The Alaska Aces’ forwards — Mathew Sisca, Nick Mazzolini and Tommy Mele — and goaltender Gerald Coleman took care of business Friday night in the shootout.
Their defensemen got them there.
Blueliners Brad Richard and Zach Davies scored goals in regulation at Sullivan Arena, and the Aces beat the Idaho Steelheads, 3-2, courtesy of winning the skills contest by the same margin.
With offensive defenseman Kane Lafranchise up in the American Hockey League and blueliners Corey Syvret and James Martin out with injuries, the contributions from Richard and Davies have proved both timely and productive.
Richard, a four-year Division III player in college who Aces coach Rob Murray took a chance on, has translated his offensive prowess into the play-for-pay game. He leads Aces defensemen, and all rookie blueliners in the ECHL, in points with 3-17—20 totals in 33 games.
Davies, a rookie out of Division I Quinnipiac, suffered a broken wrist in the fourth game of the season and missed 24 games when his injury required surgery. He’s delivered 5-3—8 totals in 16 games.
“He’s kind of rounding himself back to where he was when he got hurt in Las Vegas,’’ Murray said. “He’s playing with a lot more poise.’’
Richard and Davies each scored tying goals in a wickedly fun second-period span of 7 minutes, 5 seconds that included all four goals in the game.
After Idaho center Brett Robinson opened the scoring with a bullet of a wrister off the rush over Coleman’s blocker, Richard answered less than three minutes later on the power play.
He took a gorgeous cross-crease feed from Brendan Connolly and beat Pat Nagle (40 saves), who, like teammates Brad Phillips and Josh Watson in Idaho’s 2-1 loss to Alaska on Wednesday, gave his team every chance.
Earlier this season, Richard endured some struggles in the defensive zone, but as he’s logged more games, he’s become a stronger two-way player.
“Honestly, I think he’s cleaned up his game,’’ Murray said. “He’s always battled, but at times he’d get on the wrong side of the puck.
“He’s playing better and, given more ice time, he’s getting better.’’
After Idaho regained the lead 2-1 on a power-play strike from former UAA winger Tommy Grant — he scored off a feed from rookie winger William Rapuzzi of Anchorage — Davies forged a 2-2 tie 57 seconds later. He accepted a pass from captain Mazzolini and scored on a wrister from the center point. Davies said his shot glanced off the stick of an Idaho player.
Davies, like Murray, thinks he’s got his game back to where it was pre-injury. Much of his game is predicated on his skating, and bolstering the offense is nice, but not his primary concern.
“I don’t worry too much about the offense, because it comes,’’ Davies said. “I try to think more about moving the puck and moving my feet, and being good in the defensive zone.’’
The Aces (27-10-3) improved to 6-0-1 in their last seven home games and finished January with a 9-1-2 mark to earn 20 of a possible 24 points. The Steelheads (20-16-5), who last month beat the Aces in a shootout at Sullivan, at least pocketed a point Friday.
In overtime, Nagle delivered a point-blank save on Aces defenseman Zach McKelvie and Coleman poke-checked Rapuzzi in the waning seconds.
Rapuzzi gave the Steelheads a 1-0 lead in the third round of the shootout — of course. He’s money in that situation. He approached Coleman with speed and beat him with a low shot that made him 6 for 6 in the shootout this season. He owns twice as many shootout goals as any other player in the league.
Sisca’s shot over Nagle’s glove to open the fourth round produced a 1-1 tie that held to the sixth round, when Mazzolini made a move and flicked a forehand behind Nagle. Steelheads defenseman Damon Kipp kept his club alive by putting a wrister off Coleman and in.
Mele scored the decisive strike when he faked a slap shot, then tucked a backhand behind Nagle.
That left it to Coleman, who rebuffed Rob Linsmayer with his glove to improve to 4-0-1 since his return from offseason hip surgery.
Shuffling the deck
Alaska improved to 6-2-2 against Idaho this season heading into Saturday’s series finale. The Aces also improved to 16-4-1 at Sullivan this season.
Winger Brett Findlay, who the Aces signed this week after the San Francisco Bulls folded, made his club debut and fired three shots on goal. Murray said center Jordan Morrison, likewise signed after the Bulls closed shop, will make his Aces debut Saturday.
Idaho’s Grant has goals in both games in the series. His power-play goal Friday was his league-leading eighth, one more than teammate Anthony Nigro.
Steelheads forward Mitch Wahl, their leading scorer (12-27—39 totals in 37 games) and the league leader in power-play points (20) was a healthy scratch.
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Aces win shootout 3-2, seven rounds
Idaho 0 2 0 0 — 2
Aces 0 2 0 1 — 3
First Period — None. Penalties — Patterson, Idaho (hooking), 8:00; Idaho bench minor, served by DeLisle (too many men), 9:39; McKelvie, Aces, major (fighting), 18:29; Elbrecht, Idaho, major (fighting), 18:29.
Second Period — 1, Idaho, Robinson 5 (Linsmayer, Kipp), 8:38; 2, Aces, Richard 3 (Connolly), 11:18 (pp); 3, Idaho, Grant 14 (Rapuzzi, Robinson), 14:46 (pp); 4, Aces, Davies 5 (Mazzolini, Molle), 15:43. Penalties — Parker, Aces (slashing), :26; Kremyr, Aces (roughing), 6:26; Elbrecht, Idaho (roughing), 6:26; Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 8:40; McGuire, Idaho, major (fighting), 8:40; Patterson, Idaho (hooking), 10:17; Curry, Aces (slashing), 14:27; Molle, Aces, major-game misconduct (fighting), 15;45; McGuire, Idaho, major-game misconduct (fighting), 15:45.
Third Period — None. Penalties — Walters, Idaho (hooking), 6:11; Zuck, Aces (interference), 12:00.
Overtime — None. Penalties — None.
Shootout — Aces 3 (Sivak NG, Skelly NG, Connolly NG, Sisca G, Findlay NG, Mazzolini G, Mele G), Idaho 2 (Grant NG, Nigro NG, Rapuzzi G, Robinson NG, de Kastrozza NG, Kipp G, Linsmayer NG).
Shots on goal — Idaho 6-7-8-3—24. Aces 13-12-13-4—42.
Power-play Opportunities — Idaho 1 of 3. Aces 1 of 4.
Goalies — Idaho, Nagle, 11-10-3 (42 shots-40 saves). Aces, Coleman, 4-0-1 (24-22).
A — 4,835 (6,399). T — 2:37.
Referee — Nick Leduc. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.
By DOYLE WOODY