Before Saturday night, the only time Tommy Mele participated in a shootout — pro, college or junior hockey — came in Las Vegas last month when he was the Alaska Aces’ fifth and last scheduled shooter, and needed to score to prolong the skills contest.
“When I went over the boards, all I heard was (Aces coach Rob Murray) saying, ‘High glove, high glove,’ ” Mele recalled. “So I went high glove and (goaltender Joe Fallon) got his glove up and knocked it over the net.’’
Saturday night, Mele got a do-over, and he delivered a dynamite, jaw-dropping move — hockey players call it the spin-o-rama — to score the game-winning shootout goal in the Aces’ 3-2 victory over Stockton at Sullivan Arena.
The spin-o-rama, which is just what it sounds like — a pirouetting move — is bold and spectacular when it works. When it doesn’t, the shooter can look like a hot-dogging donkey.
Mele, a left-handed shooter, approached Stockton goaltender Tyler Bunz from the right side of the ice, angled to the crease with the puck on his forehand, then spun counter-clockwise while switching to his backhand and slid the biscuit between Bunz’s legs.
“I always try it in practice, but I never (think) I have the nuts to try it in a game,’’ Mele said.
Mele said Aces goaltenders Gerald Coleman and Mark Guggenberger have seen him try the spin-o-rama so often in practice that they’re ready for it and usually stop it easily. But Bunz is a stranger to Mele, a second-year pro who said he didn’t commit to the spin-o-rama until after he picked up the puck at center ice.
“Obviously, this guy doesn’t know me,’’ Mele said. “When I crossed the blue line, I was like ‘Screw it.’ Honestly, I said it out loud.’’
Mele said his teammates playfully chirped him when he arrived back at the bench.
“Someone said, ‘Did you really just do that?’ ” Mele said with a laugh.
Mele’s goal gave the Aces a 2-1 lead in the shootout, with Jesse Fratkin shooting after him in the fifth round and needing to score to extend the contest to extra shooters. Stockton defenseman Tony DeHart had scored on a filthy forehand in the third round and Alaska’s Garry Nunn beat Bunz with a wrister between the pads in the fourth round.
Fratkin, a left-handed shooter, went to his backhand, but Coleman stifled him at the right post and punched his stick in the air in celebration. Little wonder — he stopped four of five shooters, the game was won and this season he is 7-0-0 against Stockton with a 1.54 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.
The Aces, who Saturday played beyond regulation for the fourth time in the last five games and fifth time in the last eight, clinched a playoff spot while their game was still going on. That came courtesy of Bakersfield’s 3-1 loss at San Francisco, though Alaska’s victory would have clinched the postseason anyway.
Just like Friday night, when the Aces won 3-1 in the opener of a three-game series that wraps up Sunday, Alaska (34-11-5) and Stockton (24-19-9) played a scoreless first period and traded second-period goals.
Stockton struck first 33 seconds into the middle period when Aces defenseman B.J. Crum blocked Mike Little’s slap shot from the point. But the puck ricocheted directly to Maxime Bosclair, who beat Coleman to the glove side for a 1-0 lead.
The Aces answered six minutes later when Chris Clackson undressed Little with an inside-out move on left wing — “I kind of surprised myself,’’ Clackson said — to create a 2-on-1. Bobby Hughes buried Clackson’s centering pass for a 1-1 tie.
Alaska gained its first lead nine minutes into the third period when Crum tipped the puck at the Aces’ blue line and Spencer Bennett corralled it in neutral ice. Bennett’s half-slapper from atop the left circle went off Bunz’s glove and in for a 2-1 edge.
Yet Stockton answered on a power play with less than seven minutes left in regulation. After Coleman lost his stick in a chaotic sequence in his crease, Stockton defenseman Teigan Zahn whistled a shot from the center point past him for a 2-2 deadlock.
That score held through overtime and prompted the shootout, where Mele furnished his cheeky move to give the Aces their seventh straight win over Stockton and extend their streak of games unbeaten in regulation to six (3-0-3).
“The game’s fun, you have to have fun playing it,’’ he said.
Shuffling the deck
Nunn’s shootout goal stopped his streak of nine straight failed shootout bids over the past two seasons.
The Aces trailed league-leading Ontario by one point, 74-73. Both have played 50 games and have 22 regular-season games left.
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Aces win shootout 2-1
Stockton 0 1 1 0 — 2
Aces 0 1 1 1 — 3
First Period — None. Penalties — Harrison, Aces (hooking), 1:07; Curry, Aces, major (fighting), 4:16; Abney, Stockton, major (fighting) 4:16.
Second Period — 1, Stockton, Boisclair 5 (Little, Levesque), :33; 2, Aces, Hughes 8 (Clackson, Kremyr), 6:34. Penalties — Ambroz, Stockton (delay of game-puck over glass), 2:19; Hunt, Stockton (interference), 13:56.
Third Period — 3, Aces, Bennett 1 (Crum), 8:54; 4, Stockton, Zahn 5 (Hunt, DeHart), 13:47 (pp). Penalties — Wrenn, Aces (holding), 12:04.
Overtime — None. Penalties — None.
Shootout — Aces 2 (Imbeault NG, Mazzolini NG, Hughes NG, Nunn G, Mele G), Stockton 1 (Reber NG, Boisclair N, DeHart G, Hunter NG, Fratkin NG).
Shots on goal — Stockton 4-6-5-3—18. Aces 9-10-12-1—32.
Power-play Opportunities — Stockton 1 of 2. Aces 0 of 2.
Goalies — Stockton, Bunz, 11-11-4 (32 shots-30 saves). Aces, Coleman, 17-4-1 (18-16).
A — 4,689 (6,399). T — 2:38.
Referee — Frederic Leblanc. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.
By DOYLE WOODY