their club to the 2010 championship.

In the regular season, Coleman went 23-6-3 with a 2.17 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and two shutouts. Guggenberger checked in at 25-8-5, with a 2.23, .918 and three shutouts. The duo backstopped the Aces to an unprecedented third straight Brabham Cup as regular-season champions of the 23-team league.

And that's why Murray and his goalies believe there is no reason to change things just because the calendar says it's April.

"What makes it any different come playoff time?'' Coleman asked. "Neither of us has done anything not to play.''

The schedule of the first-round series against San Francisco also favored using both goaltenders. After Coleman and the Aces split the first two games on home ice in the best-of-7 series, Games 3, 4 and 5 were played on consecutive nights in California.

Murray started Guggenberger in Game 3, a 4-1 Aces win, and again the next night, when the Aces won 6-5. That allowed him to use a rested Coleman in Game 5, a 5-3 win that eliminated the Bulls.

Coleman in the first round went 2-1 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. Guggenberger's numbers took a hit in that 6-5 game, but he is 2-0 with a 3.00 and .893.

"The only thing that matters in the playoffs is wins,'' Guggenberger said, as Coleman nodded in agreement.

The series against Stockton does not include a stretch of three games in three nights - Games 3, 4 and 5 are set over a four-day span, April 25, 26 and 28, at Stockton Arena.

Still, if the series stretches to Game 6, that would be played at Sullivan on Tuesday, April 30, after the teams travel the previous day. Thus, Murray could have the option of using a fresh goaltender in Game 6.

In any event, Murray said the series schedule with Stockton means he'll determine his starter in goal on a game-to-game basis.


Shuffling the deck

Of the eight teams left in the Kelly Cup chase, three have started multiple goalies -- Alaska, Idaho and Reading. The other five -- Stockton, Cincinnati, Florida, Ontario and Gwinnett -- have relied on one goalie.

The Aces have flourished both ways in the postseason. Beckford-Tseu appeared in 12 playoff games in 2006, when the Aces won the Kelly Cup, and Underhill appeared in 10.

In winning the 2011 Kelly Cup, Coleman made 12 of 13 starts, missing one game -- Adam Courchaine started, and won -- to attend the funeral of his maternal grandfather.


Find Doyle Woody's blog at or call him at 257-4335.

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