By Dave Werstine
Long Beach Press-Telegram
LONG BEACH, Calif. – The Long Beach Ice Dogs put themselves in a hole in the opening game of the ECHL Kelly Cup West Division Finals, and in Game 2 on Saturday night, the Alaska Aces heaped a shovel full of dirt on them.
After a 4-2 victory before 3,241 at the Long Beach Arena, the Aces took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series and will look to bury the Ice Dogs’ season in Alaska.
The series shifts to Anchorage for Game 3 on Monday night. Games 4 and 5 will also be there, if necessary. The Ice Dogs will have to win them all. While it is not common for a team to come back to win three in a row, there is some amount of precedent to substantiate a big comeback.
“It’s not where we want to be, but it’s where we are at,” said Ice Dogs coach Malcolm Cameron. “We are going to go up there with the attitude we are not out of it. They still have to win the third one, and we seem to play better on the road anyways.”
Over the course of the regular season — and in the first round of the playoffs for that matter — the Ice Dogs nary had a pressure-packed situation, nothing that could have been called a “must-win game.”
But that’s where they found themselves after losing the opener of the West Division Finals to the Alaska Aces in overtime late Friday night on Ryan Bast’s game-winner three minutes into the extra frame.
Cameron hoped his Ice Dogs had the tenacity to battle back in Game 2. But he never figured they would have to do it without three of their best players — steady veteran defenseman Dan Watson, rookie sensation Marco Rosa and starting goalie Sebastien Centomo. Also, defenseman Gary Zinck played sparingly.
With that trio out with the flu, Olivier Michaud made his first playoff start in net and forwards Paul Dunphy and Cory Urquhart were inserted into the lineup.
“We had some significant guys out of the lineup,” Cameron said, hedging that the outcome might have been different had he had a healthy team. “They are sick as dogs and that certainly hurt us. They (Michaud, Dunphy and Urquhart) filled in admirably, but we still didn’t get the job done.”
With the Ice Dogs’ proverbial backs against the wall, they certainly didn’t come out blazing. It was more of an ice-cold start, really.
Suffering from a case of the nerves or whatever, David Walker coughed up the puck to Mike Scott in the slot. Scott turned around and ripped a slap shot past Michaud just 46 seconds into the game to give Alaska a 1-0 lead.
Walker made amends for the miscue later in the period, taking advantage of a mistake by Aces goalie Peter Aubry, who tried to make a clearing pass up the middle that was knocked down. Walker moved in and fired a shot into an open net to even the score at 13:36.
But whatever momentum the Ice Dogs might have taken by the fluke goal was short-lived as defenseman Ryan Gaucher joined the rush and finished off a nifty pass from Chris Minard just 49 seconds to give the Aces back the lead.
Despite playing a rather poor period, the Ice Dogs drew even once again as Evan Cheverie scored with 17 seconds left.
That was the last time the Ice Dogs could get anything past Aubry.
“We could have won the game. We had lots of chances to score,” Cameron said. “But their goalie played phenomenal.”
The Ice Dogs woke up in the second period and carried the play to the Aces. They outshot Alaska, 15-8, but had nothing to show for the work.
Long Beach continued to press the Aces in the third, but was still unable to break through against Aubry.
Alaska was a little more fortunate, capitalizing on a couple of rebound chances to put the game away.
B.J. Young deposited a rebound behind Michaud at 12:19 for what proved to be the game-winner, and just 67 seconds later Joe Talbot banged in a loose puck to make it 4-2.