It just shows you how much things can change in the course of a 72-game season. In a division that featured a fight for first in the final weeks of the season between the Allen Americans and Colorado Eagles, and a desperate battle for the final playoff berth between Missouri and Utah, it was the Alaska Aces and Idaho Steelheads trading blows for the top spot in early December.
That back-and-forth certainly had less stress and drama than in the spring, but it still had fans’ attention as a much improved Aces team made its first visit to Boise in 2016-17.
After the Aces took the first game of the series two days earlier, a 5-3 win that moved them in front of the Steelheads in the standings, Idaho sought an answer on December 2nd at CenturyLink Arena. The Aces entered the series with, at the time, an MVP favorite in Peter Sivak. Sivak had 15 goals and 27 points in the first 17 games of the season, including eight goals in a five-game goal scoring streak and two goals in Alaska’s series-opening win.
Despite the fire-power in both lineups, goaltending was among the key storylines for much of the night. Philippe Desrosiers was making his second start since being sent to Idaho from AHL Texas, while Kevin Carr was in the Aces crease. Carr made 14 saves in a scoreless first period, while Desrosiers stopped every shot but one in the second frame.
Six minutes into the second period, Daniel Moynihan flicked a wrist shot from the right wing that beat Desrosiers under the blocker for a 1-0 Alaska lead. The Steelheads had their own chances in the second, but Carr made one of his best saves sprawling across the crease from left to right to kick away a rebound chance by Travis Ewanyk with his right toe.
Both teams locked down in the third period, with Alaska trying to prevent the one mistake that could tie the game and Idaho trying to keep the margin close. The Steelheads had just five shots in the third period, but late in the game they would finally break through.
With 4:58 left in regulation, David Glen found the puck along the left-wing wall of the Aces zone and whipped a low shot on goal that Carr kicked out to the slot. Branden Troock was there waiting and hammered the puck past Carr’s glove to tie the game.
It was Troock’s second goal in two games since he was sent to Idaho from Texas, both tying goals in third periods.
“He’s playing really fast and using his size well,” said Head Coach Neil Graham after the game. “Every time he gets the puck, he’s making things happen.”
The game went to overtime when both teams had prime chances to end it. In the first shift of the extra session, Kyle Jean motored into the Alaska zone on an end-to-end rush, driving wide on the left wing and around Alaska’s Ryan Trenz before plowing over Carr. The puck ended up in the net but the goal was disallowed for goaltender interference.
With 1:40 left in OT, a neutral zone turnover quickly came back into Idaho ice. On a 2-on-1, Nolan Descoteaux’s right-wing try was stopped by Desrosiers and kicked to the middle for Tim Coffman. Coffman’s rebound attempt was on edge and fluttered in the air, over the crossbar and on top of the cage.
In an overtime that was punch-counterpunch throughout, controlled early by Idaho and late by Alaska, the Steelheads would have the final chance. With 49 seconds left in overtime, the Steelheads entered the offensive zone 2-on-2 with Joe Faust carrying the puck to the top of the left circle. Joe Basaraba was driving to the net between the circles and trying to out-skate Marc-Andre Levesque. Faust slid the puck into the low slot just as Basaraba got there for a deft deflection between Carr’s pads for a 2-1 Idaho win.
“it’s a dynamic team and we have three lines that can produce,” said Graham. “It’s a good team win.”
The win put Idaho back into a tie for first place in the Mountain Division, their 11th win in 15 games. For Joe Basaraba, it was the first overtime winner of his professional career, extending his points streak to five games.
Another player to make an impact- defenseman Jake Rutt. A member of Idaho’s team in 2014-15 and 2015-16, Rutt flew in to play two games for Idaho with the team missing players due to injury. He had two shots on goal and played big minutes in regulation in Idaho’s only home OT win of the season.