In the month since he’s been back playing in games following offseason hip surgery, Gerald Coleman’s results proved strong — seven wins in nine appearances.
Yet the Alaska Aces veteran goaltender generally wasn’t pleased with his game — too many leaky goals surrendered, too many big rebounds — and particularly not after a mediocre night backstopping Wednesday’s shootout victory over the Stockton Thunder.
What Coleman needed was a performance worthy enough to bolster his confidence, and Friday night he produced one with a 26-save effort that propelled the ECHL-leading Aces to a 5-1 win over Stockton that furnished their fourth straight victory.
For Coleman, the club’s morning skate was a revelation, because it marked the first time his left hip has not bothered him.
“I went to practice and didn’t feel my hip. No problem at all,’’ Coleman said. “So I figured out how to play goaltender again.’’
For Aces coach Rob Murray, Coleman’s work at an optional practice Thursday convinced him to start the veteran again, even after Coleman’s shaky performance Wednesday.
“We thought he didn’t have a very good game (Wednesday),’’ Murray said. “He won. But what we know of Gerald Coleman is he is capable of a lot more.
“They didn’t have a lot of flurries, but when they had really good chances, he made some big stops.
The lone goal Coleman surrendered Friday was a power-play marker in the opening minute of the third period by Stockton’s Eric Hunter. But even that strike came with a caveat — Hunter’s shot from the high slot hit the hand of Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise and changed direction, squeezing inside the right post.
Coleman said a second-period save he made on Thunder sniper Toni Rajala, on a Stockton power play when the Aces led 2-0, was good for his head. Coleman flashed his left pad to rebuff Rajala’s quick shot from the right circle.
“I haven’t been making key saves at big times, and I did,’’ Coleman said.
Coleman, who improved to 8-2-0, said he knows he needs to be in top form, because the Aces’ other goalie, Mark Guggenberger, is 13-5-0, and goalie James Reid could soon be back from an ankle injury.
“For some goalies, how I was going was fine,’’ Coleman said. “For me, you know in the back of your mind you want to do better, because we have James coming back, and Mark has 13 wins.’’
The Aces (22-8-0) mustered just five shots on Tyler Bunz in the first period, yet seized a 2-0 lead on goals from defensemen Chris Haltigin and Alain Goulet.
Nick Mazzolini’s team-leading 18th goal — he is third in the league in that category — stretched the lead to 3-0 in the second period.
Although Hunter trimmed that cushion to 3-1 just 59 seconds into the third — an apparent Mike Little goal soon after was waved off by referee Tom Chmielewski, who cited contact with Coleman by Harrison Reed — the Aces answered with Scott Gomez’s coast-to-coast, power-play strike and Alexandre Imbeault’s late goal. Both Gomez and Imbeault finished with one goal and one helper.
Gomez returned to the lineup after missing five games with a lower-body injury.
The Aces dressed another patchwork lineup of nine forwards and seven defensemen, though blueliner Dustin Molle skated at wing. In the 11 games since the Aces last dressed a traditional lineup of 10 forwards and six defensemen — and did so without a temporary hire filling in — they have gone 8-3-0.
Shuffling the deck
The teams close their three-game series with Saturday night’s match.
Aces veteran defenseman Sean Curry sat out with a lower-body injury — he’s been put on the reserve list. Also out was center Zach Harrison, who missed his first game of the season with a severe headache. Murray said he expects Harrison back in the lineup Saturday.
Former UAA defenseman Brad Gorham, who helped the Aces during a three-game home series earlier this season, played a regular shift again Friday and was solid with an even rating and one shot on goal. Former UAA forward Merit Waldrop played his second straight game for the Aces and has helped them in four home games this season. He was plus-1 Friday.
Through 30 games, Aces players have missed a combined 206 games with injuries and another four with illnesses.
The ECHL’s annual Trade/Waiver Freeze for the holidays went into effect at 1 p.m. AST Friday and continues until 8 a.m. AST Wednesday — teams are prohibited from trading and waiving players in that period.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Stockton 0 0 1 — 1
Aces 2 1 2 — 5
First Period — 1, Aces, Haltigin 3 (Robinson), 2:07; 2, Aces, Goulet 1 (Gomez, Imbeault), 14:17. Penalties — Mazzolini, Aces (hooking), 15:12.
Second Period — 3, Aces, Mazzolini 18 (Lafranchise), 6:52. Penalties — Lafranchise, Aces (delay of game-puck over glass), 1:08; Gomez, Aces (cross-checking), 6:30; Reed, Stockton (cross-checking), 6:30; Reindeau, Stockton (slashing), 11:30.
Third Period — 4, Stockton, Hunter 9 (Rajala, Little), :59 (pp); 5, Aces, Gomez 5 (Crabb), 6:52 (pp); 6, Aces, Imbeault 6 (Lafranchise, Wrenn), 14:05. Penalties — Mazzolini, Aces (closing hand on puck), :43; Hughes, Aces, double-minor (hooking, unsportsmanlike conduct), 2:16; Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 6:35; Hunt, Stockton, major (fighting), 6:35; Zahn, Stockton (roughing), 6:35; Crabb, Aces (roughing), 11:55; Zahn, Stockton (roughing), 11:55; Hughes, Aces (tripping), 13:00; Reindeau, Stockton (hooking), 14:01.
Shots on goal — Stockton 7-7-13—27. Aces 5-10-10—25.
Power-play Opportunities — Stockton 1 of 6. Aces 1 of 3.
Goalies — Stockton, Bunz, 8-7-3 (25 shots-20 saves). Aces, Coleman, 8-2-0 (27-26).
A — 4,889 (6,399). T — 2:19.
Referee — Tom Chmielewski. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Travis Jackson.
By DOYLE WOODY