Alaska Aces veteran winger Wes Goldie became the most prolific sniper in ECHL history, and the big number he bagged seemed fitting Saturday night, when the repercussions of a 3-2 shootout loss at Ontario forced athletes to double as mathletes.
By getting a game-tying goal from Ryan Cruthers late in regulation and forcing the Reign to a shootout, the league-leading Aces not only earned one point in the standings but also clinched the first tie-breaker -- non-shootout wins -- over Ontario.
And that strengthened their chances of winning a second straight Brabham Cup as the league's regular-season champions. That hockey hardware would earn them a coveted first-round bye in the playoffs and home ice throughout the postseason.
Alaska, which cemented its status as the league's lousiest shootout team (3-8 in skills contests), owns 39 non-shootout wins to Ontario's 34, and both teams have just four regular-season games remaining. Alaska also owns the tie-breaker over two other pursuers -- Gwinnett and Elmira -- in the chase for the Brabham.
Meanwhile, Las Vegas was eliminated from Brabham contention when it fell to Idaho, 3-2 in a shootout, later Saturday. Greenville earlier Saturday was knocked out of Brabham contention by its 3-2 loss to Gwinnett.
All that cut the field for the Brabham to four teams -- Alaska, Gwinnett, Ontario and Elmira.
With 94 points, the Aces are three points ahead of Gwinnett, with one game in hand. They are four points clear of Ontario and six points up on Elmira, which like Alaska and Ontario has four games remaining.
Aces newcomer Ryan Cruthers, acquired in a trade earlier this month, made a monumental impact on all the math with his game-tying strike, which came with less than two minutes left in regulation.
Cruthers banged a Dan Kissel (two assists) centering pass behind Ontario goaltender Chris Carrozzi with 1 minute, 44 seconds remaining to forge a 2-2 tie that soon guaranteed the Aces at least a point in the standings. That came one night after Kissel's strike in the final minute of regulation, just eight seconds after Ontario tied the game, made the Aces 4-3 winners.
Goldie, the league's reigning Most Valuable Player and goal-scoring champion, became the circuit's all-time sniper when he racked the 369th goal of ECHL career to open the scoring at 8:23 of the first period.
Taking a power-play pass from birthday boy and former NHL center Brian Swanson -- he turned 36 Saturday -- Goldie one-timed a blast past Carrozzi to break his tie with ECHL Hall of Famer Rod Taylor (368 career goals). That goal, which snapped Goldie's four-game goal drought, was the 126th power-play strike of his ECHL career.
Goldie, 32 added to his litany of scoring records. He is the only player in league history to string together five straight seasons of 40 or more goals. His seven consecutive seasons of 30 or more goals is also a league record. And his eight seasons of 30 or more goals ties Taylor for the league record.
Also, the goal was Goldie's 34th this season, leaving him one shy of Kissel and Las Vegas' Eric Lampe for the league lead.
But with Carrozzi proving exceptionally sharp (34 saves) in his first action in three weeks, the Reign generated a 1-1 tie on Jason Beeman's goal late in the first period and a 2-1 lead on Tristan King's goal with less than seven minutes to go in regulation.
Yet, prior to King's go-ahead goal at Citizens Business Bank Arena, Aces goalie Gerald Coleman (24 saves) made a pivotal play. Midway through the third period, with the game tied 1-1, he stoned Ontario's Bill Bagron of Eagle River on a penalty shot.
Even with King's goal, that penalty-shot snuff-job kept the Aces within striking distance, and Cruthers cashed in.
Alaska next plays Tuesday at Las Vegas and then Wednesday at Bakersfield before returning for games Friday and Saturday at Ontario to close the regular season.
Shuffling the deck
With 605 career points, Goldie is one of just seven players in league history to crack 600 points. He is three points shy of tying Sheldon Gorski for sixth on the all-time points list.
Veteran defenseman Steve Ward, who returned to the lineup Friday after missing five games with a concussion, sat out again Saturday.
The penalty shot Coleman faced was the first against the Aces this season. In all, there have been 44 penalty shots in the league this season, and shooters have scored 12 times.
Aces shooters have scored just 10 times on 51 shootout attempts for a just 19.6 percent efficiency. Alaska has lost its last five shootouts.
Ontario's King extended his point streak to 10 games and owns 3-10--13 totals in that stretch.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Ontario wins shootout 2-0
Aces 1 0 1 0 -- 2
Ontario 1 0 1 1 -- 3
First Period -- 1, Aces, Goldie 34 (Swanson, Kissel), 8:23; 2, Ontario, Beeman 2 (Burt, Gabinet), 14:13. Penalties -- Ontario bench minor, served by Burt (too many men), 4:37; Goldie, Aces (interference), 5:51; Ontario bench minor, served by Burt (too many men), 6:41; Hall, Aces (high-sticking), 9:39; Ontario bench minor, served by Burt (too many men), 16:45.
Second Period -- None. Penalties -- Estrada, Ontario (tripping), :17; Cloud, Ontario (elbowing), 16:27; Aces bench minor, served by Yaworski (too many men), 18:29.
Third Period -- 3, Ontario, King 17 (Kraemer, LoVerde), 13:11; 4, Aces, Cruthers 13 (Kissel), 18:16. Penalties -- Irwin, Ontario (delay of game-puck over glass), 19:07.
Overtime -- None. Penalties -- None.
Shootout -- Ontario 2 (Kraemer NG, Beeman G, King NG, Burt NG, Couture G), Aces 0 (Markowitz NG, Cruthers NG, Swanson NG, Langkow NG).
Shots on goal -- Aces 13-7-12-4--36. Ontario 5-8-11-2--26.
Missed penalty shot -- Bagron, Ontario, 9:07 3rd period.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 1 of 6. Ontario 0 of 4.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 18-4-3 (26 shots-24 saves). Ontario, Carrozzi, 17-7-4 (36-34).
A -- 8,143 (9,592). T -- 2:40.
Referee -- Frederic Leblanc. Linesmen -- Todd Owen, James Parker.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News