Aces rack up seventh straight win

Doyle Woody

Mark Guggenberger is a full-time goaltender for the Alaska Aces who of late has been getting part-time duty for the ECHL leaders.

Brad Gorham is a full-time mechanical engineer for BP who of late has been moonlighting part-time as a defenseman for the Aces.

Both delivered prime-time performances Saturday night.

Guggenberger stopped 27 shots for his league high-tying third shutout and Gorham furnished two assists for his first pro points, and the Aces dispatched the Colorado Eagles, 5-0, for their season-best seventh straight victory.

The Aces’ streak is their longest since they won nine straight last season and Saturday’s victory before an announced crowd of 5,721 marked their most lopsided this season.

Oh, Alaska (25-8-0) also has not trailed for 419 minutes, 16 seconds, less than a minute shy of the equivalent of seven regulation games. The Aces improved to 18-0-0 when they score first and 17-0-0 when they lead after two periods — those last two numbers were boosted by a four-goal second period, which marked the sixth time this season the Aces have generated four goals in a period.

The fingerprints of Guggenberger and Gorham were all over a win in which five different Aces scored goals and 11 of their 16 skaters contributed at least one point.

Since Aces stalwart goaltender Gerald Coleman, who backstopped the team to the 2011 Kelly Cup,  returned around Thanksgiving from offseason hip surgery to regain his position as the club’s No. 1 masked man, Guggenberger’s starts have diminished. Earlier this season, when Coleman was still rehabbing, Guggenberger made 13 consecutive starts.

Guggenberger understands the drill. The team still expects him to excel, even with fewer games. He has started just twice in the last eight games, but put up a 2-1 shootout victory over Utah and Saturday’s bagel. So he’s remained sharp.

“You’ve got to practice hard,’’ Guggenberger said. “I’ve been staying out after practice a little longer and doing the things to be prepared for this situation.’’

In Saturday’s scoreless first period, Guggenberger snuffed Joey Sides’ point-blank bid six minutes in and later extended his left pad to deny Ray Kaunisto’s wrap-around at the right post, then got his glove on Devin DiDiomete’s rebound. Late in the game, after teammate Alexandre Imbeault crashed into him and knocked him to the ice, Guggenberger righted himself to fend off Arthur Bidwell’s shot with his blocker and preserve his shutout.

“I just knew I had to get up and get right back at it,’’ Guggenberger said.

Coleman has repeatedly said that Guggenberger’s excellence this season has pushed him to be the best he can. Coleman is 10-2-0 with a 2.23 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. Guggenberger is 14-5-0 with a 2.40 and .909, and those three shutouts.

“Shutouts are overrated,’’ Coleman chirped with a smile as Guggenberger was being interviewed after the game.

Alaska blew open the game by piercing Kyle Jones (33 saves) with those four second-period goals — Chris Clackson scored for the second straight night, Nick Mazzolini scored his league high-tying 19th goal, Bobby Hughes scored for the third straight game and defenseman Corey Syvret notched his first goal of the season. Syvret entered the night with more points (16, all assists) than any other player in the league who had yet to score a goal this season.

Gorham, the rookie from Anchorage who played collegiately at UAA, proved instrumental in the goals from Clackson and Mazzolini, which came 2:02 apart inside the first three minutes of the period. Gorham jumped up to join the attack, rushed the puck into the zone and fired shots on goal.

In seven games with the Aces this season — all wins, mind you — Gorham is a plus-3. Paired with Syvret on Friday, when the Aces won 4-1, and Saturday, Gorham skated a regular shift and killed penalties.

“It’s just fun,’’ Gorham said. “Like I said when I first helped out, these guys make it easy for a guy like me to fit in.’’

Syvret said he’s impressed Gorham has stepped right into the lineup and made a tangible contribution.

“He’s easy to play with,’’ Syvret said. “I don’t think this league’s out of the question for him. When he plays, he communicates and makes good decisions. I’ve become comfortable with him.

“He moves the puck, he’s strong and he’s mobile.’’

Aces assistant coach Louis Mass, who runs the team’s defense, said he likes the chemistry between Syvret, a left-hander, and Gorham, a right-hander, and that pairing gives him balance in his three defensive pairings.

Though the Aces have been hammered by injuries, Gorham is currently playing in front of at least one other healthy defenseman.

“It’s almost one of those decisions where you’re going against the grain because (conventional wisdom) tells you a 9-to-5 guy isn’t going to be prepared to come in and play,’’ Mass said. “Everything we do as a team is centered on winning hockey games, and we’re going to put out the team that gives us the best chance to win.

“Brad, from the moment he stepped in, he’s played smart, he’s played physical, and he’s played within his ability.’’


Shuffling the deck

The Aces’ .756 winning percentage is just ahead of Reading (23-7-2, .750), which is 10-0-1 in its last 11 games.

Brandon Dubinsky, in his second game back after missing 19 games with a broken hand, furnished the Aces one goal and one assist.

Alaska improved to a league-best 14-3-0 on home ice this season and is 10-0-0 all-time against Colorado at Sullivan Arena.

Imbeault’s assist ran his point streak to five games — he owns 3-3—6 totals in that span.

The teams wrap their three-game series Monday night, which marks the sixth straight season the Aces have had a home game on New Year’s Eve.


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Colorado 0 0 0 — 0

Aces 0 4 1 — 5

First Period — None. Penalties — Curry, Aces (interference), 12:28.

Second Period — 1, Aces, Clackson 8 (Harrison, Gorham), :31; 2, Aces, Mazzolini 19 (Nunn, Gorham), 2:33; 3, Aces, Hughes 5 (Imbeault, Wrenn), 13:16; 4, Aces, Syvret 1 (Hughes, Dubinsky), 19:09 (pp). Penalties — Colorado bench minor, served by DiDiomete (too many men), 17:36; Curry, Aces (cross-checking), 19:36.

Third Period — 5, Aces, Dubinsky 9 (Harrison, Smith), 10:51. Penalties — Molle, Aces (tripping), 2:37; DiDiomete, Colorado (boarding), 7:43; Smeltzer, Colorado (interference), 12:10; DiDiomete, Colorado (elbowing), 12:10.

Shots on goal — Colorado 9-12-6—27. Aces 15-15-8—38.

Power-play Opportunities — Colorado 0 of 3. Aces 1 of 4.

Goalies — Colorado, Jones, 9-8-2 (38 shots-33 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 14-5-0 (27 shots-27 saves).

A — 5,721 (6,399). T — 2:21.

Referee — J.M. McNulty. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Steve Glines.