No amount of practice could truly prepare Gerald Coleman's body or mind for the speed of an actual hockey game, where everything, by comparison, happens in a heartbeat. The more than eight months that had lapsed since his previous game didn't do him any favors either.
So when the Alaska Aces' veteran goaltender, after a second straight offseason hip surgery, made his long-awaiting season debut last Friday in a 6-5 overtime loss at San Francisco, he felt like he was chasing the game, always one move behind.
"I'd take credit for two goals I should have had,'' Coleman said. "You never know what to expect in a game. You can't simulate a game (in practice). Stuff happens, and fast.
"And after two hip surgeries and getting older (28), it takes some time to get back up to speed.''
What the 6-foot-5 Coleman did find encouraging, though, is that he felt healthy and strong the day after his debut. And when the Aces practiced Tuesday morning in preparation for a three-game, ECHL home series against Las Vegas that opens Wednesday night, he felt the best he has this season.
"I finally feel like I can do the things I need to,'' Coleman said. "Today was the first practice where, when I had to move across (the crease) and get to the other post, I knew I could.''
Aces coach Rob Murray likewise thought Tuesday's practice was the sharpest Coleman has looked.
Olivier Roy, who has started 16 of the club's last 20 games, will get the start Wednesday, Murray said. Coleman, who played three previous seasons for the Aces, will play one of the three games in the series. Murray said he and the team's medical staff will monitor Coleman closely as he ramps up his game fitness.
"He did say he felt fatigued during the (San Francisco) game, which is understandable,'' Murray said. "But we didn't defend very well on a couple of those goals.
"I'm not worried, not concerned at all. He'll get better. I thought he looked much better today.''
Coleman stayed on the ice long after practice broke Tuesday to work with assistant coach Louis Mass and several Aces -- defensemen Sean Curry and Corey Syvret, and wingers Brendan Connolly and Andy Taranto -- who are working their way back from injuries. By the end of that exhausting session, Coleman's gear was wet with sweat and he looked wrung out. Asked if he wanted to sit for an interview, Coleman smiled and said, "That's the best idea I've heard all day.''
A tandem of Coleman and Roy gives the Aces the guy (Coleman) who backstopped them to the 2011 Kelly Cup (Coleman) and the guy (Roy) who delivered the Stockton Thunder into the Kelly Cup Finals last spring.
Coleman said getting back up to game speed simply requires playing games and slowly building his stamina. The kind of dynamic moves required in a game -- say, quickly dropping into the butterfly position or pushing hard off a skate to get from one post to the other -- are hard on the hips, Coleman said. Still, he was happy to wake up pain-free the day after his debut.
"Now, I know, if I have to, I can play back-to-back games, not any time soon, but in the future,'' he said.
Shuffling the deck
Murray said Connolly, who has missed eight games since suffering facial injuries when hit with a stick, won't play Wednesday but might be able to make his return during the Las Vegas series.
With Connolly and Taranto (shoulder) out, and forwards Jordan Kremyr and Evan Trupp up with Abbotsford of the American Hockey League, the Aces are down to nine true forwards. Murray said defenseman Dustin Molle, who has occasionally played wing in his two seasons with Alaska, will play wing as the 10th forward Wednesday.
Murray said part-time defenseman Brad Gorham, who works on the North Slope, will be in the lineup Wednesday.
Roy has won his last four starts and eight of his last nine.
Alaska has won five of six games against Las Vegas this season
The Aces are 3-0-2 in their last five games. The Wranglers, who are in the midst of seven straight road games, have won two of their last three games. That prosperity came after they went winless for 10 straight games (0-8-2).
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Las Vegas Wranglers
Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.
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By DOYLE WOODY