Aces center Mazzolini and goaltender Guggenberger earned All-ECHL second-team honors

dwoody@adn.comMarch 28, 2013 

— Nick Mazzolini led his club in goals (36), assists (35), points (71), power-play goals (10), power-play points (23), short-handed goals (4), game-winning goals (9), plus-minus rating (plus-13), shots (202) and shooting percentage (17.8).

And he was the driving force in organizing the team's Super Bowl party in Las Vegas.

So it not hockey hyperbole to say Mazzolini really did do it all for the Alaska Aces.

Mazzolini on Thursday was voted All-ECHL Second-Team, as was Aces goaltender Mark Guggenberger, in balloting by league coaches, media relations directors, broadcasters and media.

That marks the eighth time in 10 seasons on the circuit that the Aces have landed at least two players on the two all-star teams selected.

Mazzolini, a fourth-year pro from Anchorage, was clearly Alaska's best player this season, when it won an unprecedented third straight Brabham Cup as regular-season champions of the 23-team league. He centers the first line, quarterbacks a power-play unit, is a savvy penalty killer and is usually on the ice in the most critical moments of any game, whether the Aces need to score a goal or prevent one.

Though he lacks elite quickness and speed, the 6-foot-2 Mazzolini thinks the game at a high level, is difficult to drive off the puck and is unusually adept as using his long reach to break up a pass or strip an opponent of the puck.

"He's our best penalty killer, he's our top scorer, he's good on face-offs,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray. "He brings a lot of everything. And he knows when he has to find a way to get something important done.''

Murray pointed to last Friday's 5-3 win at Colorado. The Aces were coming off a 4-2 loss to the Eagles two nights previous and were intent on getting off to a strong start. But Colorado scored less than five minutes into the game and held that advantage until Mazzolini struck late in the first period.

Mazzolini outmuscled an opponent for the puck in the neutral zone, kick-started a 2-on-1 rush and drilled a shot off the iron and in to forge a 1-1 tie. He added two power-play assists in the third period, one on a tying goal and the other on the insurance goal.

"Time after time (this season), when we needed a big goal, he found a way to get it,'' Murray said.

Mazzolini, 28, seemed somewhat disappointed not to make first-team All-ECHL, but wasn't crestfallen.

"I thought I did well enough in enough categories to be first-team,'' he said. "But I didn't look too deep into it. Any accolades are good.''

Even when the NHL lockout ended exactly halfway through the season and the Aces lost their four NHLers, Mazzolini continued to produce. In 36 games during the lockout, he produced 20-15--35 totals and a plus-8 rating. In 32 games since the lockout, Mazzolini delivered 16-20--36 totals and a plus-5 rating.

Another measure of Mazzolini's value came this week. With the Aces final two regular-season games in Ontario, Calif., essentially meaningless in the standings, Mazzolini will, with Murray's encouragement, remain at home to rest for the Kelly Cup playoffs. Murray did not want to take a chance on his star getting injured. Besides, a few less airline flights will only help Mazzolini's occasional back problems.

Guggenberger racked all-league honors for the second time in his two pro seasons.

A year ago, he was the Central Hockey League's Most Outstanding Goaltender, Rookie of the Year and first-team goalie.

The question surrounding the 24-year-old this season was whether he could deliver similar results in the ECHL, one level higher than the CHL on pro hockey's ladder.

Well, Guggenberger has gone 24-8-5, owns a 2.21 goals-against average that ranks third in the league and a .918 save percentage that is tied for fifth, and has three shutouts, which ties for third. He also proved particularly valuable early in the season when Gerald Coleman, the former ECHL Goaltender of the Year who backstopped the Aces to the 2011 Kelly Cup, was still rehabbing after offseason hip surgery.

"I think he's been a tremendous goalie for us all year,'' Murray said. "He is a good goaltender, that's what we found out.''

Guggenberger said he hopes excelling in the ECHL will help him continue to climb the ladder.

"I was given an opportunity to come in here and earn a position, and fortunately I stayed healthy and was able to help us out,'' Guggenberger said. "I came up here confident I could play at this level. To come up here and do it, it's all about getting to the next level.

"Hopefully, this is not the end.''

Shuffling the deck

With a road record of 22-7-5 for 49 points, the Aces already are assured of being the ECHL's best road team this season.

Those 49 points are the franchise's second-most road points in 10 ECHL seasons, surpassed only by the 51 road points earned by the 2005-06 team (23-8-5 road record), which went on to win the first of the Aces' two Kelly Cups.


Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

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