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Aces turn what seemed routine into a thriller of a 5-4 victory in Utah

Doyle Woody

On their way to a seemingly routine victory, the Alaska Aces took a momentary detour on the road Saturday night.

They still earned the victory, but it was anything but routine.

Leading by two goals nearly halfway through the third period, the Aces trailed by one goal in the last minute of regulation before they forged a game-tying, extra-attacker, power-play goal and used Zach Harrison's overtime strike to seize a 5-4 ECHL victory over the Utah Grizzlies.

That the Aces (13-5-0) were even in jeopardy of losing a game in regulation after leading through two periods was a curiosity for the franchise. In the last two-plus hockey seasons entering Saturday night at the Maverik Center, the Aces had led 82 regular-season games after two periods without losing in regulation -- the tally was 77 wins, one overtime loss and four shootout losses.

But Nick Mazzolini saved the night with a game-tying, power-play goal with 33.1 seconds left and Aces goaltender Mark Guggenberger (31 saves) on the bench for an extra attacker, which gave Alaska a 6-on-4 advantage in manpower.

Mazzolini has scored a goal in four straight games, furnished eight in the last eight games and leads the Aces with 11 goals.

In the five-minute OT, as the teams skated 4-on-4, Alexandre Imbeault, who along with Nate Thompson assisted on Mazzolini's goal, dished to Harrison, who ended things 3:36 into extra time.

The Aces' second straight victory -- they won 5-1 in Utah on Friday -- gives them eight wins in their last nine games. They stand alone atop the Western Conference standings midway through a six-game road trip in which they have thus far gone 2-1-0.

Alaska appeared to have injury-plagued and undermanned Utah (6-8-2) subdued through two periods, when it lead 3-1 courtesy of two goals from winger Garry Nunn and one from defenseman Sean Curry. Defenseman Drew MacKenzie scored Utah's lone goal to that point.

Yet the Grizzlies, who dressed just 13 skaters, three below the ECHL maximum, rallied midway through the third period.

Mitch Wahl's power-play goal at 8:03 of the period cut Alaska's lead to 3-2 and NHLer Brad Mills, the Utah captain, scored less than four minutes later to create a 3-3 tie.

Just 29 seconds after that, Colin Vock furnished Utah its lone lead of the night at 4-3.

But after Utah's Chris Higgins took a holding penalty with 2:20 to go and Guggenberger rushed to the bench to be replaced by an extra attacker, Mazzolini pushed the game to OT.

And Harrison's second goal in two nights gave the Aces a sweep of the two-game series.

Shuffling the deck

Imbeault, who had zero goals and just two assists in the previous eight games, and was demoted to the third line, furnished assists on both the game-tying and game-winning goals.

NHLers Joey Crabb and Nate Thompson each delivered two assists, and Mazzolini also enjoyed a two-point night.

Nunn owns 2-5--7 totals in his four-game point streak and Mazzolini owns 4-2--6 totals in his four-game point streak.

After not registering a point in his first eight games as an Ace, Curry has a point in each of the three games on this road trip with two goals and one helper.

NHL center Scott Gomez sat out his second straight game for the Aces with an undisclosed injury that is not considered too problematic.

The Aces went 2 for 6 on the power play Saturday and have scored at least one power-play goal in seven of their last eight games. They are 9 of 33 with the man advantage in that stretch for 27.3-percent efficiency. Their opponents in that span are just 5 of 36 on the power play for 13.9-percent efficiency.

Alaska, which improved to 6-4-0 on the road, plays three games in California next week -- Wednesday at Stockton, Friday at Bakersfield and Saturday at Ontario.

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

Aces 1 2 1 1 -- 5

Utah 0 1 3 0 -- 4

First Period -- 1, Aces, Nunn 4 (Mazzolini, Syvret), 17:16. Penalties -- Burrows, Utah (tripping), 15:14.

Second Period -- 2, Aces, Curry 2 (Thompson, Crabb), 3:24; 3, Utah, MacKenzie 4 (Isherwood, Mills), 10:48; 4, Aces, Nunn 5 (Crabb, Wrenn), 15:25 (pp). Penalties -- Vock, Utah (goaltender interference), 7:10; Wahl, Utah (cross-checking), 8:50; Curry, Aces (slashing), 8:50; Stoflet, Utah (high-sticking), 12:49; Burrows, Utah (delay of game-puck over glass), 13:54.

Third Period -- 5, Utah, Wahl 4 (Mills, Armstrong), 8:03 (pp); 6, Utah, Mills 6 (Wahl), 11:33; 7, Utah, Vock 3 (Stoflet, Howse), 12:02; 8, Aces, Mazzolini 11 (Thompson, Imbeault), 19:26 (pp). Penalties -- Mele, Aces, double minor (high-sticking), 2:47; Sinkewich, Aces (delay of game), 6:18; Mills, Utah (boarding), 9:13; Higgins, Utah (holding), 17:40.

Overtime -- 9, Aces, Harrison 4 (Imbeault, Lafranchise), 3:36. Penalties -- None.

Shots on goal -- Aces 9-11-7-5--32. Utah 7-7-18-3--35.

Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 2 of 6. Utah 1 of 5.

Goalies -- Aces, Guggenberger, 11-4-0 (35 shots-31 saves). Utah, Hunwick, 4-5-1 (32-27).

A -- 4,065 (10,200). T -- 2:22.

Referee -- Andrew Wilk. Linesmen -- Brett Martin, Todd Owen.


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com