When the Alaska Aces faced a prolonged two-man disadvantage to start the second period of Tuesday night’s exhibition hockey game, rookie defenseman William Wrenn of Anchorage was on the ice at Sullivan Arena.
When they dealt with a 4-on-3 power play by the Las Vegas Wranglers later in the period, Louis Mass, the assistant coach who runs Alaska’s defense, again tapped Wrenn for the penalty-kill.
That’s tough duty for a first-year pro, but preseason games are about finding out what newcomers can do and where they fit into the club’s big picture.
“I wanted to see how he looked as a killer and where we need to work before the games count,’’ Mass said. “That’s what these games are about.’’
The Aces, who lost 4-2 Tuesday after winning Monday’s opener 3-2 in the franchise’s annual “Paint the Rink Pink’’ promotion to benefit breast cancer awareness and treatment, open the ECHL regular season with road games Friday and Saturday against the Colorado Eagles.
Wrenn, the San Jose Sharks’ second-round draft pick, appreciated the ice time and the opportunity.
“It was nice to have some responsibility,’’ Wrenn said. “I’ve got a great situation here, and I have to take advantage of it. Right now, I just want to get better and hopefully help this team win games.’’
Wrenn played in both exhibition games and furnished an assist Monday.
Coming from training camp with the American Hockey League’s Worcester Sharks, Wrenn returned to comfortable surroundings in Anchorage to work on his development, which began with this exhibition series.
“I thought I played pretty well, but I can play better,’’ he said.
Mass, who also runs a sports training facility and has overseen Wrenn’s summer workouts, thinks the rookie has a big upside.
“He’s very skilled and he’s very balanced,’’ Mass said. “He has a lot of defensive attributes to his game and he has the skills to contribute offensively on the power play. I think he’s going to be a real help.’’
Like Wrenn, winger Tommy Mele is finding his way in a new situation. Mele, a second-year pro, last season helped Fort Wayne win the Central Hockey League championship and raved about how fun it was to achieve. Yet he was often the 10th forward in the lineup, which meant limited ice time, which was reflected in his 7-11—18 totals in 52 regular-season games as a rookie coming out of American International College.
He wanted to move up a level — the ECHL is generally considered one step above the CHL — and find a place where he could showcase himself. Aces coach Rob Murray bit.
Mele scored a pretty goal in each exhibition game. Monday, he redirected a shot top shelf on his forehand and Tuesday he blew in off the left wing and slipped a backhander between the pads of Wranglers goaltender Mitch O’Keefe.
“I liked what I saw,’’ Murray said. “One of the things he has to get better at is that intensity level throughout a shift — he needs to be more engaged. Having said that, he does have very good skill and he skates well, and I think he has an edge — he’s not going to back down.’’
Mele said he’s looking at this preseason as a pivotal point in his career.
“The biggest thing I’m most grateful for is the opportunity,’’ Mele said. “We had a great team last year (in Fort Wayne), and I was a little fish in a big pond.
“My biggest thing was finding a home where I could get an opportunity to show the kind of player I am.’’
Both Wrenn and Mele most likely secured spots on the Aces roster, which must be finalized Wednesday.
Shuffling the deck
NHLer Nate Thompson of Anchorage made his Aces debut Monday night and scored the club’s first goal, redirecting a Jordan Kremyr pass through O’Keefe’s pads on a 2-on-1 counter-attack.
Returning goaltender James Reid made 26 saves for the Aces.
Las Vegas got contributions from guys with Alaska connections — former UAF skater Carlo Finucci furnished two assists and former UAA winger Sean Wiles set up Andrew Sarauer’s game-winning goal early in the third period.
Tuesday’s game drew an announced crowd of 5,009 after Monday’s attendance of 4,706.
NHLers Brandon Dubinsky and Joey Crabb, who debuted for Alaska on Monday, sat out. Defensemen Russ Sinkewich also sat out after playing Monday.
Also out was rookie forward Tim Hall, who was knocked out of Monday’s game by a hit from Las Vegas captain Mike Madill, who received a match penalty for contact to the head and missed Tuesday’s game to serve a league-imposed, one-game suspension.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Las Vegas 1 1 2 — 4
Aces 1 1 0 — 2
First Period — 1, Las Vegas, Lang (Finucci, Boe), 8:05. Penalties — Lang, Las Vegas (hooking), 2:34; Syvret, Aces (slashing), 12:46; Aces bench minor, served by Robinson (too many men), 18:48; Thompson, Aces (roughing), 19:33.
Second Period — 2, Aces, Thompson (Kremyr, Harrison), 9:36; 3, Las Vegas, Francis, 15:11; 4, Aces, Mele (Jokinen, Hughes), 17:57. Penalties — Robinson, Aces (tripping), 4:24; Robinson, Aces (interference), 10:26; Schweda, Las Vegas (roughing), 10:26; Mele, Aces (hooking), 12:04.
Third Period — 5, Las Vegas, Sarauer (Wiles), 1:42; 6, Las Vegas, Springer (Finucci, Stamler), 10:05 (pp). Penalties — Springer, Las Vegas (boarding), 4:56; Mele, Aces, double minor (high-sticking), 6:21; Stamler, Las Vegas (boarding), 17:50.
Shots on goal — Las Vegas 6-15-9--30. Aces 9-7-2--18.
Power-play Opportunities — Las Vegas 1 of 7. Aces 0 of 3.
Goalies — Las Vegas, O’Keefe (18 shots-16 saves). Aces, Reid (30-26).
A — 5,009 (6,399). T — 2:17.
Referee — Mike McBain. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Steve Glines.
Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY