With a 5-0-0 record through the first two weeks of the 2011-12 ECHL season, the defending Kelly Cup champion Alaska Aces have picked up right where they left off last season.
Alaska went 23-4-1 over its final 27 regular-season games in 2010-11 and then went 12-1 during the Kelly Cup Playoffs, setting an ECHL record for fewest losses in a single postseason. With their 5-0-0 start this season, the Aces have put together an impressive 40-5-1 record in their last 46 outings.
New head coach Rob Murray, who joined the team after spending the previous three seasons as head coach for the American Hockey League’s Providence Bruins, stepped behind the bench after 2010-11 ECHL Coach of the Year Brent Thompson was hired by the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, took over an experienced team as 18 of the 23 players, including Chris Langkow who is currently on loan to Bridgeport and Scott Howes who is on injured reserve, suited up for the Aces during last year’s championship run.
This past weekend, the Aces swept a three-game home series against Idaho, outscoring the Steelheads 9-3 over the course of the series.
The series opened on Thursday with a 4-2 win for the Aces. Alaska started quickly with three first period goals, including two from Tyler Ruegsegger in the first 2:15 of the opening period. On Friday, the two teams engaged in a tight-checking affair that resulted in a 2-1 triumph for Alaska. Dan Kissel scored midway through the first period and Matt Ambroz’ first professional goal in the third period ended up as the game winner. Gerald Coleman stopped 25 shots to record the win in net. In the series finale on Saturday, Coleman turned aside all 22 shots to post a shutout, while Nick Mazzolini, Zach Harrison and Ruegsegger provided the Alaska offense.
Ruesegger and Kissel share the team lead, and are tied for first overall in the league, with four goals each, while 2010-11 ECHL Most Valuable Player Wes Goldie ranks third on the club with four points (1g-3a). Goldie has 336 career ECHL goals to rank second in league history. He sits 32 goals behind the all-time leader Rod Taylor.
Coleman, who was an All-ECHL First Team selection and the ECHL Goaltender of the Year a season ago, leads the league with five wins, a 0.98 goals-against average and 305 minutes, while ranking second with 113 saves and tied for second with a .958 save percentage.
After starting the season with five straight home games, the Aces hit the road for the first time this weekend with games in Utah on Friday and Saturday. The two games against the Grizzlies are Alaska’s only road games in their first 13 games this season.