The Alaska Aces found themselves very short on bodies Friday night.
They were not short on goals.
The injury-ravaged Aces lost yet another forward, playing most of the night with just seven true forwards, but built a big lead and held on to beat the Utah Grizzlies, 5-4, in West Valley City.
On a night when the Aces (19-8-0) surrendered a season-high 39 shots and fired a season-low 17, they nonetheless snapped a two-game, ECHL losing streak behind 35 saves from Gerald Coleman, three-point nights from Garry Nunn and Joey Crabb, and a two-goal outburst from Nick Mazzolini.
The Aces began the night with just eight true forwards because center Nate Thompson (upper-body injury) was unable to go and travel difficulties prevented Chris Clackson, acquired Thursday from Gwinnett, from arriving in time to play.
Alaska's hockey horrors continued early in the second period, when rookie winger Jarred Smith was felled by hit from Utah's Ian Schultz, who received a major penalty and game misconduct for charging. Smith did not return to the game.
By then, the Aces already owned a 3-1 lead, courtesy of a big bounce-back in the first period and on the opening shift of the second period.
After surrendering a power-play goal to Riley Armstrong a mere 20 seconds into the game, the line of Mazzolini centering Crabb and Nunn tortured Grant Rollheiser (12 saves).
Mazzolini sandwiched goals around one from Nunn -- Crabb furnished a helper on all three -- to give the Aces a 3-1 lead early in the second period. Mazzolini's second goal, his team-leading 17th, came 18 seconds into the second period.
Alexandre Imbeault snapped his seven-game goal drought with a power-play strike eight minutes into the second period -- the Aces went 3 for 5 with the man advantage -- to push the lead to 4-1. And Zach Harrison's goal about three minutes later off an assist from Bobby Hughes (two helpers) raised the count to 5-1 at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.
That cushion proved necessary when Utah's Bryan Cameron scored late in the second period, and goals from Armstrong and Gaelen Patterson cut Alaska's lead to 5-4 with more than six minutes to go.
The game marked the fifth time Alaska, coming off a 4-0 loss at Idaho on Wednesday night, has played Utah (10-11-2) in its last six games. The teams wrap a two-game series Saturday night in Utah.
Shuffling the deck
Both teams were short-handed. The Aces began the night dressing eight forwards and seven defensemen, one player short of the ECHL maximum of 16 skaters. Utah dressed nine forwards and five defensemen.
Alaska is 6-3-0 against Utah this season, and 4-1-0 at the Maverik Center.
Mazzolini's first instinct is to pass, but he's been a premier goal scorer this season.
He owns 17 goals in 27 games after last season scoring 21 goals in 69 games. As an Aces rookie in 2009-10, he furnished 27 goals in 63 games.
Mazzolini has produced four multiple-goal games this season, three two-goal games and one hat trick.
Crabb, Mazzolini and Nunn have given the Grizzlies fits in nine games this season. Crabb owns 5-9--14 totals against Utah, Mazzolini is 8-5--13 and Nunn is 5-6--11.
Utah's Mitch Wahl, who furnished two assists, owns 3-11--14 totals in nine games against Alaska. He pushed his point streak to eight games and owns 2-14--16 totals in that stretch.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 2 3 0 -- 5
Utah 1 1 2 -- 4
First Period -- 1, Utah, Armstrong 9 (Wahl, Tuzzolino), :20 (pp); 2, Aces, Mazzolini 16 (Nunn, Crabb), 10:44 (pp); 3, Aces, Nunn 9 (Lafranchise, Crabb), 16:16 (pp). Penalties -- Crabb, Aces (tripping), :12; Isherwood, Utah (tripping), 8:52; Harrison, Aces (roughing), 11:04; Falite, Utah (holding), 15:57.
Second Period -- 4, Aces, Mazzolini 17 (Nunn, Crabb), :18; 5, Aces, Imbeault 4 (Hughes, Syvret), 7:54 (pp); 6, Aces, Harrison 6 (Hughes, Syvret), 11:01; 7, Utah, Cameron 9 (Wahl, Armstrong), 16:17 (pp). Penalties -- Schultz, Utah, major-game misconduct, served by Cameron (charging), 1:27; Martin, Utah (delay of game), 4:23; Wrenn, Aces (delay of game), 4:23; Wahl, Utah (slashing), 6:00; Aces bench minor, served by Robinson (too many men), 9:01; Robinson, Aces (boarding), 15:23; Syvret, Aces (interference), 16:37.
Third Period -- 8, Utah, Armstrong 10 (Martin, Wahl), :39; 9, Utah, Patterson 1 (Donovan, Burrows), 13:37. Penalties -- Armstrong, Utah (cross-checking), :39.
Shots on goal -- Aces 8-6-3--17. Utah 14-10-15--39.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 3 of 5. Utah 2 of 5.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 6-2-0 (39 shots-35 saves). Utah, Rollheiser, 5-4-1 (17-12).
A -- 4,801 (10,200). T -- 2:27.
Referee -- Nick Leduc. Linesmen -- Todd Owen, Scott Ingraham.