What looked like the makings of a comfortable win for the Alaska Aces hockey team Friday turned into a tense 4-3 ECHL victory over Idaho at Sullivan Arena, the Aces' first home win against the Steelheads in two seasons.
The Aces (19-9-1) controlled action through much of the first two periods and led 3-0 after Nick Mazzolini notched his 10th goal of the season early in the third period. But it only took Idaho 43 seconds to answer and cut the lead to 3-1 on a goal from Mitch Wahl with more than 17 minutes to play.
It was like a switch went off after that for the Steelheads, whose level of play rose a few notches. Idaho (16-11-2) cut the lead to 3-2 on a goal from former Seawolf Tommy Grant with 7:34 to play and the Aces were suddenly scrambling to hang on.
"They're a good team over there and we knew the push was coming," said Aces forward Evan Trupp, who scored the game's first goal.
After dodging several of Idaho's threats, the Aces got some breathing room in the final minute when Jordan Kremyr intercepted a puck near mid-ice and deposited an empty-netter to put the Aces up 4-2 with 43 seconds left.
Idaho wasn't done, however, hitting for the game's final goal with 13 seconds left.
The Aces improved to 6-0-0 when leading after one period at home and are 5-2-0 in their eight-game home stretch that concludes with another game against Idaho on Saturday. Both losses in that stretch came in a three-game series against Western Conference-leading Ontario last weekend, a series the Aces were eager to bounce back from, center Mathew Sisca said.
"Getting a win tonight against Idaho was big, because they are a big rival," Sisca said. "They're right behind us in the standings, so getting a win in the first game of this series is pretty big."
The Aces, who are third in the Western Conference with 39 points, are three points ahead of Idaho (36 points), which is tied for fourth in the conference with Stockton.
The Aces started the game with crisp passing and high energy, and the first two periods turned into the Trupp and Sisca show. Each assisted the other on goals, Sisca finding Trupp in the first period and Trupp returning the favor in the second. It was a nice way for the two linemates to bounce back from a combined minus-6 effort in Tuesday's 3-0 loss to Ontario.
"It was definitely one of those things that we wanted to come out tonight and prove to ourselves and our team that we were better than that," Trupp said.
Trupp's goal came on a power play, shortly after the Aces killed an Idaho power play. He struck on a quick wrister from close range on the left side of the net. Sisca delivered a pretty pass from the right wing to set up Trupp's ninth goal of the season, but just his second in 17 games.
"I think the last time I scored was off my pants, so it was nice to get one that was actually on purpose," Trupp said. "We have some good chemistry with our line out there."
Sisca's goal in the second period looked eerily similar to the first goal, with Trupp gathering a loose puck on the right wing and finding his slashing teammate in front of the goal on the left side. Sisca received the pass and fired in one swift motion.
The play was part of a broken sequence that had a couple players spinning around near the blue line, but Trupp and Sisca -- in their first season playing together -- didn't take long to hook up.
"Playing with Evan is unbelievable," Sisca said. "You don't know where he is going sometimes and sometimes it screws up the defensemen on the other team, but it also screws up me. He is just so shifty, you don't know where he's going with the puck, but we're starting to get a lot of chemistry together on the ice."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
First Period -- 1, Aces, Trupp, 9 (Sisca, Coffman), 16:27. Penalties -- MacKenzie, Aces (tripping), 7:43; Grant, Steelheads (tripping), 14:39.
Second Period -- 2, Aces, Sisca, 7 (Trupp), 18:55. Penalties -- Nigro, Steelheads (cross-checking), 3:32; Davies, Aces (interference), 8:22; Kremyr, Aces (hooking), 13:45; Mele, Aces (delay of game), 16:44.
Third Period -- 3, Aces, Mazzolini, 10 (Richard, Skelly), 1:31; 1, Steelheads, Wahl, 11 (Elbrecht, Nigro), 2:14; 2, Steelheads, Grant, 10 (Robinson, Elbrecht), 12:26; 4, Aces, Kremyr, 9 (EN), 19:17; 3, Steelheads, Grant, 11 (Robinson, Rapuzzi), 19:47. Penalties -- Rapuzzi, Steelheads (interference), 8:44.
Shots on goal -- Idaho 4-9-13--26. Aces 9-12-13--34.
Power-play Opportunities -- Idaho 0 of 4. Aces 1 of 3.
Goalies -- Idaho, Nagle, 8-11-11 (33 shots-30 saves). Aces, Roy, 4-9-10 (26-23).
A -- 4,250. T -- 2:25.
Referee -- Frederic Leblanc. Linesmen -- Scott Sivulich, Steve Glines.