Brendan Connolly did not stamp his name on the score sheet Wednesday night in the Alaska Aces' 5-2 win over the Las Vegas Wranglers, but nonetheless delivered in his first hockey game in more than three weeks.
After missing eight games to begin healing a facial fracture and dental injuries suffered when he took a stick to the face Dec. 21, Connolly appeared to hardly miss a beat in his return to the lineup.
On a night when the Aces ambushed the Wranglers with a four-goal first period at Sullivan Arena, Connolly fired a team-high five shots on goal, set up teammates for scoring chances and looked fit.
Teammates awarded him the belt that goes to the player of the game after victories.
"I'm happy with it,'' Connolly said of his return. "I had a cross-bar, had two deflections the goalie(s) made pretty good saves on, and the win is good.''
Mathew Sisca, who centered the line Connolly played on, marveled at the quality of Connolly's return.
"He said he had to knock off the rust,'' Sisca said. "As soon as he knocks off the rust, I can't wait to see that.''
Unable to consume anything but protein shakes much of the first week following his injury, Connolly said he lost 15 pounds. He's gained about half the back, he said, but is still about eight pounds under his previous playing weight of 190.
A wire inserted above Connolly's upper teeth to stabilize a broken bone was removed Monday, when he also had a tooth pulled -- there's still more work to be done on his teeth. He wore a full shield Wednesday instead of the usual half-shield -- he'll wear the full shield the rest of the season -- and also used a specially-made mouth-guard.
Connolly said he's been able to skate and ride a stationary bike the last couple weeks, so his fitness is good. Still, games are quicker than any practice, and he figures his points will come. Connolly owned 7-13--20 totals in 23 games before he was sidelined.
"You've got to play a couple of games, get to the dirty areas, to get those bounces,'' Connolly said.
With wingers Jordan Kremyr and Evan Trupp up with Abbotsford in the American Hockey League, and winger Andy Taranto still out with a shoulder injury, Connolly's return proved timely. He gives the Aces another scorer, another puck-hound, a guy who can play in all situations and veteran leadership.
Olivier Roy furnished the Aces (22-9-3) their usual strong goaltending -- he stopped 22 shots to rack his fifth straight win and ninth in his last 10 starts -- and their first-period ambush of the Wranglers (10-22-3) included three goals in a span of 4 minutes, 34 seconds.
That marked the 11th time in 34 games this ECHL season the Aces have scored three or more goals in a period and the ninth time they have reeled off three goals in a span of less than seven minutes.
The Aces have secured at least a point in each of their last six games (4-0-2).
David Eddy got the Aces going with his goal eight minutes into the game, and defenseman James Martin, winger Ross Ring-Jarvi and winger Peter Sivak later followed with goals lickety-split late in the period.
Martin scored on a even-strength one-timer from the slot. Ring-Jarvi scored on a short-handed breakaway backhander after defenseman Brad Gorham blocked Las Vegas' attempted dump-in. And Sivak finished a lovely power-play, tic-tac-toe sequence from Sisca and Zach Davies to furnish the Aces a 4-0 lead and chase Las Vegas goaltender Mitch O'Keefe after one period.
Las Vegas' John Armstrong cut the lead to 4-1 midway through the game when Roy got his glove on Armstrong's shot but could not trap it.
Sivak's second goal of the night, early in the third period off Tommy Mele's feed, restored Alaska's four-goal lead at 5-1 and offset a power-play goal soon after by Las Vegas' Chad Nehring.
The teams continue their three-game series Friday night and wrap it Saturday night.
Shuffling the deck
Sivak, who also had an assist, has delivered eight points -- 3-5--8 totals -- in the last three games. His three-point game marked the fifth time this season he has contributed three or more points, and it also marked his ninth multiple-point game of the season.
Tim Coffman's assist gives him 3-2--5 totals in the last three games.
Roy started 1-4-0 for the Aces and has since gone 11-2-0 to get to 12-6-0.
Alaska improved to 6-1-0 against Las Vegas this season and improved to 12-4-1 at home.
The Wranglers, who were coming off a 2-0 win over Bakersfield on Saturday, have yet to win consecutive games in regulation this season. They've twice strung together victories, though, once courtesy of an overtime win and once courtesy of a shootout win.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
LV 0 1 1 -- 2
Aces 4 0 1 -- 5
First Period -- 1, Aces, Eddy 4 (Skelly, Mazzolini), 8:20; 2, Aces, Martin 2 (Coffman, Sivak), 14:51; 3, Aces, Ring-Jarvi 5, 17:19 (sh); 4, Aces, Sivak 11 (Sisca, Davies), 19:25 (pp). Penalties -- MacKenzie, Aces (hooking), 15:53; Smith, LV (hooking), 18:08.
Second Period -- 5, LV, Armstrong 7 (Julseth-White, Bernhardt), 11:30. Penalties -- None.
Third Period -- 6, Aces, Sivak 12 (Mele), 4:06; 7, LV, Nehring 2 (Tassone, Del Grosso), 6:16 (pp). Penalties -- Ring-Jarvi, Aces (hooking), 5:42; Tassone, LV (hooking), 8:44.
Shots on goal -- LV 9-10-5--24. Aces 12-10-8--30.
Power-play Opportunities -- LV 1 of 2. Aces 1 of 2.
Goalies -- LV, O'Keefe, 5-14-0 (12 shots-8 saves); Fullerton, enter 0:00 2nd (18-17). Aces, Roy, 12-6-0 (24-22).
A -- 3,294 (6,399). T -- 2:23.
Referee -- Andy Thackaberry. Linesmen -- Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.