When the Alaska Aces last played eight consecutive hockey games on the road, two seasons ago, they did not lose any of them in regulation.
They will not match that feat this time around.
The Aces never led Wednesday night, when they opened an eight-game grind with a 4-3 ECHL loss to the Colorado Eagles at the predictably sold-out Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
The loss snapped Alaska’s modest two-game win streak. Colorado, which has played 11 of its first 15 games at home and entertains the Aces again on Friday night, has won three straight.
Luke Fulghum’s goal six minutes into the third period proved the game winner on an evening when Colorado never trailed. Fulghum’s eight goal of the season, which ties Kyle Ostrow for the team lead and marked his fourth straight game with a goal, furnished the Eagles (10-3-2) a 4-2 lead.
The Aces (11-4-0) closed a two-goal deficit to one goal for the third time when newcomer Mathew Sisca bagged a power-play goal midway through the third period to trim the Eagles’ lead to 4-3. Alaska pulled goaltender Olivier Roy (25 saves) for an extra attacker in the final minute, but Colorado’s Marc Cheverie (25 saves) twice rebuffed Sisca to remain unbeaten in regulation (8-0-2).
Alaska played for the first time in 10 games. Coach Rob Murray said that layoff, combined with playing at altitude, made him expect the Aces to get off to the slow start they did — the Aces trailed 2-0 in the first 14 minutes, but cut the deficit to 2-1 before the end of the first period.
“I kind of expected the first period to go the way it did,’’ Murray said by cellphone. “So, I wasn’t disappointed. We competed and we had some chances in the first. I knew we’d get better as the game went along, and we did.’’
Murray said Sisca’s backdoor chance in the waning seconds, off a seam pass from defenseman Brad Gorham, was a splendid chance for the equalizer.
“Cheverie, whether he read it or just reacted, he got his pad on it,’’ Murray said. “And Sisca, it was one of those where he couldn’t believe it didn’t go in.’’
Sisca and linemate Brendan Connolly each enjoyed three-point nights — Sisca furnished his first two goals for the club in just his fourth game as an Ace and added an assist, Connolly contributed a goal and two helpers.
Alaska’s top line of Nick Mazzolini centering Peter Sivak and Evan Trupp was held without a goal for the third straight game, its longest stretch without a strike this season.
Wednesday marked just the third time in 15 games the Aces have surrendered as many as four goals.
Colorado’s Trent Daavettila opened the scoring eight minutes in when he pounced on a hard ricochet off the end boards to give him a goal in three straight games. If Daavettila’s name rings a bell for hard-core Aces fans, he played for the Kalamazoo Wings when the Aces beat them in the 2011 Kelly Cup Finals.
The Eagles, who in their three ECHL seasons under bench boss Chris Stewart have become known for their high-tempo style and explosive offense, doubled their bounty nearly seven minutes after Daavettila’s goal when defenseman Arthur Bidwell beat Roy from the slot for a 2-0 cushion.
Sisca cut the deficit to 2-1 three minutes later when he roofed a shot on Cheverie.
Colorado restored its two-goal lead at 3-1 five minutes into the second period when Ostrow delivered a goal. That marked the fourth straight game Ostrow has scored.
Again, the Aces answered, though this response took much longer. Deep into the period, Sisca’s stretch pass permitted Connolly to get a step on the Eagles defense. He beat Cheverie between the pads to pull Alaska within a goal at 3-2. Also earning an assist on the play was Gorham, the former UAA captain and current engineer who last season helped out the Aces when they were short on the blue line. Wednesday marked his season debut for the Aces.
The Aces started the week with nine defensemen, but just five were available before Gorham flew in to help his hometown team. That’s because principal blueliners Kane Lafranchise and James Martin on Tuesday were both summoned by the Aces’ American Hockey League affiliate, the league-leading Abbotsford Heat. Also, veteran Sean Curry (lower-body injury) and rookie Zach Davies (surgery, broken wrist) have been out long-term.
Still out of the lineup for the Aces were center Tim Coffman and winger Andy Taranto, both of whom made the trip but did not dress. Both players have now missed four straight games with lower-body injuries, but Murray said he intends to have both back in the lineup Friday.
Just 15 games into the season, injuries and other circumstances have dramatically changed the Aces’ lineup. Of the 18 players who dressed for Alaska on Wednesday night, only nine were in the club’s lineup on opening night.
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Aces1 1 1 — 3
Colorado2 1 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Colorado, Daavettila 5 (Young, Nemec), 8:15; 2, Colorado, Bidwell 1 (Parker, Gardner), 13:55; 3, Aces, Sisca 1 (Connolly, Crum), 16:49. Penalties — Daavettila, Colorado (tripping), 3:06; Gorham, Aces (hooking), 4:18; Smeltzer, Colorado, minor-major (removing helmet, fighting), 14:53; Eddy, Aces, minor-major (removing helmet, fighting), 14:53.
Second Period — 4, Colorado, Ostrow 8 (Sawada, Daavettila), 4:48; 5, Aces, Connolly 6 (Sisca, Gorham), 15:57. Penalties — Daavettila, Colorado (holding), :49.
Third Period — 6, Colorado, Fulghum 8 (Ulanski, Parker), 6:23; 7, Aces, Sisca 2 (Skelly, Connolly), 10:11 (pp). Penalties — Ostrow, Colorado (tripping), 10:02; Fulghum, Colorado (tripping), 14:24.
Shots on goal — Aces 9-9-10—28. Colorado 13-6-10—29.
Power-play Opportunities — Aces 1 of 4. Colorado 0 of 1.
Goalies — Aces, Roy, 1-2-0 (29 shots-25 saves). Colorado, Cheverie, 8-0-2 (28-25).
A — 5,289 (5,289). T — 2:15.
Referee — Pierre Lambert. Linesmen — Seth Makai, Robert Keltie.