Defenseman Drew MacKenzie got off a plane 90 minutes before opening face-off and furnished two principal assists, and captain Nick Mazzolini's line accounted for all the Alaska Aces' goals Sunday afternoon in a 4-3 win over the Stockton Thunder at Sullivan Arena.
Alaska's third straight win over the Thunder raised its record to 30-11-3, and its .716 winning percentage tops the ECHL. The Aces are 12-2-2 in their last 16 hockey games.
Mazzolini racked two goals and two assists, and linemates Brendan Connolly and Peter Sivak each furnished one goal and one assist. In the last three games, that trio has dropped 10-11--21 totals on the Thunder.
Gerald Coleman stopped 28 shots for the Aces. Brian Foster made 35 saves for the Thunder (22-19-5).
Stockton in 180 minutes of hockey in the first three games of a five-game series has led for just 5 minutes, 56 seconds. And all of that time came inside the first eight minutes of games.
Greg Miller's power-play goal with less than four minutes to play cut Alaska's lead to 4-3. But Stockton's hopes of a comeback - with its coach already ejected late in the second period - were severely damaged with Sean Escobedo was called for holding Mazzolini with 96 seconds left.
The Mazzolini line lorded over the Thunder in the first period, furnishing two goals inside the opening 15 minutes.
Mazzolini and Connolly got things rolling just 73 minutes into the match. Mazzolini intercepted a pass high in his zone and threaded a pass up the middle of the ice to Connolly, who was sprung on a breakaway from the red line. Connolly roofed a wrister over Foster's glove from the high slot for a 1-0 lead.
That marked the first time in the three games of the series that the Aces opened the scoring.
Later in the period, Sivak won a race to the puck high in Alaska's zone, fed Connolly and joined him for a 2-on-1. That odd-man rush developed into a 3-on-2 and Mazzolini at the top of the right circle, hammered a one-timer off Connolly's cross-ice feed and beat Foster to the glove side for a 2-0 Aces lead. That marked Mazzolini's 100th career ECHL goal, all with the Aces.
Stockton in the second period twice cut Alaska's lead to a single goal, at 2-1 and 3-2, on a pair of slappers from rookie defenseman Landon Oslanski. He sandwiched those strikes around one from Sivak, who scored on the back door off a feed from MacKenzie just nine seconds after Foster snuffed Sivak's breakaway bid.
The Aces pushed the lead to 4-2 in the final minute of the second period, when they enjoyed a two-man advantage and Mazzolini scored at the left post of MacKenzie's helper.
Alaska owned a two-man advantage in part because Stockton coach Rich Kromm, seeking an explanation for penalties called against his club, appeared to be asking referee Ryan Murphy for an explanation. Murphy refused to accommodate Kromm and ejected him from the game.
That wasn't the first time a Stockton bench boss got the gate at Sullivan Arena. Matt Thomas, the current UAA head coach, once got the heave in the building.
Without an assistant coach, Thunder players ran their bench for line changes in the final 21 minutes, 29 seconds of the game.
The Aces were without defensemen Dustin Molle and Sean Curry, who were suspended for their roles in fights during warm-ups before Alaska's 5-2 win Saturday night. Ditto for Stockton captain Garet Hunt and forward Mathieu Coderre-Gagnon, who were combatants in that dust-up.
The absence of Molle and Curry would have reduced the Aces to four defensemen, two fewer than the usual complement. But Abbotsford of the American Hockey League loaned the Aces MacKenzie for the second time this season and the blueliner's plane landed about 1:30 p.m., 90 minutes or so before opening face-off. Teammates who picked him up at Ted Stevens International Airport gave MacKenzie a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana, to eat on the way to the rink.
MacKenzie was first on the ice for the Aces in warm-ups.
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