We are only six hockey games into The Peter Sivak Experience, but the reviews to this point rank as rink raves.
Friday night, the Alaska Aces winger bagged his first ECHL hat trick and tied a club record with five points in a come-from-behind 6-3 win over the Bakersfield Condors at Sullivan Arena.
In spearheading the Aces’ fifth straight victory — after trailing 3-1 halfway through the match, Alaska reeled off five unanswered goals — Sivak also racked a plus-5 rating and assumed the league scoring lead with 4-9—13 totals in six games.
Remember, he also had a four-point night — all helpers — in a 5-0 win over his old club, the San Francisco Bulls, in the second game of the season.
While these scoring outbursts don’t come as a shock — Sivak delivered 33 goals in 64 ECHL games last season, his first in North America — seeing him regularly allows the viewer to see him as more than just a Slovakian sniper.
Sivak, 31, is a strong skater, is surprisingly fast late in shifts, passes with precision and is good enough defensively that coach Rob Murray uses him to kill penalties.
Sivak’s second goal of the night, which furnished a 5-3 lead less than five minutes into the third period, illustrated his instincts. While center Tim Coffman skated laterally in the neutral zone to buy time with the puck, Sivak read the play and put on a burst of speed to open ice. When Coffman hit him in stride with a pass, Sivak was in alone on Condors goaltender Paul Karpowich (19 saves).
Sivak calmly made a couple of shimmy moves and beat Karpowich to the blocker side.
“He kind of gets lost — until he finds a seam,’’ said Aces captain Nick Mazzolini, Sivak’s center. “By the time the other team realizes it’s in trouble, it’s too late to get out of trouble.’’
Aces goaltender Mark Guggenberger, who stopped 24 of 27 shots before a skate problem forced him to the bench with six-plus minutes to go, said the alacrity with which Sivak gets off his shot is troublesome for masked men.
“He’s got a really quick release that helps disguise where he’s shooting,’’ Guggenberger said. “It’s tough to get a read at where he’s shooting.’’
Sivak’s first goal, late in the first period to cut rampaging Bakersfield’s lead to 2-1, capped a terrific line rush. Mazzolini pulled up on right wing just inside the Condors line and feathered a pass to Brendan Connolly, who suddenly was 2-on-1 with Sivak. Connolly slipped a backhand pass across to Sivak cutting to the bottom of the left circle and Sivak slammed the puck home in a heartbeat.
Sivak capped his hat trick in the third period off another feed from Coffman, who extended his point streak to five games. Last season, Sivak generated seven two-goal games for the Bulls, but Friday’s hat trick was his first in 70 career ECHL regular-season games.
Aces center Jordan Kremyr, whose goal in tight off a Sivak pass late in the second period generated Alaska’s first lead at 4-3, said he teases Sivak about not properly celebrating goals. Of course, Kremyr noted, some players so accustomed to scoring aren’t much for celebrating — think former Aces sniper Wes Goldie, who often barely raised his stick after scoring.
“Peter acts like he’s been there before — because he has,’’ Kremyr said.
When Sivak was announced as the game’s first star, he skated back onto the ice gently clapping his hands together in the direction of the crowd, tossed a T-shirt over the glass to a young girl, and clapped more on his way off the ice.
The Aces’ comeback, triggered by goals from Mazzolini, rookie defenseman Ben Parker and Kremyr in a span of 5:10 late in the second period, was necessary because winless Bakersfield (0-4-1) proved speedy and dynamic early.
That was when the Aces found out how opponents felt through five games, when Alaska allowed an average of just 16.8 shots per game and averaged more than 43 per game. Bakersfield cranked off 16 first-period shots to mark the first time the Aces have surrendered double-digit shots in a period this season. After not giving up more than 19 shots in game in two games against San Francisco and three against Las Vegas, the Aces had given up 20 shots to the Condors just 6:29 into the second period.
By then, Bakersfield led 2-1. Blake Kessel and David Musil scored first-period goals. And Jordan Knackstedt’s gorgeous power-play goal 11 minutes into the second period staked Bakersfield to a 3-1 cushion.
Knackstedt got the puck at the edge of the crease to Guggenberger’s right. In tight quarters, the right-handed Knackstedt enticed the goalie to go down, went to his backhand to get the puck around Guggenberger, then back to his forehand to slip it behind him.
But the Aces, who entered the game having scored the last 11 goals of the series in a three-game sweep at Las Vegas, reeled off the next five goals.
Mazzolini, who contributed one goal, two assists and a game-high six shots on goal, said Alaska’s pair of two-goal deficits in the first two periods were a credit to the Condors.
“I think it had a lot to do with them playing well rather than us playing poorly,’’ he said. “It was a great start by us, but they limited our chances. It was just one of those times when we buried our chances.’’
And no one did it better than Sivak — five shots, three goals.
Shuffling the deck
Parker’s goal was his first as a pro and came off feeds from Mazzolini and Sivak. Sivak, on a 2-on-1 with Mazzolini, took a pass from the center on the right side of the slot and passed the puck back to Mazzolini. Nearly reaching the goal line below the left circle, Mazzolini found Parker trailing the play and fed him. Parker roofed a wrister. Aces defenseman Corey Syvret tracked down the puck moments later so Parker would have a keepsake.
Aces rookie center Eli Zuck of Anchorage, who missed the club’s first five games with a lower-body injury, made his pro debut.
The Aces were outshot for the first time this season, 35-25. The three goals they gave up are the most they have surrendered in a game. Still, they have outscored opponents 25-9.
When Guggenberger left because of his damaged skate, rookie Laurent Brossoit came in to stop all eight shots he faced.
Coffman (two assists) owns 3-5—8 totals in his five-game point streak. Brendan Connolly (one assist) owns 1-5—6 totals in his four-game point streak.
Winger David Eddy sat out with a lower-body injury suffered in the morning skate.
The teams play again Saturday night and wrap their three-game set with a matinee Sunday.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
First Period — 1, Bakersfield, Kessel 1 (Oakley, Cunningham), 8:28; 2, Bakersfield, Musil 1 (Gernat, Neal), 13:43; 3, Aces, Sivak 2 (Connolly, Mazzolini), 18:23. Penalties — Cunningham, Bakersfield (high-sticking), 2:18; Martin, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct-diving), 7:17; Collins, Bakersfield (high-sticking), 7:17.
Second Period — 4, Bakersfield, Knackstedt 2 (Collins, Garlock), 10:57 (pp); 5, Aces, Mazzolini 2 (Molle), 13:14; 6, Aces, Parker 1 (Mazzolini, Sivak), 15:42; 7, Aces, Kremyr 3 (Sivak, Martin), 18:34. Penalties — Aces bench minor, served by Trupp (too many men), :54; Syvret, Aces (tripping), 10:12; Syvret, Aces (high-sticking), 13:39; Musil, Bakersfield (boarding), 16:12.
Third Period — 8, Aces, Sivak 3 (Coffman, Trupp), 4:27; 9, Aces, Sivak 4 (Coffman, Trupp), 12:58. Penalties — Martin, Aces (holding), 1:03; Martin, Aces (interference), 8:16.
Shots on goal — Bakersfield 16-10-9—35. Aces 8-12-5—25.
Power-play Opportunities — Bakersfield 1 of 5. Aces 0 of 2.
Goalies — Bakersfield, Karpowich, 0-3-0 (25 shots-19 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 2-0-0 (27-24); Brossoit (8-8).
A — 4,043 (6,399). T — 2:16.
Referee — Chris Pitoscia. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.