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Aces roll to 3-1 win over Wranglers

Doyle Woody

The Alaska Aces’ 3-1 victory over the visiting Las Vegas Wranglers on Friday night stretched the ECHL leaders’ point streak to 12 consecutive hockey games, which rates as noteworthy.

Not that it’s the longest streak on the circuit this season. That standard remains 13 games — which the Aces reeled off earlier this season.

Thus do the Aces own the two longest point streaks in the league this season — one in which they went 12-0-1 and the current one in which they have gone 8-0-4.

All of which afterward prompted — well, some smiles.

That was about it. No whooping in their dressing room at Sullivan Arena. No loud music. No rush to crow on social media. The way the Aces look at it, they haven’t won anything yet, so why pump their own tires. Oh, and they have another game against the Wranglers on Saturday.

So it is for a franchise that has won the last two Brabham Cups as regular-season champions and has twice won the Kelly Cup (2011, 2006) as playoff champions.

“That’s kind of what we’re programmed to do — take care of business,’’ Aces captain Steve Ward said with a shrug. “It’s a winning culture.’’

Winger Jordan Kremyr, who opened the scoring Friday, said he wasn’t certain about the length of the club’s current streak, and wasn’t really concerned about not knowing.

“To be honest, I don’t think anyone knew it was 12,’’ Kremyr said. “We just try to go in and get points. That’s the team’s mentality.’’

Alaska (39-11-6, 84 points) remained five points ahead of Ontario, which has played one fewer game, in the overall standings.

The Aces on Friday prospered behind Mark Guggenberger’s 21 saves, goals from Kremyr, winger Spencer Bennett and center Nick Mazzolini, and perfect penalty killing, which is something else in which the Aces lead the league.

They began the evening in a precarious position before an announced crowd of 5,555 and ended the first period with prosperity.

Alaska killed three Las Vegas (27-22-5) power plays in the opening 10-plus minutes, then used goals from Kremyr and Bennett to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

Kremyr scored when he lifted a backhander over the glove of Joe Fallon (30 saves) from in tight and Bennett scored on a power-play redirection of Bobby Hughes’ precision centering feed in the final minute of the period.

Guggenberger held the Wranglers, who have lost three straight after a nine-game winning streak, in check in the scoreless second period, when the visitors outshot the Aces 12-5.

He’s been doing a lot of that lately. In six consecutive starts, Guggenberger is 5-0-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.

Mazzolini delivered a 3-0 cushion five minutes into the third period when he charged down right wing, cut to the net while holding off Las Vegas’ Adam Huxley and roofed a backhander over Fallon’s shoulder, off the crossbar and in. That marked Mazzolini’s team-leading 31st goal, which ranks second in the league, and his eighth goal in seven games against the Wranglers this season.

Mazzolini kept a bagel on the board for Las Vegas midway through the period with some deft stickwork. Guggenberger went behind his net to play the puck, but couldn’t corral it, and Las Vegas’ Andrew Sarauer raced in and backhanded the puck into the crease, where it hit Mazzolini’s right skate as he was stationed in the blue ice.

As the bouncing puck ricocheted toward the net, Mazzolini stabbed it out of the air with the blade of his stick.

“I had one swipe at it and I managed to knock it down and avoid a minus,’’ he said with a wry smile. “Puck luck and a little hand-eye coordination.’’

Sarauer did get his club on the board minutes later, though, when he got a mini-breakaway and tucked a forehand inside the left post to cut Alaska’s lead to 3-1 with less than seven minutes to go.

The Aces weren’t out of the woods. Defenseman B.J. Crum took a major boarding penalty for his hit on Wranglers center Geoff Paukovich with 2:23 to go, putting Las Vegas on the power play for the remainder of the game after Paukovich was helped off the ice. Alaska killed that penalty, even when the Wranglers pulled Fallon for an extra attacker in the final 56 seconds, putting their league-leading efficiency short-handed at 86.4 percent.

All in all, it was a workmanlike performance for the league leaders.

“We’ve started to kind of dial it in,’’ Ward said. “We’ve talked about finding the details and playing consistently. It’s coming to that time of year when games feel like playoffs.

“We were making smart, simple plays. We did a good job of knowing when to get pucks in deep, when to try to make plays.’’

Even so, there was no hint of celebration afterward.

“That’s kind of been the key to our season — don’t get too high or two low, just stay even-keeled,’’ Mazzolini said. “We know we have a long way to go, so there’s no reason for too much jubilation.’’

 

Shuffling the deck

Alaska improved to 22-5-1 at Sullivan Arena, matching Reading for the best home-ice winning percentage (.804) in the league.

Aces coach Rob Murray said his team should be proud of its streaks.

“These guys should come with a certain swagger because they deserve it,’’ he said. “These guys are playing good hockey. But, in turn, we need to focus game to game.’’

Alaska’s current 12-game point streak is the sixth-longest in the franchise’s 10 ECHL seasons.

Alaska is 4-0-3 against Las Vegas this season. Friday’s game was the Aces’ first home game against the Wranglers this season. Five of the seven games between the club’s have been one-goal games, and the other two have been two-goal games.

Mazzolini’s goal and assist extended his point streak to five games, and gives him 5-4—9 totals in that stretch. He also has scored a goal in five straight games.

Bennett’s goal extended his point streak to five games too, with 5-2—7 totals in that stretch. And Hughes’ helper gives him a four-game point streak in which he has furnished 3-2—5 totals.

Garry Nunn, who had an assist for the Aces, played his 200th career regular-season game as a pro.

Las Vegas’ Adam Huxley played his 500th regular-season game as a pro. That career started with the Aces — he played three games for them in the 2003-04 season.

Both former Ace Judd Blackwater and Eric Lampe of Las Vegas had their six-game point streaks snapped. Ditto for former UAA winger Sean Wiles of Las Vegas and his four-game point streak.

Aces winger Alexandre Imbeault and defenseman Sean Curry each sat out their second straight game with injuries. By unofficial count, 20 different Aces have missed a combined 307 games to injuries this season.

 

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

 

Las Vegas 0  0  1  — 1

Aces 2  0  1  — 3

First Period — 1, Aces, Kremyr 4 (Mazzolini, Ward), 12:59; 2, Aces, Bennett 6 (Hughes, Lafranchise), 19:39 (pp). Penalties — Skelly, Aces (tripping), 3:17; Ward, Aces, double-minor (high-sticking), 6:14; Huxley, Las Vegas (boarding), 10:53; Boe, Las Vegas (interference), 18:31.

Second Period — None. Penalties — Cook, Las Vegas (hooking), 10:59.

Third Period — 3, Aces, Mazzolini 31 (Nunn, Baran), 5:08; 4, Las Vegas, Sarauer 18 (Pitt, Fritsch), 13:12. Penalties — Crum, Aces, major-double minor, game misconduct (boarding, roughing), 17:37; Hughesman, Las Vegas, double-minor (roughing), 17:37.

Shots on goal — Las Vegas 5-12-5—22. Aces 12-5-16—33.

Power-play Opportunities — Las Vegas 0 of 4. Aces 1 of 3.

Goalies — Las Vegas, Fallon, 19-15-5 (33 shots-30 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 21-6-5 (22-21).

A — 5,555 (6,399). T — 2:18.

Referee — Geoff Miller. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.

 

 


By Doyle Woody
dwoody@adn.com