Given their winning history -- the ECHL's best all-time winning percentage at home and overall -- opening night at home for the Alaska Aces is orchestrated to turn Sullivan Arena into a scene of celebration.
Friday night, for instance, the Aces in a pregame ceremony unfurled three new banners on the east wall of the building. Those additions signified last season's triumphs as champions of the ECHL's Western Conference and Mountain Division, and as collectors of an unprecedented third straight Brabham Cup as overall regular-season kings. They had won eight of their previous 10 home openers.
The Aces proceeded to unleash shot after shot on San Francisco Bulls goaltender Tyler Beskorowany, who turned out to be a 6-foot-5 buzz-kill for the announced crowd of 4,708.
Beskorowany stopped 44 shots and San Francisco's Brett Parnham pocketed the game-winning goal from a severe angle in the third period to propel the Bulls to a bend-but-don't-break 2-1 victory.
Parnham's strike came with less than seven minutes remaining. He took a pass on the rush from linemate Dale Mitchell and got off a shot from the left circle that Aces goalie Joni Ortio (17 saves) fended off with his blocker. Parnham collected the rebound inches above the goal line and somehow slipped a shot between Ortio and the left pipe to crack a 1-1 tie.
"In a game like that, I just wanted to create an opportunity,'' Parnham said.
That such opportunity still existed for the Bulls so deep into the game stemmed from the sharp work of Beskorowany. The former Idaho Steelheads masked man, who owns 51 games of American Hockey League experience, rarely coughed up rebounds, thus denying the Aces second-chance bounty.
"I thought he was excellent,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray. "I didn't have any problem with Joni's game, either, other than that unfortunate goal he gave up.''
Beskorowany, a former second-round NHL draft pick, in the first period got the cuff of his glove on whistling wristers from Aces winger Peter Sivak, the former Bulls sniper, and Evan Trupp. He got just enough of Andy Taranto's bid from the right circle to have it glance off the right post. And he snubbed Taranto's semi-breakaway in the second period and flashed his left pad to stop Taranto point-blank in the third period.
With the Aces owning a 6-on-4 advantage in the waning seconds -- Bulls captain Scott Langdon was in the penalty box and Ortio was on the bench in favor of an extra attacker -- Beskorowany got his glove on Sean Curry's wrister from atop the left circle and froze the puck.
"That was the game plan -- throw pucks at the net,'' Taranto said. "Unfortunately, they got one extra bounce than us. We played well, really, created a lot.
"The puck just wasn't bouncing for us. He played a helluva game.''
San Francisco jumped to a 1-0 lead just 2:22 into the game when Jordan Morrison deflected Langdon's laser from the left point.
Alaska did not get back to even terms until San Francisco defenseman Kyle Bigos coughed up a neutral-zone turnover that Spivak seized five minutes into the third period. Spivak's quick pass sprung newcomer Tim Coffman on a breakaway and he slipped a wrister between Beskorowany's pads for a 1-1 tie.
Sivak, with a game-high seven shots on goal, Coffman (six shots) and Taranto (six shots) combined to fire as many shots (19) as the Bulls did collectively.
Coffman was strong in the face-off circle too, and while the Aces' power play struggled (0 for 5), their penalty-killing (3 for 3) proved strong. That was particularly the case early in the third period when they killed off consecutive Bulls power plays and permitted just two shots on Ortio in that span.
Forty-five shots is ample ammunition to win, but the Aces ended up saddled with a loss. On opening night, they could not complete what they started -- all set-up, but little celebration.
"Part 1 of the battle is complete,'' said Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise. "Now, we just have to finish. We deserved a better fate, and we worked for a better fate.''
The Aces have lost consecutive home openers for the first time in their 11 seasons in the ECHL. They fell 5-2 to Utah in their Sullivan opener last season.
Murray's 18-man lineup was split evenly -- nine returners, nine newcomers.
No one is yet wearing the "C'' as captain of the Aces, and Murray is not in a rush to name one. Three players -- Curry, center Nick Mazzolini and winger Brendan Connolly -- each wore an "A" Friday as an alternate captain.
San Francisco's Parnham, who played last season in Kazakhstan, centers a line that includes wingers Dale Mitchell, who played last season in Austria, and Mark Lee, who played last season in Finland. And that's why they've been dubbed "The Euro Line.''
The top performance in the ECHL on opening night went to Utah's Jamie McQueen, who bagged all four goals in a 4-2 win over visiting Idaho. Greenville's Andrew Rowe delivered a hat trick and one helper in a 5-3 win at Gwinnett.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
San Francisco 1 0 1 -- 2
Aces 0 1 0 -- 1
First Period -- 1, SF, Morrison 1 (Langdon), 2:22. Penalties -- King, SF (holding), 8:40; Syvret, Aces (cross-checking), 12:14; McDonough, SF (tripping), 16:53; Farmer, Aces, major (fighting), 19:42; Lee, SF, major (fighting), 19:42; Kremyr, Aces (roughing), 19:42; Langdon, SF (roughing), 19:42.
Second Period -- 2, Aces, Coffman 1 (Sivak), 4:55. Penalties -- King, SF (holding), 5:45.
Third Period -- 3, SF, Parnham 1 (Mitchell, Lee), 13:44. Penalties -- Molle, Aces (slashing), 4:20; Trupp, Aces (tripping), 7:28; Langdon, SF (delay of game, puck over glass), 19:52.
Shots on goal -- SF 5-6-8--19. Aces 15-13-17--45.
Power-play Opportunities -- SF 0 of 3. Aces 0 of 5.
Goalies -- SF, Beskorowany, 1-0-0 (45 shots-44 saves). Aces, Ortio, 0-1-0 (19-17).
A -- 4,708 (6,399). T -- 2:24.
Referee -- Peter Tarnaris. Linesmen -- Scott Sivulich, Steve Glines.