Shutout loss in Utah leaves Aces coach Murray underwhelmed with his hockey club

Doyle Woody

The fallout from the Alaska Aces' historic 2-0 road loss to the Utah Grizzlies on Wednesday night proved immediate and brutally candid -- Aces coach Rob Murray lamented his team's work ethic and will.

And in hockey, a game where sweat equity, persistence and grit are ingrained in the culture, there are no more damning indictments than those that find labor and fortitude lacking.

"I was just saying to (assistant coach Louis Mass), in my two-plus seasons here, I honestly can't say we've got a lack of effort, as far as multiple players instead of one or two, like we did tonight,'' Murray said by cellphone from West Valley City. "Just a multitude of guys.

"We're not generating anything offensively, we're not defending well enough and we're not physical enough -- we don't hit anyone.''

It galled Murray that winger Evan Trupp, who was a game-time decision Wednesday because of a lower-body injury, was his best skater at the Maverik Center.

"By far the most effective and tenacious,'' Murray said. "And that it what is lost in our game right now, our tenacity.''

If that doesn't change, Murray said, he will have to consider retooling his roster.

In 86 games against the Aces in eight previous ECHL regular seasons and playoffs, the Aces had never before been rendered shutout victims by the Grizzlies, who the Aces had bageled 14 times in that span on the way to a lopsided 63-18-5 advantage in the all-time series.

But Utah's Igor Bobkov stopped 29 shots to issue the Aces (11-6-0) their first shutout this season and run their goal drought, which stretches back to the first period of a 2-1 loss at Colorado last Friday, to 80 minutes, 2 seconds.

This is an Aces team that on seven occasions in its first 13 games scored three or more goals in a span of less than seven minutes and which eight times scored three or more goals in a period. But they have managed just four goals in three consecutive losses that mark their longest losing streak this season and a poor way to begin an eight-game road trip.

"Right now, we've gone so far backward from the time we were 9-1 or 11-3,'' Murray said. "We were just dominating teams. That life has been sucked out of us right now. It's up to me, Louis and the guys on the team to figure it out.''

Sure, the Aces are without leading scorer Peter Sivak, who is up with Abbotsford of the American Hockey League. The Heat also have Kane Lafranchise, who is arguably Alaska's best all-around defenseman, and winger David Eddy.

Also, rookie winger Andy Taranto, who replaced Sivak on the first line centered by Nick Mazzolini, left Wednesday's game with a shoulder injury suffered early in the second period -- Murray said the worse-case scenario is a dislocated shoulder. And defenseman Corey Syvret also suffered a lower-body injury Wednesday that Murray said could keep him out of Friday's rematch in Utah.

Still, the Aces were not playing with a short bench -- they dressed the maximum 16 skaters.

Of course, with only one spare defenseman and one spare forward, the roster Murray currently has doesn't leave him much room for benching underachievers -- and he called his club's lack of effort Wednesday "beyond belief.''

Although the Aces on Wednesday signed rookie defenseman Jason Cohen of Anchorage out of the Southern Professional Hockey League on loan from the Louisiana IceGators -- Cohen led that circuit in scoring by defensemen -- the Aces are particularly thin on talent on the blue line. Lafranchise is gone, veteran Sean Curry and rookie Zach Davies are out long-term with injuries, and now Syvret is questionable at best. All four of those players likely would be in the lineup if the Aces were healthy and enjoyed their full complement of players.

Utah (7-8-2) won its second straight game on the strength of Bobkov's work -- he stopped Trupp's breakaway in the second period and moments later stoned Brendan Connolly point-blank -- and second-period goals from Michael Pelech and Kris Hogg.

Hogg's deflection came on the power play, which brings up another Aces shortcoming Wednesday -- lack of discipline. The Aces gave the Grizzlies seven power-play chances, the most an opponent has been granted this season.

Meanwhile, since Mazzolini's goal against Colorado last Friday, the Aces have fired 44 shots, all for naught.

"We'll see what the next couple days bring,'' Murray said. "This is the ups and downs of the season. At least it's happening in early December. Hopefully, that adversity is something we learn from.''

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Aces 0 0 0 -- 0

Utah 0 2 0 -- 2

First Period -- None. Penalties -- None.

Second Period -- 1, Utah, Pelech 2, 5:04; 2, Utah, Hogg 5 (Zahn, Scarsella), 16:54 (pp). Penalties -- Trupp, Aces (interference), 16:11; Syvret, Aces, minor-misconduct, served by Mele (cross-checking), 16:54; Zahn, Utah (interference), 18:33.

Third Period -- None. Penalties -- Mele, Aces (interference), 2:22; Aces bench minor, served by Sisca (too many men), 4:48; Pelech, Utah (unsportsmanlike conduct-diving), 5:22; Crum, Aces (cross-checking), 9:19; Boe, Utah (cross-checking), 12:14; Ezekiel, Utah (unsportsmanlike conduct), 12:14; Paquette, Utah, major (fighting), 14:36; Mele, Aces, major (fighting), 14:36; Ezekiel, Utah (hooking), 16:42; Mazzolini, Aces (tripping), 18:31; Pineault, Utah (roughing), 19:31; Connolly, Aces, double minor-misconduct (roughing), 19:31.

Shots on goal -- Aces 10-11-8--29. Utah 11-11-12--34.

Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 of 4. Utah 1 of 7.

Goalies -- Aces, Roy, 1-4-0 (34 shots-32 saves). Utah, Bobkov, 3-4-2 (29-29).

A -- 2,241 (10,200). T -- 2:17.

Referee -- Nic Leduc. Linesmen -- James McKenna, Ed Henderson.