At just 5-foot-9 and blessed with a scorer's skills, Dan Kissel is known more for finesse than force.
Friday night, though, the Alaska Aces winger delivered a game-winning goal that doubled as a knockout punch.
After the Ontario Reign tied the hockey game with just 61 seconds left, Kissel answered a mere eight seconds later with his league high-tying 35th strike to furnish the ECHL-leading Aces a remarkable 4-3 road win in California.
The victory not only kept the defending Kelly Cup champions on pace to win their second straight Brabham Cup as regular-season champs of the 20-team circuit, but robbed the Reign of a chance to pull close to the Aces in the standings.
With 93 points in 67 games, the Aces (42-16-9) own a four-point lead over Gwinnett (89 points in 68 games) and a five-point edge over Ontario (88 points in 67 games) entering a rematch with Ontario on Saturday night. ECHL teams play a 72-game regular season.
The Aces' magic number to clinch the Brabham -- that's any combination of points won by the Aces and points lost by a team chasing them -- is six over Ontario and four over Gwinnett. Their magic number over Elmira is three, and it is two over both Las Vegas and Greenville.
Las Vegas fell 3-2 in a shootout to visiting Idaho on Friday, when Elmira beat Toledo 3-1 and Gwinnett beat Greenville, 3-2, in a shootout.
If the Aces win the Brabham, they will earn a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-ice advantage throughout the postseason.
As the final minute of regulation approached Friday, the Aces seemed headed to victory, courtesy of center Chris Langkow's goal with less than seven minutes to go. Langkow, who to that point was the only Aces player without a shot on goal, even as his club turned Jean-Francois Berube's crease into a shooting gallery (39 shots), banged in a rebound after defenseman Kane Lafranchise caught the Reign on a line change to generate a 3-2 Alaska lead.
But Ontario (40-19-8), which has been rebuilt by first-year coach Jason Christie after failing to qualify for the playoffs the last two seasons, countered with Kyle Kraemer's goal with just 1:01 left.
Off the ensuing face-off at center ice, Aces winger Wes Goldie dished to Kissel, who snapped a shot past Berube (35 saves) from the inside of the left circle for the most vital goal by an Ace this season. The goal tied Kissel with Las Vegas' Eric Lampe for league lead with 35.
Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman, who backstopped them to the championship last season and wore the Alaska sweater for the first time since a stint of more than two months in the American Hockey League, made 22 saves.
The Aces got off to a brilliant start at Citizen Business Bank Arena, outshooting the Reign 17-5 in the first period on a night when they never trailed.
Defenseman Chad Anderson and winger Garry Nunn, who snapped his eight-game goal drought, scored just 14 seconds apart late in the period to provide the Aces a 2-0 lead.
Yet Ontario's Derek Couture countered with a pivotal goal 95 seconds after Nunn's strike, and his team-leading 27th goal closed the gap to 2-1 heading into intermission.
Tristan King's goal less than four minutes into the second period generated a 2-2 tie that held until Langkow's goal well into the third period.
Goldie's quest for the all-time record for goals scored in the ECHL was held in check. He remains tied with Rod Taylor for the all-time mark at 368 goals. Goldie, the reigning league Most Valuable Player, has gone four games without a goal.
But his two assists included a helper on Kissel's monumental goal, and that point no doubt proved satisfying.
Shuffling the deck
Nunn has delivered 3-6--9 totals in eight games against the Reign this season.
Defenseman Steve Ward returned to the Aces lineup after missing five games. He was out after absorbing a hard hit in Stockton early this month. Also back was Langkow, who missed the previous game with an upper-body injury.
The Aces went 0 for 5 against Ontario's league-leading, penalty-killing crew and Ontario went 0 for 2 against the Aces' third-ranked penalty killers.
Alaska is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games.
Twelve of the Aces' 16 skaters had at least two shots on goal, and Kissel, Brian Swanson, Lafranchise and Jordan Kremyr each fired four. Nunn, Goldie and Ward each check in with three shots.
Ontario's King stretched his point streak to nine games -- he owns 2-10--12 totals in that span.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 2 0 2 -- 4
Ontario 1 1 1 -- 3
First Period -- 1, Aces, Anderson 5 (Goldie, Kissel), 17:10; 2, Aces, Nunn 15 (Mazzolini, Anderson), 17:24; 3, Ontario, Couture 27 (Huxley, LoVerde), 19:59. Penalties -- King, Ontario (slashing), 9:33.
Second Period -- 4, Ontario, King 16 (Sheen, Kraemer), 3:24. Penalties -- Couture, Ontario (high-sticking), 3:47; Kremyr, Aces (hooking), 8:29; LoVerde, Ontario (interference), 8:41; Couture, Ontario, triple-minor, served by Burt (interference-double roughing), 19:56; Mazzolini, Aces, double-minor (charging, roughing), 19:56; Van de Mosselaer, Ontario (roughing), 19:56; Marsh, Aces (roughing), 19:56.
Third Period -- 5, Aces, Langkow 3 (Lafranchise, Swanson), 13:17; 6, Ontario, Kraemer 25 (Sheen), 18:59; 7, Aces, Kissel 35 (Goldie), 19:07. Penalties -- Hall, Aces (tripping), 4:26; Irwin, Ontario (high-sticking), 5:38.
Shots on goal -- Aces 17-8-14--39. Ontario 5-9-11--25.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 of 5. Ontario 0 of 2.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 18-4-2 (25 shots-22 saves). Ontario, Berube, 15-11-4 (39-35).
A -- 6,457 (9,592). T -- 2:37.
Referee -- J.M. McNulty. Linesmen -- Todd Owen, Michel Voyer.Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News