Given the nature of Alaska Aces’ 4-2 win over the Utah Grizzlies on Wednesday night — neither hockey club showed a sustained spark inside Sullivan Arena — think of the home team’s sixth straight win as a series of subplots.
While the ECHL-leading Aces (17-5-0) were also winning for the 12th time in 13 games and stretching their home-ice winning streak to eight games, they featured a rare appearance by veteran left winger Matt Robinson, a solid home debut by goaltender Gerald Coleman, a strong return from center Scott Gomez and, of course, the curse of yet another injury.
After all, it was a day ending in “y,’’ so naturally there was an Aces injury — this one suffered by center Bobby Hughes, and more on that soon enough.
Robinson, because of the NHL lockout, the Aces’ abundance of players considered veterans in the ECHL and the league’s limit of four veterans per team in any game, has been the odd-Ace out this season. His appearance Wednesday night was his fifth in Alaska’s 22 games this season, and his first since Oct. 28.
He began the night on the third line centered by Zach Harrison. But when Hughes’ night was finished by a cross-check that left him ailing in the third period — he hobbled down a hallway postgame looking more like he was 75 than 25 — Alaska coach Rob Murray moved Robinson to left wing on Gomez’s line. Robinson filled in there for Nick Mazzolini, who moved into Hughes’ center spot between Joey Crabb and Alexandre Imbeault.
In any event, the Aces led 2-1 at that point, and Robinson made an immediate impact on his new line. He fed a cross-ice pass to Gomez, who teed up a one-timer and beat Utah goalie Grant Rollheiser from the inner edge of the right circle for a critical insurance goal midway through the period.
“Things happen a lot quicker out there than in practice,’’ Robinson said. “First couple shifts, my legs were burning and my lungs were burning. After that, it was fine.’’
Robinson’s assist marked his first point of the season. And, as a native of South Surrey, British Columbia, he found it pretty cool to play with Gomez — he watched Gomez, the NHL veteran, play junior hockey for South Surrey of the B.C. Hockey League in 1996-97.
Coleman, who returned to the crease during a recent road trip after missing the early season following offseason hip surgery, stopped 24 shots to improve to 5-0-0. He evidently hasn’t missed a beat — he looks like the same guy who was the club’s No. 1 goalie the previous two seasons — and he attributes that partly to excellent rehabilitation work and to the presence of Mark Guggenberger, who merely went 11-4-0 when Coleman was shelved.
“You know you don’t want to be the weak link,’’ Coleman said. “I pushed myself in rehab because I knew there would be competition. Nothing is guaranteed in hockey.’’
Gomez sat out the last two games of the recent road trip because of food poisoning. Wednesday, he not only scored that insurance goal, but set up William Wrenn’s go-ahead goal that furnished a 2-1 lead seven minutes into the third period.
On that goal, Wrenn and Gomez switched spots. That ended up with Gomez, the center, launching a shot from the center point and Wrenn, the rookie defenseman, deflecting the puck over Rollheiser’s right shoulder from between the face-off circles.
“I figured I was there, I might as well not move,’’ Wrenn said. “Gomer put it right between a guy’s legs and on my stick.’’
Gomez credited Wrenn.
“He read the play,’’ Gomez said. “He’s an offensive guy. It was a switch, and he knows where to go.’’
With the Aces beset by injuries at every position, Hughes centered Crabb and Imbeault, and he assisted on Crabb’s second-period, power-play goal, which opened the scoring. That marked Hughes’ third point in the last four games after being held off the score sheet in his first nine games.
Yet Hughes looks unlikely for Friday’s rematch in the unusual four-game series with the Grizzlies (8-9-2), who received goals from Chris Donovan and, much to Coleman’s chagrin, Jimmy Martin, whose knuckler ricocheted off the heel of Coleman’s glove with 15 seconds to go.
Murray is hoping NHLer Nate Thompson, who sat out Wednesday with an undisclosed injury, is good to go Friday. If not, the Aces may call in a local reinforcement.
Though Wednesday’s game didn’t overflow with crispness and speed from either club, Murray was happy enough to get another win.
“We just got done what we needed to get done,’’ he said. “Our schedule of late is, if we’re not playing, we’re traveling.
“It’s been an intense group of games, and there’s probably some fatigue there, even if you don’t want to admit it.’’
Shuffling the deck
Like Gomez, Crabb and Mazzolini, who furnished an empty-netter, both ended up with one goal and one assist.
Crabb leads the Aces in points with 10-14—24 totals in 21 games. Mazzolini leads the team in goals and is second in points with 12-9—21 totals in 22 games.
The Aces went 1 for 2 on the power play, which dropped Utah’s league-worst, penalty-killing efficiency to just 67.3 percent. Alaska killed both Utah power plays to improve its league-best, penalty-killing efficiency to 90.4 percent.
Former Aces winger Jacques Lamoureux, who is in the Air Force and stationed here, signed with injury-riddled Utah and played Wednesday.
The Grizzlies have signed NHL forward Colby Armstrong, the older brother of captain Riley Armstrong, and he accompanied the team to Anchorage to practice with the club. Colby Armstrong has played 437 NHL games for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Atlanta Thrashers and most recently the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Colby Armstrong in the offseason signed with the Montreal Canadiens, so, if not for the NHL lockout, he would be playing in Montreal with Gomez.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Utah 0 1 1 — 2
Aces 0 1 3 — 4
First Period — None. Penalties — Armstrong, Utah (holding), 19:39.
Second Period — 1, Aces, Crabb 10 (Hughes, Syvret), 1:39 (pp); 2, Utah, Donovan 2 (Schultz, Patterson), 4:55. Penalties — Syvret, Aces (roughing), 10:29; Mazzolini, Aces (boarding), 12:29.
Third Period — 3, Aces, Wrenn 5 (Gomez, Mazzolini), 7:18; 4, Aces, Gomez 3 (Robinson), 11:46; 5, Aces, Mazzolini 12 (Imbeault, Crabb), 18:13 (en); 6, Utah, Ji. Martin 2 (Armstrong, Wahl), 19:45. Penalties — Armstrong, Utah (slashing), 3:11.
Shots on goal — Utah 5-17-4—26. Aces 10-6-7—23.
Power-play Opportunities — Utah 0 of 2. Aces 1 of 2.
Goalies — Utah, Rollheiseer, 3-2-1 (22 shots-19 saves). Aces, Coleman, 5-0-0 (26-24).
A — 3,397 (6,399). T — 2:16.
Referee — Marc-Andre Lavoie. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.
Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY