To his ECHL Player of the Week award and two principal assists in the Alaska Aces' 3-1 win over the Stockton Thunder on Tuesday night, center Nick Mazzolini added a postgame helper: Candor.
Mazzolini delivered what looked like an intentional slap-pass from the right-wing wall to set up Brendan Connolly's game-winning redirection from the edge of the crease midway through the third period.
Truth be told, Mazzolini said, he was just trying to get the puck to the net. Mazzolini said he and referee Tyler Puddifant had made contact right before Peter Sivak passed Mazzolini the puck, so he didn't have time to survey his options inside Sullivan Arena.
"I didn't know Conns was there,'' Mazzolini said. "But he was right there in the dirty area, just like goal scorers need to be. That was huge.''
And so it goes for Mazzolini's line, which includes wingers Connolly (one goal) and Sivak (one goal, one assist), who cemented victory with an empty-net goal off a Mazzolini helper.
In four consecutive wins in five nights against the Thunder, Mazzolini's line has generated video game numbers -- combined totals of 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points, a plus-24 rating and 47 shots on goal.
Thus, it made karmic sense that even an unintentional play like the one on Connolly's goal turned into gold.
"When you're hot, you're hot, and things go you way,'' Mazzolini said.
Mazzolini's four goals and four assists in the first three games of the series earned him the Player of the Week honor earlier Tuesday for the first time in his four ECHL seasons.
Aces defenseman Zach Davies, who set up Brett Findlay's strike 20 seconds into the game and also assisted on Sivak's empty-net clincher, marveled at the Mazzolini line's work in this unusual five-game series that wraps Thursday night.
"They're all heady players, and they have the hands to match,'' Davies said. "They're just smarter than everyone else.
"They do the same to us in practice, so it's nice to watch.''
Findlay's goal, his first in six games since joining the Aces (31-11-3) after the San Francisco Bulls folded late last month, was answered in a hockey heartbeat.
Stockton (22-20-4) responded exactly one minute later on a power play when defenseman Sean Escobedo swooped in to backhand a loose puck Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman had lost in traffic and furnish a 1-1 tie.
That deadlock held for nearly the next 50 minutes until Connolly scored the go-ahead goal. In that span, Coleman (29 saves) and Parker Milner (32 saves), who deserved a better fate, dueled.
As the fourth game in five nights, there was not an abundance of energy from either team. The game proved much less physical than the first three encounters between the clubs.
"They were kind of in the same fog as we were,'' Mazzolini said.
Alaska's victory pushed it into a tie atop with the Ontario Reign atop the Western Conference standings with 65 points -- note that Ontario has played two more games than the Aces, so Alaska's .722 winning percentage in the best on the circuit.
Shuffling the deck
Mazzolini owns 4-9--13 totals in his six-game point streak.
Sivak has generated 5-8--13 totals in his six-game streak.
The Aces are 13-2-2 in their last 17 games and improved their home-ice record to a league-leading 20-5-1.
Coleman, making his eighth consecutive start, improved to 7-1-0 in that stretch.
After using an emergency back-up goaltender in the first three games of the series, the Aces re-signed former University of Minnesota goalie Alex Kangas, who played three games for the club earlier this season. Kangas arrived in the wee hours Monday night and was on the bench Tuesday.
The Aces made the move because it is unclear who long Olivier Roy will be up with Abbotsford of the American Hockey League and they are in the midst of a wicked schedule that has them playing 11 games in a 16-day period that includes travel back and forth to California.
The ECHL on Tuesday announced the suspensions from a pair of fights before Alaska's 5-2 win Saturday. Aces defenseman Dustin Molle and Thunder captain Garet Hunt were each handed two-game suspensions, which they had served by sitting out Saturday and Sunday, so they were both back on the ice Tuesday.
Aces veteran defenseman Sean Curry sat out Tuesday to complete his two-game suspension. Stockton's Mathieu Coderre-Gagnon received a three-game suspension. He sat out Sunday's game and Tuesday's game, and must sit out Thursday's series finale to complete his sentence.
Aces winger Ross Ring-Jarvi sat out the game with an upper-body injury.
Through 45 games, Aces players have missed a combined 216 games to injuries.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Stockton 1 0 0 -- 1
Aces 1 0 2 -- 3
First Period -- 1, Aces, Findlay 10 (Davies, Morrison), :20; 2, Stockton, Escobedo 3 (Larson, Martin), 1:20 (pp). Penalties -- Connolly, Aces (high-sticking), :45; Parker, Aces (boarding), 5:58; Escobedo, Stockton (holding), 10:45.
Second Period -- None. Penalties -- MacKenzie, Aces (holding), :18; Oslanski, Stockton (interference), 6:42; Boutin, Stockton (cross-checking), 10:54.
Third Period -- 3, Aces, Connolly 14 (Mazzolini, Sivak), 11:00; 4, Aces, Sivak 18 (Mazzolini, Davies), 19:00 (en). Penalties -- Parker, Aces (hooking), 13:03; McKelvie, Aces (tripping), 19:27.
Shots on goal -- Stockton 13-6-11--30. Aces 10-12-14--36.
Power-play Opportunities -- Stockton 1 of 5. Aces 0 of 4.
Goalies -- Stockton, Milner, 4-9-0 (35 shots-32 saves). Aces, Coleman, 8-1-1 (30-29).
A -- 3,120 (6,399). T -- 2:20.
Referee -- Tyler Puddifant. Linesmen -- Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.