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Rested and ready, Aces goaltender Coleman said he's psyched to play again

When Gerald Coleman stations himself between the pipes Wednesday night in Colorado, 18 days will have passed since the last time the Alaska Aces' veteran goaltender played a hockey game.

That does not represent the traditional workload of a No. 1 goalie getting primed for the postseason, yet Coleman says the nearly three weeks he missed with an injury -- his ailment was "upper-body'' and not to either of his surgically-repaired hips -- has proved a benefit. He said undisclosed injury is healed, his hips feel great, and he's rested and ready for the ECHL's approaching Kelly Cup playoffs, which the Aces open April 18.

"I feel way better,'' Coleman said after the Aces practiced Monday morning, prior to Tuesday's travel day to Colorado. "It helped me to recover and get mentally focused again, and eager to play again. The way (the injury) happened, it actually worked out OK.

"I need at least one game, just to get ready (for playoffs). In the playoffs, it's all mental, getting in the right mind-set. I haven't had any issues, any problems, with my hips lately. Haven't felt sore the next day after a game or practice. That's a positive, heading into the playoffs, when you play back-to-back games or three games in four nights.''

Coleman was injured in a 5-4 overtime loss at Stockton on March 22. In the interim, rookie newcomer Aaron Crandall made five straight starts. But the Aces clearly see Coleman, who backstopped them to the 2011 Kelly Cup, as their go-to guy for the playoffs.

That's especially true because the Aces do not count on seeing goalie Olivier Roy again this season. Two and half months have passed since the Calgary Flames assigned Roy to the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League. With Roy serving as former Ace Joni Ortio's back-up in Abbotsford, and the Heat sitting in the fifth playoff position of eight available in the Western Conference, it seems a safe bet Roy will spend the remainder of the season with the Heat.

The Aces close the regular season with three straight games in Colorado, where they also play the Eagles on Friday and Saturday nights, and with designs on a fourth straight Brabham Cup. That trophy goes to the league's regular-season champion and affords it home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Brabham will be awarded based on winning percentage this season. The Aces sit atop the league at .691, and Ontario (two games left) and Reading (three games left), both of which play Wednesday night, are tied for second at .674.

The Aces went 4-1-0 in the five games Crandall started.

Coleman returned to full practices last Friday, and also participated in the club's practices on Sunday and Monday. Coach Rob Murray thinks the veteran will be benefit from having a break, even if it was prompted by injury.

"All things being considered, I think it's worked out well for us and for him,'' Murray said. "We haven't had to over-extend him. The injury didn't have anything to do with his hips, and the time off allowed him to rest.

"We were able to play well without him and get points without him. He's still got to play well. The confidence level we've gained in Aaron helps. We feel, if need be, we can win with him.''

Shuffling the deck

The ECHL on Tuesday announced its awards schedule, with the All-Rookie Team to be unveiled Wednesday.

Aces defenseman Brad Richard seems to have a solid shot. He's third among rookie defensemen in scoring with 6-24--30 totals in 59 games and his plus-21 rating stands second among rookie blueliners.

Idaho winger William Rapuzzi of Anchorage appears a strong bet. He leads first-year scorers in assists and points with 16-41--57 totals in 58 games, and his seven shootout goals lead the entire circuit.

An exceptionally strong candidate is former Aces goalie Laurent Brossoit. He was with the Aces early in the season before an NHL trade landed him in Bakersfield. He's 24-9-2, which ties him for first overall in wins, and he has delivered a league record-tying eight shutouts. His 2.05 goals-against average is bettered only by Igor Bobkov of Utah's 2.04, and he owns a .924 save percentage.

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com