Corey Syvret has played 24 hockey games for the Alaska Aces and has yet to bag a goal, but when Wednesday night’s shootout against the Stockton Thunder extended into a sixth round, coach Rob Murray sent out the left-handed shooting defenseman.
After all, Murray reasoned, Syvret has proved deadly in practice shootouts.
He wasn’t too shabby in an ECHL game, either.
Syvret’s shootout goal, a wrister through the pads of Stockton’s Cody Reichard, delivered the Aces a 4-3 victory in the opener of a three-game series at Sullivan Arena.
The Aces won the shootout, also 4-3, and remained the circuit’s only perfect team past regulation. Alaska is 3-0 in overtime and 2-0 in shootouts, and has won shootouts in consecutive games — the Aces’ 2-1 win Saturday night in Utah came from winning the shootout 2-0.
Alaska (21-8-0) also remained perfect in games in which it scores first (14-0-0) and games it leads after two periods (13-0-0).
“I think it speaks to the depth of our team,’’ Syvret said. “And it says something about this organization — it finds ways to win.’’
The Aces’ third straight win also restored them to first-place overall in winning percentage at .724, just ahead of Reading (.722) and Ontario (.712).
On a night when Stockton three times roared back from one-goal deficits and repeatedly chipped paint off the Aces’ goal late — Toni Rajala struck iron twice in the third period and Mike Little pinged pipe with about four seconds left in OT — the Aces won a skills competition replete with pretty goals.
Stockton’s Yannick Reindeau roofed a backhander on Gerald Coleman (26 saves in regulation and OT) in the first round and Rajala scored in the second round on a filthy, sweeping one-handed backhander first made popular back in the day by Peter Forsberg. And rookie Justin Maylan went upstairs with a backhander for the Thunder (15-7-6).
Alaska’s Joey Crabb went wild on dekes before sliding a backhander behind Reichard. Bobby Hughes flicked a dart of a forehand top shelf and Nick Mazzolini whipped a forehand over Reichard’s blocker.
When Coleman rebuffed Mike Little with his right pad in the sixth round to keep the shootout tied 3-3, that put victory on Syvret’s stick.
Syvret wasn’t surprised he got the nod. Murray had told him that if that shootout in Utah had gone longer than its four rounds, he was going to send out Syvret.
“I was still a little nervous,’’ Syvret said. “I hopped over the boards and the guys said, ‘End it.’ I took that encouragement and tried my best.’’
Sweeping out on right wing before cutting to the middle, Syvret eyed shooting low to Reichard’s right. When the rookie opened his pads while shifting to the right, Syvret rifled a shot through Reichard’s legs.
“It was enough to squeak through,’’ he said.
Alaska never trailed, getting goals in regulation from Alexandre Imbeault, Crabb and defenseman Kane Lafranchise. Crabb and Lafranchise scored on the power play.
Stockton answered with goals from Reindeau, Little and Maylan. The Thunder enjoyed the best chances in OT, outshooting the Aces 6-0 in the five minutes of 4 on 4 play and coming close to snatching two points when Little struck the right pipe in the waning seconds.
Reindeau’s goal came on Stockton’s first power play, but the Thunder couldn’t cash in on four subsequent power plays.
“We really didn’t find our rhythm to make plays,’’ Stockton coach Matt Thomas said of those last four power-play opportunities.
Shuffling the deck
The Aces dressed nine forwards and seven defensemen, with the former rounded out by Merit Waldrop of Anchorage, who was signed for the second homestand in a row in which the Aces find themselves short of forwards because of injuries.
You didn’t have to be Scotty Bowman to know a fight was brewing off the opening face-off — not when Stockton captain Garet Hunt and Alaska’s Dustin Molle, a defenseman positioned at wing for the opening draw, were lined up next to each other and appeared to have a quick conversation. Once the puck was dropped, both skaters shed their gloves and helmet, and fought.
Lafranchise’s goal was his fourth in 25 games this season after scoring three goals in 69 games last season. With 4-15—19 totals in 25 games — he also furnished an assist Wednesday — Lafranchise ranks fifth in scoring among ECHL defensemen.
Syvret doesn’t own a goal in his 24 games, but he had another assist Wednesday to give him 13 this season.
Stockton’s Rajala, coming off a hat trick in Monday’s 6-4 win over San Francisco, fired a game-high nine shots on goal.
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Stockton 1 1 1 0 — 3
Aces 2 1 0 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Aces, Imbeault 5 (Syvret, Curry), 9:03; 2, Stockton, Reindeau 6 (Reed, Hunter), 10:45 (pp); 3, Aces, Crabb 13 (Nunn, Lafranchise), 16:46 (pp). Penalties — Molle, Aces, major (fighting), :03; Hunt, Stockton, major (fighting), :03; Crabb, Aces (holding), 9:45; Brodie, Stockton (tripping), 14:48; Hughes, Aces (holding), 19:39.
Second Period — 4, Stockton, Little 3 (Reindeau), 13:25; 5, Aces, Lafranchise 4 (Wrenn, Mazzolini), 17:47 (pp). Penalties — Wrenn, Aces (holding), 1:59; Levesque, Stockton (unsportsmanlike conduct-diving), 1:59; Reed, Stockton (boarding), 4:37; Curry, Aces (high-sticking), 8:35; Reindeau, Stockton (tripping), 17:43; Maylan, Stockton (tripping), 19:09.
Third Period — 6, Stockton, Maylan 10 (Reed, Brodie), 3:45. Penalties — Clackson, Aces (slashing), 8:40; Reindeau, Stockton (hooking), 9:20.
Overtime — None. Penalties — None.
Shootout — Aces 4 (Imbeault NG, Crabb G, Hughes G, Mazzolini G, Nunn NG, Syvret G), Stockton 3 (Reindeau G, Rajala G, Levesque NG, DeHart NG, Maylan G, Little NG).
Shots on goal — Stockton 9-7-7-6—29. Aces 14-3-11-0—28.
Power-play Opportunities — Stockton 1 of 5. Aces 2 of 5.
Goalies — Stockton, Reichard, 7-1-3 (28 shots-25 saves). Aces, Coleman, 7-2-0 (29-26).
A — 3,581 (6,399). T — 2:34.
Referee — Tom Chmielewski. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.
By DOYLE WOODY