By Matt Nevala
Anchorage Daily News
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – If the difference between postseason success and sorrow indeed comes down to inches, the Alaska Aces should benefit from having more inches than anyone.
One hundred eighty, to be exact.
When the Aces welcome the Trenton (N.J.) Titans to a jam-packed Sullivan Arena Tuesday for Game 1 of the ECHL National Conference finals, they will do so on the same Olympic-size ice surface the team has played on for all its home games in 10 professional seasons.
Sullivan’s 200-by-100 foot sheet is the league’s largest and the only Olympic-size sheet in the 28-team ECHL. Most arenas, like Trenton’s Sovereign Bank Arena, where Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-7 series are scheduled, use what are known as NHL-size rinks. They generally measure 200-by-85.
No team goes back-and-forth from big ice to small ice as much as the Aces, who will play at Sullivan for the 41st time in 81 games tonight. At times, Alaska’s skill players work wonders on the larger surface. But size matters only so often.
“It’s an ice surface that allows you to play a little more of puck-possession style,” said Alaska coach Davis Payne. “You have a little more time to make your play and make your decisions.
“But I think the biggest adjustment you make when going from a small to a big rink is to make sure you’re moving your feet to get back and be in the space around the puck.
“If you’re not moving, you’re lost and not part of the play,” Payne said.
Payne, who led Alaska to a second-round playoff series win for the first time last week against the Long Beach Ice Dogs in the West Division finals, said the Aces’ game plan remains the same regardless of rink size. “If you’re making intelligent decisions and supporting each other, it doesn’t matter what size building you’re in,” Payne said. Still, Alaska enters the series with the familiarity of playing often on both sizes of rinks.