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Alaska Aces stalwart goaltender Gerald Coleman retires

Doyle Woody
(Tony Tribble for the Enquirer)

Gerald Coleman, the towering goaltender who backstopped the Alaska Aces to the ECHL’s Kelly Cup twice in the last four years while battling injuries to both hips, has retired from professional hockey.

Coleman, 29, said he’s calling it a career after nine seasons, the last four with the Aces, because continuing would have required his third hip surgery in three years. Coleman underwent surgery on his left hip -- that’s the one ailing him now -- in the offseason of 2012 and surgery on his right hip in the offseason of 2013.

“I didn’t want it to be now,’’ Coleman said of his retirement, “but with my hip, the doctors said if I played again I would need another surgery, and if I kept playing I would probably need a hip replacement within the next three years.’’

The 6-foot-5 Coleman in June played in all six Kelly Cup Finals games and his 23-save shutout in Game 6 allowed the Aces to seize the franchise’s third Kelly Cup in 11 ECHL seasons. In 2011, when Coleman was the circuit’s Goaltender of the Year, he led the Aces to the Kelly Cup by beating the Kalamazoo Wings in five games.

“Gerald was like a cornerstone,’’ said former Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise, the goalie’s close friend and a member of last season’s championship club.

As good as Coleman was in four regular seasons with the Aces -- a record of 85-32-13 (.704 winning percentage, 2.17 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and 11 shutouts -- his postseason performances for the club were even more startling. In the playoffs, he went 30-15 (.667) with a 1.78 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and six shutouts.

This past season, Coleman and Olivier Roy alternated playoff starts through the first three rounds. When Roy went down with a groin injury midway through Game 1 of the Finals, Coleman replaced him and played the remainder of the series.

Aces coach Rob Murray said alternating his goalies through three rounds allowed Coleman the rest he needed to play well throughout the Finals.

“When we really needed him, he had the gas in the tank,’’ Murray said.

Coleman’s departure likely means the Aces will have to find two news goalies for the upcoming season. Roy’s entry-level contract with the Edmonton Oilers expired at the end of last season and he is an unrestricted free agent.

In Coleman’s four regular seasons, the Aces three times surrendered the fewest goals in the league and finished a close second in the other season. They also permitted the fewest shots per game in the league in three of those seasons and finished third in the other season.

Coleman’s crease rarely turned into a shooting gallery, but the suffocating team defense in front of him often presented another difficulty: He could go long stretches without facing a shot and then find himself facing a scoring chance of the highest quality.

So it went in Game 1 against Cincinnati, when the Aces led 4-3 midway through the third period, Coleman had not faced a shot for ages and suddenly found Jonathan Hazen on the doorstep of his crease, redirecting a centering pass, and steering a shot that seemed certain to beat Coleman inside the right post.

Coleman pushed off his right skate to propel himself across his crease to make either a left-pad or left-toe save -- the play happened so fast, the goalie wasn’t certain -- and preserve the lead in an eventual 5-3 win.

“The big save at the big moment – that’s Gerald,’’ Lafranchise said.

As Coleman often said, “It’s good to be 6-5.’’

In net, he was usually serene, a calming presence for his teammates.

“A lot of what he did went unnoticed and I’m not sure if it was truly appreciated,’’ Lafranchise said. “He’s always pretty calm. As a D-man, there are nights when you’re feeling lousy and you’re fighting the puck, and it was always a good feeling to know if a guy got by you, Gerald was back there.’’

Coleman also was occasionally combative. He did not like to be crowded by opponents in his crease, and wasn’t shy about introducing an opponent to his goal stick, blocker and glove to deliver that message.

Coleman, a seventh-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003, played in two NHL games for the club as a rookie in the 2005-06 season. He also played 98 games in the American Hockey League, one cut below the NHL.

Coleman, who was runner-up to Alaska’s Jean-Philippe Lamoureux for Goaltender of the Year in 2009 when he played for ECHL Trenton, ranks among the league’s top all-time playoff goalies. He ranks second in appearances (45), wins (30) and minutes played (2,660).

Coleman, reached Friday in his hometown of Chicago, said he intends to begin taking college classes in January and study physical therapy.

He said he’ll always hold close his seasons in Anchorage.

“I met a lot of good people, made good relationships and, looking back, I accomplished a lot, won two titles,’’ Coleman said. “To say I went out a champion is an honor. At least I went out on top.’’

Reach reporter Doyle Woody at dwoody@adn.com and find his blog at adn.com/hockey-blog