Tommy Mele could have looked more excited about scoring a tie-breaking goal in the Alaska Aces' 3-1 victory over the Utah Grizzlies on Wednesday night.
No fist pump from the winger. No raised arms. No scream of delight. After he roofed a breakaway wrister over the blocker of goaltender Ben Meisner midway through the second period at Sullivan Arena, Mele just glided into the end boards, turned around and accepted hockey hugs from his teammates.
And exhaled -- after all, his strike snapped his 14-game goal drought.
"I think it was more relief than anything,'' Mele said. "Not that I'm pouting, but it had been 13 games, 14, something like that.
"Monkey-off-my-back kind of thing.''
That seems an apt enough description for where the Aces are at the moment as they enjoy an eight-game homestand.
After a miserable start to their recent eight-game road trip -- three losses -- they went 3-1-1 in their last five games of the journey. With Wednesday's win, they are unbeaten in regulation in their last four games (3-0-1).
With a lineup in flux because of promotions and injuries, the Aces require contributions from all corners, and Wednesday they got just that.
Besides Mele's drought-buster, Ross Ring-Jarvi contributed two assists to give him four in the last two games after generating four helpers in his first 18 games. Mathew Sisca continued to be an acquisition with impact -- he scored his fifth goal, and 10th point, in 12 games with the team. Captain Nick Mazzolini scored less than three minutes into the game. And Olivier Roy, making his ninth start in the last 10 games, stopped 32 shots.
"Basically, in the Alaska Aces organization, usually all three lines can put the puck in the net -- at least it seemed that way when I was with Bakersfield,'' Sisca said. "The best part of this team is depth. You get someone called up or hurt, a guy in the stands can come in and fill that role.''
Case in point: Defenseman Brad Gorham of Anchorage. Gorham, the former UAA blueliner who is an engineer by day, and for two seasons now, has occasionally helped the Aces by night. Wednesday, after the Aces signed him, he played a regular shift and also logged power-play and penalty-killing duties.
The Aces killed a two-man Grizzlies advantage that lasted 100 seconds and bridged the second and third periods, when Alaska's lead was just 2-1. Defensemen James Martin, Drew MacKenzie and B.J. Crum each logged critical time on that two-man Utah advantage, as did Mazzolini.
Alaska killed all six Utah power plays.
"We're starting to get our swagger back, I think'' Mele said. "It can be an individual effort, a group effort, anything.''
While Wednesday's win wasn't elegant -- the Aces committed a slew of defensive-zone turnovers against the Grizzlies' persistent forecheck -- Sisca believes the Aces slowly are regaining some structure to their play.
Still, they don't have much room for error.
Utah (7-12-3) is struggling at the moment -- winless in its last five games -- but was buoyed by Meisner's work (32 saves), which kept the Aces within reach much of the night.
Yet once Sisca buried a breakaway over Meisner's blocker less than four minutes into the third period to furnish a 3-1 cushion, Roy still needed to be sharp. His point-blank save on Kris Hogg with about nine minutes to go maintained some breathing room.
Mazzolini scored early after a furious scramble at the front of the Utah net following MacKenzie's drive from the left point. Utah forged a 1-1 tie in the opening minute of the second period, when Vinny Scarsella exploited an Aces turnover in neutral ice and fed David Vallorani, the trailer on a 3 on 2.
Vallorani faked a slap shot from the slot to get Roy to twitch, and flicked a wrister five-hole for a 1-1 tie. The goal snapped Roy's shutout streak against the Grizzlies, who he shut out in consecutive games on that recent road trip, at 168 minutes, 47 seconds, nearly the equivalent of three games.
That tie held until midway through the second period, when Ring-Jarvi came out of the penalty box after serving time for slashing and backhanded a pass that sent Mele on a mini-breakaway.
Mele lifted a wrist shot over Meisner's blocker for a 2-1 lead.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Utah 0 1 0 -- 1
Aces 1 1 1 -- 3
First Period -- 1, Aces, Mazzolini 8 (Kremyr, Ring-Jarvi), 2:42. Penalties -- Connolly, Aces (roughing), 13:39; O'Keefe, Utah (interference), 18:11.
Second Period -- 2, Utah, Vallorani 5 (Scarsella), :41; 3, Aces, Mele 4 (Ring-Jarvi), 10:54. Penalties -- Zahn, Utah (delay of game), 5:08; Ring-Jarvi, Aces (slashing), 8:48; Aces bench minor, served by Mele (too many men), 18:40; Gorham, Aces (high-sticking), 19:00.
Third Period -- 4, Sisca 5 (Richard, Sivak), 3:42. Penalties -- Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 8:08; Ezekiel, Utah, major (fighting), 8:08; Richard, Aces (high-sticking), 13:27; Connolly, Aces (tripping), 18:47; Martin, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:53; MacQueen, Utah (slashing), 19:53; Vallorani, Utah (unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:53.
Shots on goal -- Utah 8-11-14--33. Aces 15-13-7--35.
Power-play Opportunities -- Utah 0 of 6. Aces 0 fo 3.
Goalies -- Utah, Meisner, 2-7-0 (35 shots-32 saves). Aces, Roy, 5-5-0 (33-32).
A -- 3,338 (6,399). T -- 2:27.
Referee -- Don Jablonski. Linesmen -- Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.
By DOYLE WOODY