In two seasons with the Alaska Aces, Nick Mazzolini has averaged nearly a point per game and slightly better than a goal every third game, markers that peg him as a legitimate scorer hockey teams covet.
Even so, his greatest value might lie in both his versatility -- a natural center, he can also play wing -- and his willingness to switch positions without complaint.
Last season under coach Rob Murray, Mazzolini mostly played center, but after the trade-deadline acquisition of center Ryan Cruthers moved to left wing on Cruthers' line. At other times when Mazzolini played the pivot, Murray switched one winger or both his wingers because he discovered Mazzolini had a knack for getting slumping linemates back on track.
"He was more than willing,'' Murray said. "He has a way of making other guys better. If someone was struggling, or we wanted to change things up, he was the guy we moved to get them going.''
All of which helps explain why the Aces on Wednesday announced they have signed Mazzolini, 27, of Anchorage, for the 2012-13 season. That gives the Aces three announced signings, all returners -- they previously revealed goaltender Gerald Coleman and winger Dan Kissel, last season's leading scorer, will be back.
The upcoming season will be Mazzolini's fourth as a pro and third with the Aces -- two seasons ago, he played in Italy.
Mazzolini said he is most comfortable at center, where he has played most of his life, but doesn't mind switching to the wing if that's what Murray needs.
"You've got to be a pro and do what the team needs, and I pride myself in that,'' he said.
That's one reason Mazzolini could end up in the leadership mix this season. With captain Brian Swanson retired, along with alternate captain Wes Goldie, Murray has slots to fill.
"He's a great team guy,'' Murray said. "With this upcoming season, there's going to be a changing of the guard with our leadership group. He's a guy I'll look to step into that role, and I think he can do that.''
Mazzolini last season lead the Aces in assists and finished third in both goals and points with 21-35--56 totals in 69 games. His plus-16 rating was second on the club and tops among forwards.
Mazzolini said he was contacted by several teams in Europe and also fielded an inquiry from a Central Hockey League team. But he said he chose to return to the Aces for several reasons. He's familiar with an organization he considers well-run and that has won back-to-back Brabham Cups as the league's top team in the regular season, he enjoys playing for Murray and he appreciates playing in his hometown.
"The timing wasn't right (to go elsewhere),'' Mazzolini said. "And, frankly, they just couldn't match the offer I got here. When you know what you're getting into, it's easier to make the decision.
"I love playing for (Murray) and I think he has the players' best interest at heart. And this team is always good. I'm so used to (the owners and front office) taking care of business on their end that I don't have to worry about it and I can just take care of my end.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
In his two seasons with the Alaska Aces, Nick Mazzolini has proved a reliable scorer, averaging nearly a point per game and roughly a goal every three games: Season Games Goals Assists Points 2011-12 69 21 35 56 2009-10 63 27 37 64 Totals 132 48 72 120 Fruitful forward
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News