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Aces drop Grizzlies in overtime

Doyle Woody

With its speed, frequent line changes, physical nature, heightened emotions and strange bounces of the puck, hockey is an imperfect game punctuated by mistakes and tilting momentum -- in the words of Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber, "Shifts happen.''

Somehow, though, the Alaska Aces on Saturday night maintained their perfect record this season in games that stretch past regulation.

The injury-ravaged bunch, the last club in the 23-team ECHL to go into a post-overtime shootout this season, won that skills competition to wrap a road trip-closing 2-1 victory over the Utah Grizzlies.

The Aces (20-8-0) won the shootout 2-0 on goals from Alexandre Imbeault and Joey Crabb. Mark Guggenberger did not permit any of Utah's four shooters to convert, adding to his 31 saves in regulation and overtime.

Alaska has gone past regulation four times this season, and seized three overtime wins and a shootout win. They are the only team on the circuit that is perfect in post-regulation play.

The Aces' win, coupled with Idaho's loss at Ontario, leap-frogged the Aces over the Steelheads and back atop the Western Conference standings.

Center Nate Thompson and winger Jarred Smith of Alaska sat out the game with injuries, which left coach Rob Murray to dress 15 skaters, one shy of the league maximum. That complement broke down to eight true forwards and seven defensemen.

Still, the Aces improved their road record to 11-5-0 and completed a two-game sweep with strong goaltending, a dose of grit and discipline -- the Aces permitted the Grizzlies (10-12-2) one power play.

Granted, that power play lasted nearly three minutes in the first period after new Aces forward Chris Clackson, acquired in a trade with Gwinnett on Thursday, received a major penalty for boarding.

The Aces took a 1-0 lead less than seven minutes into the second period when center Zach Harrison, who scored in Friday's 5-4 win in Utah, turned a defenseman inside-out and scored his seventh goal of the season, and fourth against Utah. He twice this season has scored in consecutive games against the Grizzlies.

Utah countered in the last minute of the second period, when Brad Mills forged a 1-1 tie.

The Aces on Wednesday open a three-game home series -- that's part of a six-game homestand -- against the Stockton Thunder at Sullivan Arena.

Shuffling the deck

Clackson debuted with a plus-1 rating, three shots on goal and seven penalty minutes.

The player he was traded for, defenseman Russ Sinkewich, also made his debut for Gwinnett on Saturday. Sinkewich was plus-1 with one shot on goal in a 3-2 win at South Carolina.

The ECHL suspended Utah's Ian Schultz one game for his charging major that felled Smith on Friday night. Schultz served his suspension Saturday.

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

Aces win shootout 2-0

Aces 0 1 0 1 -- 2

Utah 0 1 0 0 -- 1

First Period -- None. Penalties -- Eddy, Utah, major (fighting), 1:42; Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 1:42; Ferland, Utah, major (fighting), 7:37; Robinson, Aces, major (fighting), 7:37; Wahl, Utah (unsportsmanlike conduct), 7:37; Clackson, Aces, major (boarding), 8:55; Burrows, Utah (hooking), 12:32.

Second Period -- 1, Aces, Harrison 7 (Robinson, Haltigin), 6:42; 2, Utah, Mills 13 (Estoclet, Eddy), 19:10. Penalties -- Maxwell, Utah (unsportsmanlike conduct), 6:42; Clackson, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 6:42; Eddy, Utah (unsportsmanlike conduct), 6:42; Eddy, Utah (unsportsmanlike conduct-diving), 9:08; Syvret, Aces (hooking), 9:08; Maxwell, Utah (cross-checking), 16:00.

Third Period -- None. Penalties -- Burrows, Utah (delay of game), :11.

Overtime -- None. Penalties -- Mills, Utah, minor-misconduct-game misconduct (unsportsmanlike conduct, abuse of officials), 2:26.

Shootout -- Aces 2 (Imbeault G, Crabb G, Hughes NG); Utah 0 (Wahl NG, Furland NG, Cameron NG, Estoclet NG).

Shots on goal -- Aces 12-10-10-5--37. Utah 7-13-9-3--32.

Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 of 6. Utah 0 of 1.

Goalies -- Aces, Guggenberger, 13-5-0 (32 shots-31 saves). Utah, Rollheiser, 5-4-2 (37-36).

A -- 3,621 (10,200). T - 2:37.

Referee -- Nic Leduc. Linesmen -- Todd Owen, Scott Ingraham.


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com