Aces rally from 3-0 deficit, beat Colorado in shootout

Doyle Woody

What a bunch of drama kings.

Less than 12 minutes of hockey had been played at Sullivan Arena on New Year's Eve and the Alaska Aces found themselves down by three goals.

They looked like they were still groggy from their pregame naps and the Colorado Eagles looked as if they had electricity coursing through their legs.

Aces coach Rob Murray had used his timeout a mere 6:44 into the ECHL match and berated his crew - "I can't imagine there was one word you can print,'' noted Aces defenseman Bryan Miller.

Yet the league leaders somehow journeyed the long road back -- and that avenue looked like a trip around the world -- and earned a 4-3 shootout victory that extended their streak on games unbeaten in regulation to seven (4-0-3).

Even against a depleted Eagles team that only featured 13 skaters -- three shy of the ECHL minimum -- it was no small feat to rally from that 3-0 deficit.

"You either battle out of it or go into a shell, and the second one's not an option,'' said Aces winger Tyler Ruegsegger.

Jordan Kremyr's second-period, power-play goal got the Aces going and Ruegsegger's strike in the final minute of the second cut Colorado's lead to 3-2.

Miller authored the game-tying goal on the power play, ripping a one-timer from center point past Eagles goaltender Kyle Jones on the stick side near the midway point of the third period.

The Aces (23-5-5) won the shootout, 2-0, when Nick Mazzolini and Wes Goldie scored in the skills contest and Aces goalie Adam Courchaine denied all four shooters he faced.

Courchaine, who stopped 20 shots in regulation and overtime, stretched his streak of games unbeaten in regulation to 11 (8-0-3).

"All I was thinking was, 'We can't give them a fourth one,' '' Courchaine said.

The Aces found themselves in a canyon-like hole because Colorado defenseman Aaron Schneekloth sandwiched two goals around one from captain Riley Nelson in the opening 11:27. By then, the Eagles (18-10-4), who generated a season-low 20 shots on goal in Wednesday's 4-1 loss to Alaska and a new season-low of 19 in their 4-0 loss Friday, owned a 13-2 shot advantage over the Aces.

That marked just the second time this season the Aces, the league's top defensive team, have surrendered three goals in a period. And it marked the first time in 33 games this season they have trailed by more than one goal in the first period.

"We were not ready to play at all,'' said Aces captain Brian Swanson. "I think we thought we could come and play at 50 percent and win, and you're not going to that against a team like that.

"Credit to them -- after they lost two games, they came out and fought. We were basically standing with our feet in the sand. It was pretty ugly. If not for Adam, it could have been 6-0.''

The Aces didn't truly shake the cobwebs until the second period, even with heated words from Murray during that timeout. The PG version for his timeout talk, Murray said: "Basically, it's unacceptable.''

Kremyr's backhand goal off a Garry Nunn rebound cut the deficit to 3-1. Ruegsegger's goal, which came with just 46.4 seconds left in the second period, was critical because it cut Colorado's advantage to 3-2.

"Then we could really focus on just needing one more, not two,'' Swanson said. "That was a big boost.''

Ruegsegger's first goal in seven games -- his wrister from the right circle squeaked between the right arm and body of Jones (35 saves) and finished a 3-on-2 rush with linemates Ethan Cox and Matt Ambroz.

"That was a textbook 3-on-2,'' Ruegsegger said. "Ambroz drove the net and pushed the D back, and Cox put it right on my stick, and I was lucky enough to score.''

After Miller's goal forced OT, the Aces had to kill a penalty in the final 68 seconds of extra time when Dan Kissel was penalized for holding.

Then they finally won a shootout after losing their last three shootouts, including two at Idaho last week.

"Just another one of the 72 (regular-season) games,'' Miller said, deadpan.

And more dramatic than most.

Shuffling the deck

Goldie and Kissel both assisted on Miller's game- tying goal to extend their point streaks to seven games.

Miller has produced 2-11--13 totals in the last 10 games.

The Aces improved to 2-3 in shootouts.

The Eagles regained the services of Alex Penner after he served a two-game league suspension, but Saturday they were without Michael Forney, who received an automatic one-game suspension for instigating a fight with Ambroz in the final minute Friday night. An instigator penalty in the last five minutes of regulation or in overtime is an automatic one-game suspension in the ECHL.

Schneekloth's two goals gives him 13, tops among ECHL defensemen.

The Aces don't play again until Friday, when they open a three-game home series against the Utah

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

Aces win shootout 2-0

Colorado 3 0 0 0 -- 3

Aces 0 2 1 1 -- 4

First Period -- 1, Colorado, Schneekloth 12 (Ulanski), 2:18; 2, Colorado, Nelson 14 (Ulanski), 3:49; 3, Colorado, Schneekloth 13 (Vidmar, Ulanski), 11:27 (pp). Penalties -- Anderson, Aces (tripping), 10:32; Haddon, Colorado (hooking), 15:38; Ambroz, Aces, major (fighting), 18:04; Burnett, Colorado, major (fighting), 18:04.

Second Period -- 4, Aces, Kremyr 6 (Nunn, Mazzolini), 6:52 (pp); 5, Aces, Ruegsegger 9 (Cox, Lafranchise), 19:13. Penalties -- Nelson, Colorado (interference), 6:33; Lafranchise, Aces (tripping), 12:50.

Third Period -- 6, Aces, Miller 5 (Kissel, Goldie), 8:35 (pp). Penalties -- Huculak, Colorado (holding), 8:18; Al. Penner, Colorado (tripping), 9:30; Landry, Colorado (holding), 12:34.

Overtime -- None. Penalties -- Kissel, Aces (holding), 3:52.

Shootout -- Aces 2 (Kissel NG, Mazzolini G, Goldie G, Swanson NG), Colorado 0 (Ulanski NG, Chorneyko NG, Schneekloth NG, Haddon NG).

Shots on goal -- Colorado 14-4-4-1--23. Aces 7-12-17-2--38.

Power-play Opportunities -- Colorado 1 of 3. Aces 2 of 5.

Goalies -- Colorado, Jones, 14-4-3 (38 shots-35 saves). Aces, Courchaine, 8-1-3 (23-20).

A -- 4,795 (6,399). T -- 2:29.

Referee -- Nick Leduc. Linesmen -- Travis Jackson, Chad Colliander.

Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News