The Alaska Aces' five-week run of prosperity died Saturday night at Sullivan Arena.
It succumbed to a determined opponent and human nature.
After going 13 straight hockey games without a loss in regulation, the ECHL-leading Aces fell, 4-1, to the Ontario Reign, who deserved victory, especially given their second-period domination.
The Aces also gave in to the comfort and satisfaction of their 11-0-2 run, which traced all the way back to Nov. 12. That's when the Reign posted a 2-0 victory at Sullivan that preceded the Aces' streak that tied the Alaska franchise's second-longest unbeaten streak in nine ECHL seasons.
After the Aces grabbed a 1-0 lead on Nick Mazzolini's goal two minutes into the second period, the Reign answered with three unanswered goals. That rally was part of a 22-shot barrage the Reign unloaded on Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman (30 saves) in the period, which marked the most shots the Aces have surrendered in a period all season.
While Ontario (13-10-2) was marshalling its response, the Aces (19-5-2), who also had their six-game winning streak snuffed, went nearly 14 minutes without a shot on goal.
"We just didn't respond,'' said Aces winger Garry Nunn. "I think we thought it would be easy, because it's been pretty easy lately.''
The Reign, who deserved better than the 3-1 loss Coleman slapped on them in Friday's series opener, didn't let Mazzolini's goal, which he punctuated with a bit of a luau dance on Hawaiian Night, puncture their resolve.
"It's a 60-minute game, right?'' said Reign winger Derek Couture. "One goal isn't going to get us down or change the way we play the game. We just kept coming at them.''
C.J. Stretch initiated the comeback, batting a bouncing puck past Coleman 2:13 after Mazzolini's strike. And just 59 seconds later, Vincent LoVerde's 50-foot slap shot ricocheted off the elbow of Aces center Brian Swanson and past Coleman for a 2-1 Ontario lead 5:20 into the third period.
The Aces soon killed off a roughing penalty to defenseman Steve Ward, but he was back in the box in short order, dinged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by referee Tom Chmielewski after chirping the official prior to a face-off.
The Aces did not survive the ensuing Reign power play. Alaska's Zach Harrison flubbed a backhanded chance to clear the zone and Ontario defenseman Steve Tarasuk used his skate to keep the puck in the zone and passed it to Adrian Van de Mosselaer, who relayed it to Couture in the slot. Couture whistled a wrister through Coleman's pads for a 3-1 lead.
"We let them agitate us and get under our skin, and we usually don't do that,'' Coleman said. "They just kept coming and coming. They're a skilled team.''
Reign goaltender Jean-Francois Berube, who backstopped that 2-0 win in Sullivan five weeks ago, stopped 24 shots Saturday night. He proved sharp, though the Aces didn't feel they tested him enough.
"We didn't play well enough,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray. "We did not generate nearly enough offensive chances. We didn't get pucks to the net and bodies to the net. We didn't sustain any offensive-zone pressure.''
Ontario took its 3-1 lead into the third period and employed classic road tactics. Any time the Reign began scrambling in their zone, they iced the puck -- the Reign took double- digit icings in the last 20 minutes. They were also OK with just getting the puck deep into the Aces' zone when they attacked.
"We've got a two-goal lead, enough to win the game,'' Couture said. "So, we don't have to do anything fancy, or above a chip-and-chase game. We weren't afraid to take icings.''
And that kept the Aces from making a charge.
"They were making smart plays, getting the puck out of the zone and frustrating us,'' said Nunn, who assisted on Mazzolini's goal.
Ontario defenseman Chris Huxley iced the game with his empty-net goal, launched from his own zone, with 61 seconds remaining.
Coleman, who lost in regulation for the first time in 12 starts, said the Aces simply have to start a new streak today, when the teams wrap the three-game series.
And Murray said it's difficult to get too stressed about the loss given the 13 straight games earning at least a point and the club's status atop the 20-team league.
"It's a body of work,'' Murray said. "I can't be too mad at these guys, other than to make sure they remember how good it is to win and how (lousy) it is to lose.''
Shuffling the deck
Wes Goldie's six-game point streak was snapped, as was Kane Lafranchise's four-game point streak.
Ontario's Billy Bagron, who is from Eagle River, hasn't scored a goal in 10 games, but he furnished two assists Saturday.
Expect Adam Courchaine to get the start in net for the Aces today -- he's 4-0-1 in his last five decisions.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Ontario 0 3 1 -- 4
Aces 0 1 0 -- 1
First Period -- None. Penalties -- Kissel, Aces (hooking), 3:49; Couture, Ontario (high-sticking), 4:31; Kissel, Aces (hooking), 6:50; Van de Mosselaer, Ontario (tripping), 16:19.
Second Period -- 1, Aces, Mazzolini 8 (Markowitz, Nunn), 2:08; 2, Ontario, Stretch 12 (Van de Mosselaer, Tarasuk), 4:21; 3, Ontario, LoVerde 2 (Calla, Bagron), 5:20; 4, Ontario, Couture 13 (Van de Mosselaer, Tarasuk), 10:47 (pp). Penalties -- Ward, Aces (roughing), 6:17; Ward, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 9:39; Gentile, Aces (roughing), 10:55; Tarasuk, Ontario (roughing), 10:55; Goldie, Aces, major (fighting), 10:55; Neigum, Ontario, major (fighting), 10:55; Estrada, Ontario (hooking), 12:12.
Third Period -- 5, Ontario, Huxley 3 (Van de Mosselaer, Bagron. Penalties -- Neigum, Ontario (cross-checking), 9:28.
Shots on goal -- Ontario 6-22-6--34. Aces 8-7-10--25.
Power-play Opportunities -- Ontario 1 of 4; Aces 0 of 4.
Goalies -- Ontario, Berube, 3-4-1 (25 shots-24 saves). Aces, Coleman, 15-4-1 (33-30).
A -- 3,910 (6,399). T -- 2:25.
Referee -- Tom Chmielewski. Linesmen -- Scott Sivulich, Chad Colliander.Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News