Aces clinch division title

Doyle Woody

Given the bounty and benchmarks produced, the Alaska Aces' 5-1 road win over the Colorado Eagles really was a Saturday Night Special.

With their seventh win in eight games against the Eagles this season, the Aces clinched the ECHL's Mountain Division crown, which guarantees the league leaders no worse than the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference for the Kelly Cup playoffs.

Alaska, the defending Kelly Cup champion, won its division for the second straight season and third time in the last four years.

Victory also kept the rest of the contenders at bay in the chase for the Brabham Cup as regular-season league champs. That title earns the owner home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, and for a Western Conference team would come with a first-round bye.

And the win came on a night when rookie forward Tim Hall, playing in just his second pro game after closing his career at Colorado College, racked the first two points -- both assists - of his play-for-pay career.

Also, Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise, technically a rookie even though he joined the club after closing his UAA career last spring, generated a career-high four points -- all helpers -- and doubled his previous best for points in a pro game.

Meanwhile, rookie goaltender James Reid stopped 21 shots to make him 4-0-0 against the Eagles and 5-1-1 overall.

Alaska (41-16-9) won two of three games in the series -- the Aces won 4-1 on Wednesday and lost 3-1 on Friday before taking the series finale at the Budweiser Events Center.

The Aces pushed their point total to 91 points in 66 games, with six games, all on the road, remaining in their regular season.

Gwinnett leads the chase pack with 87 points in 67 games. Ontario, which won 3-2 in a shootout Saturday at Idaho that went eight rounds before the Reign won the skills contest 2-1, owns 86 points in 65 games.

Las Vegas, a 4-3 loser at Bakersfield on Saturday, held at 83 points in 65 games. Greenville, which lost 4-3 at Gwinnett, has 83 points in 66 games.

Four of Alaska's remaining six games are at Ontario, beginning with a two-game set Friday and Saturday, and those matches look more and more like they could decide the Brabham. The Aces seized the Brabham last year on the way to their second Kelly Cup.

The Aces raced to a 2-0 lead inside the opening seven minutes Saturday, using an even-strength goal from Jordan Kremyr just 1:57 into the game and a power-play strike from Ryan Cruthers. That marked Cruthers' first goal for the Aces since being acquired about 10 days ago.

Nick Mazzolini, Zach Harrison and Dan Kissel added second-period goals, sandwiching strikes around a power-play goal from Colorado defenseman Kyle Peto.

Kissel's goal was his team-leading 34th, tying him with erstwhile Las Vegas forward Eric Lampe for the lead league. The goal came in Kissel's 64th game of the season; Lampe forged his total in 46 games, but has been up with Hamilton of the American Hockey League for a long stretch.

Aces veteran winger Wes Goldie remained stuck on 368 career ECHL goals for the third straight game. He's tied with Rod Taylor for the most career goals in the league. The closest Goldie came to the record-breaker Saturday was a second-period shot that rang off the left post.

Shuffling the deck

Center Chris Langkow sat out the game with an unspecified injury.

Defenseman Steve Ward, who didn't make the trip, has now missed five straight games.

Harrison stretched his point streak to four games -- he has three goals and an assist in that span.

The Eagles received just 20 power-play opportunities in eight games against the Aces. No surprise there, actually. The Aces are the league's least penalized team and entered the night giving opponents an average of just 3.35 power-play chances a game.

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Aces 2 3 0 -- 5

Colorado 0 1 0 -- 1

First Period -- 1, Aces, Kremyr 14 (Hall, Lafranchise), 1:57; 2, Aces, Cruthers 12 (Lafranchise, Mazzolini), 6:23 (pp). Penalties -- Sides, Colorado (hooking), 6:00; Mazzolini, Aces (hooking), 10:22.

Second Period -- 3, Aces, Mazzolini 20 (Lafranchise, Nunn), 7:04 (pp); 4, Aces, Harrison 8 (Hall, Kremyr), 9:36; 5, Colorado, Peto 3 (Haddon, Chiarot), 11:32 (pp); 6, Aces, Kissel 34 (Lafranchise, Swanson), 14:10. Penalties -- Slattengren, Colorado (hooking), 4:16; Nelson, Colorado (hooking), 5:34; Schneekloth, Colorado (slashing), 6:41; Burnett, Colorado, major (fighting), 9:36; Kremyr, Aces, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 9:36.

Third Period -- None. Penalties -- Al. Penner, Colorado (hooking), 4:43; Goldie, Aces (tripping), 8:07; Huculak, Colorado (unsportsmanlike conduct), 15:33; Cruthers, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 15:33.

Shots on goal -- Aces 8-10-3--21. Colorado 6-12-4--22.

Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 2 of 5. Colorado 1 of 3.

Goalies -- Aces, Reid, 5-1-1 (22 shots-21 saves). Colorado, Jones, 28-14-4 (21-16).

A -- 5,289 (5,289). T -- 2:17.

Referee -- T.J. Luxmore. Linesmen -- Seth Mukai, Jon Shaw.

Blog: Woody on Hockey
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