In a hockey game that was controlled, deliberate and positively positional for two periods, then remarkably chaotic in the third period, the ECHL’s best road team beat the circuit’s best home team Friday night.
The Ontario Reign never trailed, used Jake Hauswirth’s game-winning goal midway through the third, Michael Hutchinson’s stellar goaltending throughout and Everett Sheen’s empty-netter in the waning seconds to rack a 4-2 win over the Alaska Aces.
League-leading Ontario (20-4-4) extended club records with its ninth straight road win and 10th straight road game in which it has seized at least a point. The Reign improved to 12-1-2 in hostile arenas.
The Aces (17-8-1) had their four-game winning streak vanquished. Their five-game point streak overall and five-game winning streak on home ice at Sullivan Arena also vanished in the opener of a three-game set that continues Saturday night and wraps on New Year’s Eve. Alaska slipped to 9-3-0 at Sullivan.
Aces captain Nick Mazzolini’s gift goal 12 seconds into the third period, after Reign goaltender Michael Hutchinson misplayed the puck behind his net, delivered a 2-2 tie and evidently generated an unspoken agreement between the clubs to dismiss structure and begin trading chances.
“The pace picked up, and there were opportunities everywhere,’’ said Aces coach Rob Murray. “It got loose, is what it got.’’
Hauswirth cashed in for a 3-2 Ontario lead, slipping a point-blank shot underneath the right arm of Aces goalie Olivier Roy at the left post. That ended a shift in which the Aces squandered several chances to get out of their zone. Instead, the Aces’ shift degenerated into a clusterpuck.
“We’re usually better defensively in our zone than we were on that shift,’’ Murray said. “Lost battles.’’
Not that the Aces didn’t enjoy abundant opportunities for the equalizer.
Jordan Kremyr shanked a 2-on-1 chance high and wide early in the third period — the puck appeared to roll on him. Mazzolini couldn’t handle Sivak’s 2-on-1 pass and get his shot off cleanly with four minutes to go. Tommy Mele, who entered with goals in three straight games, wired a bullet just wide right with three minutes to go and moments later saw Hutchinson make a stick save on his one-timer from the slot.
“It’s just as simple as those plays,’’ Mele said. “Either it’s in or out. One, I missed the net, the other one he made a nice save.
“It wasn’t a chippy game. I thought it was two teams playing hard. Just a good, hard game. Not much chirping. Guys leaned on each other — we leaned on them, they leaned on us.’’
Hutchinson, who played for Murray as a rookie when Murray coached Providence of the American Hockey League, stopped 37 shots to earn his league-leading 17th win.
He was exceptional in the second period, twice snuffing Tim Coffman, flashing his right pad to rebuff Shawn Skelly’s backhander and raising his blocker to deny Mathew Sisca on a breakaway.
By then, Ontario owned a 2-0 lead courtesy of two mismatches.
Hulking winger Mike Towns (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) opened the scoring late in the first period on a deflection, redirecting the puck past Roy (18 saves) before Sisca (5-8, 175) could try to tie him up at the edge of Roy’s crease.
The other mismatch pitted Ontario center Mario Lamoureux, the younger brother of former Aces Jean-Philippe and Jacques, against an open net. That came in the opening minute of the second period, when Roy went behind his net and played the puck into the left corner, directly to Ontario’s Matt White. White quickly centered to Lamoureux, who led ECHL rookies in scoring last season, and he bagged his team-leading 11th goal.
Coffman finally got the Aces untracked deep into the second period, when he snapped his 11-game goal drought to cut the deficit to 2-1. Attacking down the right wing, he made a toe-drag move that prompted Reign defenseman Cody Sol to go down to one knee to block a shot. The toe-drag allowed Coffman to pull the puck to the middle of the ice, and he slipped a wrister between Hutchinson’s pads.
Mazzolini’s team-high ninth goal to open the third period forged that 2-2 tie and seemingly loosened the reins on the game.
Still, the Reign persevered. Third-year Ontario coach Jason Christie, who also coached ECHL Utah for three seasons, was impressed his club didn’t succumb in front of an announced crowd of 4,492. He’s seen the Aces steamroll opponents at Sullivan when the momentum turns the home club’s way.
“I’ve seen it, I’ve lived through it,’’ Christie said. “Give the guys credit. They found a way. That’s a good team over there, and we found a way to win.’’
Shuffling the deck
Mazzolini stretched his point streak to six games. He owns 3-3—6 totals in that span.
Sisca’s five-game point streak ended. Ditto for Ross Ring-Jarvi’s four-game streak. Winger Peter Sivak, the team’s leading scorer (7-21—28 in 23 games) has scored one goal in his last 13 games.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Ontario 1 1 2 — 4
Aces 0 1 1 — 2
First Period — 1, Ontario, Towns 4 (Bidlevskii, Register), 16:33. Penalties — Springer, Ontario (hooking), 4:06; Molle, Aces (cross-checking), 11:57; Couture, Ontario (interference), 12:31.
Second Period — 2, Ontario, Lamoureux 11 (White), :42; 3, Aces, Coffman 6 (Skelly, Molle), 17:20. Penalties — Mazzolini, Aces (hooking), 13:33.
Third Period — 4, Aces, Mazzolini 9, :12; 5, Ontario, Hauswirth 3 (Register, Beebe), 10:09; 6, Ontario, Sheen 3 (Couture), 19:51 (en). Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — Ontario 5-11-6—22. Aces 12-13-14—39.
Power-play Opportunities — Ontario 0 of 2. Aces 0 of 2.
Goalies — Ontario, Hutchinson, 17-3-2 (39 shots-37 saves). Aces, Roy, 7-6-0 (21-18).
A — 4,492 (6,399). T — 2:16.
Referee — Andrew Wilk. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.