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Aces drop the Grizzlies 6-2

Doyle Woody

With No. 1 goaltender Gerald Coleman sidelined with injury, Mark Guggenberger is making certain the Alaska Aces do not have a crisis in the crease.

Guggenberger stopped 35 shots Saturday night, including a penalty shot, to backstop the quick-starting, league-leading Aces to a 6-2 ECHL road victory over the Utah Grizzlies at the Maverik Center.

Guggenberger on Friday made 37 saves in the Aces' series-opening, 3-2 shootout loss to the undermanned Grizzlies.

Saturday, he got plenty of support. Center Bobby Hughes racked his first two-goal game as an Ace, newcomer Spencer Bennett bagged one goal and one assist, and winger Alexandre Imbeault and defenseman Kane Lafranchise each furnished two helpers.

The Aces improved their point streak to nine games -- they are 5-0-4 in that span. Their four-game series in Utah has two games remaining, a matinee on Monday and the series finale on Thursday.

Guggenberger provided the Aces with strong work early in the season, when Coleman, who helped the Aces to the 2011 Kelly Cup, was rehabilitating from offseason hip surgery. Once Coleman came back, he assumed the mantle as the club's masked man. He is expected only to miss a week or two with a lower-body injury.

Still, Guggenberger, who was voted the Central Hockey League's best goaltender last season, has proved himself more than capable in the ECHL, which is one rung up hockey's ladder from the CHL.

The statistics for Guggenberger and Coleman are nearly identical. Guggenberger is 18-6-5 with a 2.30 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. Coleman checks in at 17-4-1, with a 2.30 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

Alaska (36-11-6) raced to a 3-0 lead in just 8 minutes, 33 seconds Saturday -- that's the fastest the Aces have scored three goals this season. Shawn Skelly opened the scoring, Hughes followed and team-leading scorer Nick Mazzolini delivered his 28th goal.

Shortly after Mazzolini scored on the power play, Guggenberger snuffed Scott Berkley on the first penalty shot against the Aces this season.

Utah (20-23-7), which again dressed nine forwards and four defensemen, closed the gap to 3-1 on Colin Vock's team-leading 20th goal, which came in the last minute of the third period.

Hughes restored the Aces' three-goal cushion at 4-1 with a goal against former Alaska goalie Shane Owen in the last minute of the second period.

Though former Aces defenseman Nick Tuzzolino trimmed the margin to 4-2 with a goal midway through the third period, Bennett answered 16 seconds later.

Jordan Kremyr added a power-play goal for the Aces in the waning seconds. That marked his second goal in 27 games this season, and his first against a goalie -- his other goal was an empty netter.

The Aces lead the 23-team league with 78 points in 53 games. Ontario, a 4-2 loser to visiting Idaho on Saturday, owns 75 points in 53 games. Reading is third overall with 74 points in 54 games.

Shuffling the deck

Mazzolini's goal was his team-leading ninth power-play strike.

The Aces are 5-0-1 at the Maverik Center this season and 8-3-1 overall against Utah.

Former Aces forward T.J. Battani of Utah was active -- he fought Aces winger Chris Clackson and Aces defenseman Dustin Molle, both in the opening 15 minutes.

The Aces improved to 25-0-5 when they score first.

Alaska's victory snapped its streak of three straight road losses in extra time. In its three previous road games, the Aces lost a shootout to Utah on Friday, lost in overtime at Las Vegas and lost in a shootout at Las Vegas.

Utah's Mitch Wahl cranked off 10 shots on goal. Mazzolini fired seven, Kremyr added six and Skelly generated five.

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

Aces 3 1 2 -- 6

Utah 1 0 1 -- 2

First Period -- 1, Aces, Skelly 6 (Curry), 2:33; 2, Aces, Hughes 9 (Lafranchise, Ward), 5:53; 3, Aces, Mazzolini 28 (Lafranchise, Imbeault), 8:33 (pp); 4, Utah, Vock 20 (J. Martin, Maxwell), 19:42. Penalties -- Battani, Utah, minor-major (roughing, fighting), 6:38; Clackson, Aces, major (fighting), 6:28; Tuzzolino, Utah (tripping), 7:24; Maxwell, Utah (roughing), 12:26; Battani, Utah, major (fighting), 14:30; Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 14:30.

Second Period -- 5, Aces, Hughes 10 (Bennett, Imbeault), 19:04. Penalties -- Clackson, Aces (hooking), 9:23; Baran, Aces (boarding), 19:44.

Third Period -- 6, Utah, Tuzzolino 3 (Cameron, Stoflet), 11:58; 7, Aces, Bennett 2, 12:14; 8, Aces, Kremyr 2 (Baran, Harrison), 19:53 (pp). Penalties -- Clackson, Aces (delay of game), 3:46; Cameron, Utah (hooking), 5:05; Mele, Aces (tripping), 13:39; Wahl, Utah (cross-checking), 17:58.

Shots on goal -- Aces 12-12-11--35. Utah 11-15-11--37.

Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 2 of 5. Utah 0 of 4.

Goalies -- Aces, Guggenberger, 18-6-5 (37 shots-35 saves). Utah, Owen, 3-6-2 (35-29).

A -- 6,364 (10,200). T -- 2:23.

Referee -- Brett Sheva. Linesmen -- Patrick Richardson, James McKenna.


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com