The Alaska Aces outshot the Idaho Steelheads by a 2-to-1 margin Wednesday night and out-chanced them by a greater differential.
All it got them was a 4-3 overtime loss.
Josh Robinson turned back 30 shots and Chase Schaber converted Austin Smith’s 2-on-1 pass 34 seconds into overtime at Sullivan Arena to earn the visitors two points in the ECHL standings.
While the Aces’ seven-game winning streak was snapped, they picked up a point for the 20th time in the last 21 hockey games and reduced their magic numbers to win both the Mountain Division and Brabham Cup.
“I can’t really fault our guys for much,’’ said Aces coach Rob Murray. “It sounds horrible to say, but there are good ways to lose a game, and one way is by getting a point.’’
The game before an announced crowd of 4,142 was something of a head-scratcher throughout.
Idaho scored on its first two shots and managed three shots on goal in the first period. The Steelheads went 18 minutes, 50 seconds, bridging the first and second periods, without a shot on goal. Yet they were exceedingly opportunistic and never trailed, and they found a way to win against the league’s top team, which also doubles as the circuit’s top club on home ice (.794 winning percentage).
“I was really pleased we had resolve and stuck to it, and tightened up later in the game,’’ said Idaho bench boss Brad Ralph. “Obviously, we were fortunate to win.’’
Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman struggled, surrendering four goals on 16 shots. The first goal he permitted — Ian Watters’ shot from the bottom of the left circle three minutes into the game squeezed between Coleman’s skate and the post — was a harbinger of a tough night.
“It was weird,’’ Coleman said. “My pad got stuck on the post and somehow (the puck) went under it.
“It’s frustrating for me because I’ve been playing so well. Hopefully, I get this one behind me. Idaho’s had my number all year. I just have to be mentally strong and get back at it.’’
The Steelheads (40-17-7) have gone 4-1-0 against the Aces (46-12-7), who they trail by 13 points in the Mountain Division. Idaho is the only team with a winning record against the Aces.
Ralph mused that maybe the Steelheads had karma on their side. After all, they outshot visiting Gwinnett 40-20 last Saturday night and lost 2-0.
Alaska’s magic number for winning the division is five — any combination of Aces points earned or Steelheads points surrendered equaling five would earn the Aces their third straight division crown. Their magic number for winning an unprecedented third straight Brabham Cup as overall regular-season champions dropped to eight.
“We’re playing good hockey right now, just making some mistakes,’’ said Aces leading scorer Nick Mazzolini. “Like tonight, it’s a clear-cut win for us (most nights). Yeah, we were playing from behind, but it didn’t feel like it on the bench.’’
Idaho captain Ben Ondrus scored on a breakaway less than seven minutes into the game to stake the Steelheads, who possess the league’s most potent offense, to a 2-0 lead. Ondrus was sprung by stretch pass up the middle of the ice from defenseman John Ryder, who was playing his first game since Dec. 30 and was stunningly sharp. Ryder delivered several crunching checks.
Alaska countered with Evan Trupp’s power-play goal nine minutes into the period — he steered captain Steve Ward’s slap-pass behind Robinson — to cut the deficit to 2-1. The goal was Trupp’s second, and his sixth point, in three games since his hometown team acquired him from Bakersfield at the trade deadline last week.
Bobby Hughes forged a 2-2 tie for the Aces midway through the second period. After B.J. Crum’s drive from the center point went wide right, Hughes collected the ricochet off the end boards, and with the puck a foot behind the goal line, flicked a backhand off Robinson’s shoulder and in. With more than seven minutes left in the second period, the Aces’ shot advantage was 22-4 — it ended up 33-16.
Still, Idaho regained the lead at 3-2 just 34 seconds into the third period on Watters’ odd power-play goal, which snapped Alaska’s string of 49 consecutive penalty kills. Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise used his left hand to bat down an airborne puck in the slot, where Watters snapped it past Coleman.
Three minutes later, though, Mazzolini struck for his fourth short-handed goal of the season — that ties him for the league lead. That goal was his 35th overall, one shy of the 36 bagged by Colton Yellow Horn of Ontario, who is on an extended tour in the American Hockey League.
Mazzolini tipped an Idaho pass in the neutral zone, knocked the puck out of the air with his stick blade, busted into the Idaho zone on right wing, cut to the slot and got a wrister past a patient Robinson for a 3-3 tie.
“He did a really good job of staying with me on that one,’’ Mazzolini said of Robinson. “I got a little lucky there.’’
The Aces enjoyed two power plays in the last nine minutes of regulation, but to no avail.
Even so, Mazzolini said, the Aces feel good about how they’re playing.
“This did nothing to our confidence but boost it,’’ he said.
Shuffling the deck
Mazzolini’s goal and assist pushed his point streak to seven games. He owns 4-7—11 totals in that span.
Alex Hudson’s four-game goal streak ended.
The Aces are 26-6-2 on home ice this season.
Erstwhile Aces rookie defenseman William Wrenn of Anchorage, on his second tour in the American Hockey League, scored his second AHL goal for the Texas Stars in a 4-3 win over Abbotsford.
In 12 combined games for Texas and Worcester, Wrenn owns 2-1-3 totals and a minus-2 rating.
Steve Mele, the younger brother of Aces winger Tommy Mele, made his pro debut Wednesday night for ECHL Greenville and registered an assist on the game-winning goal in a 4-1 win at Toledo. Steve Mele last week finished his college career at American International University, which is where Tommy also played.
From the small-world hockey department — the Toledo goalie was Jordan Pearce of Anchorage.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at and.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Idaho 2 0 1 1 — 4
Aces 1 1 1 0 — 3
First Period — 1, Idaho, Watters 8 (Toews, Trentowski), 3:07; 2, Idaho, Ondrus 6 (Ryder, Lacasse), 6:40; 3, Aces, Trupp 7 (Ward, Mazzolini), 9:03 (pp). Penalties — Ryder, Idaho (holding), 3:55; Trentowski, Idaho (high-sticking), 8:12; Mazzolini, Aces, double-minor (cross-checking, unsportsmanlike conduct), 15:34; Lacasse, Idaho (hooking), 19:38
Second Period — 4, Aces, Hughes 13 (Crum, Mele), 10:57. Penalties — Blain, Idaho (roughing), 8:44; Clackson, Aces, major (fighting), 12:25; Todd, Idaho, major (fighting), 12:25; Curry, Aces (interference), 18:36.
Third Period — 5, Idaho, Watters 9, :34 (pp); 6, Aces, Mazzolini 34, 3:37 (sh). Penalties — Clackson, Aces, double-minor (roughing), 1:57; Taylor, Idaho, double-minor (roughing), 1:57; Hudson, Aces (roughing), 2:27; Schaber, Idaho (contact to head), 10:51; Smith, Idaho (tripping), 18:04.
Overtime — 7, Idaho, Schaber 2 (Smith), :34. Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — Idaho 3-4-8-1—16. Aces 9-17-6-1—33.
Power-play Opportunities — Idaho 1 of 4. Aces 1 of 6.
Goalies — Idaho, Robinson, 24-6-4 (33 shots-30 saves). Aces, Coleman, 21-4-2 (16-12).
A — 4,142 (6,399). T — 2:28.
Referee — Chris Pitoscia. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.
Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY