Aces sign a pair of rookie forwards

Doyle Woody

Somewhere in this rush of rookies the Alaska Aces have signed -- they announced deals with first-year forwards Jerad Stewart and Brandon Vossberg on Tuesday -- coach Brent Thompson wouldn't mind unearthing another gem like Nick Mazzolini.

Mazzolini is the center from Anchorage who last season began his play-for-pay hockey career with the Aces. He came to the ECHL with modest college statistics -- 25 goals and 67 points in 128 career games at Providence College -- and promptly proved himself an impact player.

Mazzolini, who played 63 games after missing the first nine games rehabbing from offseason knee surgery, led the Aces in goals (27), assists (37), points (64) and plus-minus (plus-11).

"Another Mazz would be just fine,'' Thompson said, deadpan.

The second-year coach is certainly giving himself decent odds of discovering another rookie reward -- eight of the 11 players the Aces have announced signing are first-year guys. Thompson said that trend is by design -- he wants to complement his older, proven players with the fresh legs and enthusiasm of the younger set.

"With rookies, you get that youthful energy of a guy at the start of his career, and they still have that dream,'' Thompson said. "I'd rather have that than a guy just playing out his career in the ECHL.''

Still, rookies must make the roster. The Aces open training camp Oct. 1, and there will be cuts.

Like Mazzolini, neither Stewart nor Vossberg comes out of college with a resume of eye-popping production, though Stewart did enjoy at prosperous senior season at Minnesota State-Mankato of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Stewart, 22, last season earned 13-12--25 totals in 39 games for the Mavericks, and in 144 games during four seasons he delivered 28-24--52 totals. He enjoyed a career game against UAA inside Sullivan Arena last season, piercing the Seawolves for four goals and one assist in an 8-2 demolition of the hosts.

"Talking to his coach (Mankato's Troy Jutting) and to opposing coaches, I kept hearing Jared is one of the most honest players you'll ever see,'' Thompson said. "He's an up-and-down winger who plays so hard, will finish every hit and be in your face, playing with passion. What more do you want?''

Vossberg, 25, played four seasons for Denver of the WCHA, furnishing them with penalty killing and a big body (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) on the wing for the third or fourth line. In 36 games last season, he produced 1-6--7 totals. In 125 career games, he went 9-13--22.

"Talking to opposing coaches, they kept saying Vossberg has something more there, besides stats,'' Thompson said. "Even his own coach (Denver's George Gwozdecky) said that there's something (Vossberg) hasn't tapped into.''

Shuffling the deck

The Aces have now signed 11 players, all of whom are either at end of the career scale or the other -- the breakdown is eight rookies and three veterans (260 or more regular-season games as a pro).

Here's the split (veterans with V):

Forwards (7) -- Brian Swanson (V), Wes Goldie (V), Addison DeBoer, Craig Langkow, T.J. Battani, Jerad Stewart, Brandon Vossberg.

Defense (3) -- Bryan Miller (V), Craig Gaudet, Alan Mazur.

Goaltender (1) -- Alex Petizian.

Of those 11, eight turned pro out of the college ranks and three -- Goldie, Langkow and Battani -- turned pro out of the major-junior ranks.

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