Chasing the game from a deep deficit suffered in a hockey heartbeat is nearly always an exhausting, futile fight, as the Alaska Aces were reminded Wednesday night.
The Aces fell behind by three goals inside the opening 10 minutes before taking over and generating a rally that came up short in a 4-3 loss to the Utah Grizzlies in West Valley City.
Alaska outshot Utah 44-23, including a 35-13 advantage in the last two periods, but all that delivered was a second straight ECHL loss and a trip below .500 at 10-11-0.
The Aces slipped to 2-2-0 on a six-game road trip that closes with games Friday and Saturday nights at Idaho.
Defenseman Brad Richard's goal with four minutes left at the Maverik Center -- the ECHL All-Rookie pick last season leads the circuit's blueliners in goals with seven -- closed Alaska's gap to 4-3, and the Aces struck a post with a shot just before the buzzer.
That finish made the goal from Utah captain Channing Boe with less than eight minutes to go especially critical. Boe, who returned after missing 16 games with an injury, snapped his 76-game ECHL goal drought that dated back to the 2013 playoffs.
The Aces found themselves in a ditch halfway through the first period after the Grizzlies pierced rookie goaltender Niklas Lundstrom (19 saves) for three goals. Mathieu Aubin scored two minutes into the game, defenseman Jacob Johnston followed a couple of minutes later and H.T. Lenz tacked on a power-play deflection for a 3-0 Grizzlies lead just 9:57 into the game.
Alaska chipped away, using rookie winger Greg Wolfe's breakaway goal late in the first period and his jam-job on a power-play scramble late in the second period to trim Utah's lead to 3-2. That marked Wolfe's first two-goal game as an Ace.
Still, Utah goalie Joe Howe (41 saves) kept the Aces at bay enough to help the Grizzlies (9-9-4) snap a two-game losing streak.
The Aces played without winger Raphael Bussieres, who was out with sickness after furnishing them with one goal and three assists in his first two games since the NHL's Minnesota Wild assigned him to the Aces from Iowa of the American Hockey League.
Aces defenseman Corey Syvret returned to the lineup after missing four games with a lower-body injury.
Shuffling the deck
The Aces' plus-21 shot advantage Wednesday tied for their second-most lopsided advantage this season. The only greater advantage was plus-22 on Oct. 25, when they outshot Stockton 50-28 yet lost 4-1 on the road.
Alaska has outshot opponents by 10 or more shots in nine of 21 games. The Aces have gone 3-6-0 in those games.
The Aces' 21 shots in the second period marked their most shots in a period this season. Their 44 shots are the most the Grizzlies have surrendered in a game this season.
Wolfe's two-goal game was his second as a pro. He had two goals with Reading in April in a 6-2 win over Orlando shortly after he finished his college career at Michigan State. Wolfe's eight goals are second among Aces.
Wolfe has played in all 21 Aces games and has yet to be penalized. No other skater in the league has played that many games this season without being penalized. Wolfe had just 59 penalty minutes in 145 college games.
Aces rookie winger Jacob Doty assisted on Wolfe's first goal for his first point as a pro. Rookie winger Olivier Archambault's assist on Wolfe's second goal extended his point streak to four games – he owns 3-1—4 totals in that stretch and leads Alaska scorers with 13-10—23 totals in 21 games.
Former Aces defenseman Patrick Wellar, a player-assistant coach from Utah, missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury and ran the Grizzlies defense behind the bench. Wellar has won four Cups in his career. He won ECHL Kelly Cups with the Aces in 2006, South Carolina in 2009 -- the Stingrays beat the Aces in seven games -- and Reading in 2013. He also won an American Hockey League Calder Cup with Hershey in 2010.
Winger Jack Combs of the Allen Americans, who began his pro career with a brief stint with the Aces in 2009, scored four goals Wednesday in a 5-2 win over Quad City to stretch his ECHL scoring lead.
Combs leads the circuit in goals and points with 17-20—37 totals in 20 games. Caveat: Allen, one of the seven teams from the defunct Central Hockey League who joined the ECHL just before the start of the season, has not played a team from outside that group of seven. Still, dude can score at the ECHL level – 86-86—172 totals in 138 career games in the league.
Aces 1 1 1 -- 3
Utah 3 0 1 -- 4
First Period – 1, Utah, Aubin 7 (Mi. Pelech, Gallant), 1:53; 2, Utah, Johnston 4 (Aubin, Mi. Pelech), 4:25; 3, Utah, Lenz 6 (Aubin, Johnston), 9:57 (pp); 4, Aces, Wolfe 7 (Jobke, Doty), 14:45. Penalties – Sproule, Aces (cross-checking), 9:35; Syvret, Aces (interference), 12:34.
Second Period – 5, Aces, Wolfe 8 (Coffman, Archambault), 16:45 (pp). Penalties – Boe, Utah (tripping), 15:00; Wojtala, Utah (hooking), 18:29.
Third Period – 6, Utah, Boe 1 (Wojtala, Lenz), 12:37; 7, Aces, Richard 7 (Coffman), 16:00. Penalties – Ma. Pelech, Utah (elbowing), 7:12; Ma. Pelech, Utah (cross-checking), 15:57; Connolly, Aces (slashing), 15:57.
Shots on goal – Aces 9-21-14—44. Utah 10-4-9—23.
Power-play Opportunities – Aces 1 of 3. Utah 1 of 2.
Goalies – Aces, Lundstrom, 8-8-0 (23 shots-19 saves). Utah, Howe, 3-3-2 (44-41).
A – 3,203 (10,200). T – 2:21.
Referee – Peter Tarnaris. Linesmen – James McKenna, Kollin Kleinendorst.