Wranglers rip Aces 4-1

Doyle Woody

The good times can’t last forever, and the end arrives quicker for a hockey team that fails to cash in on ample opportunities and also turns over the puck, which inevitably ends up in that team’s net.

The Alaska Aces learned as much Saturday night, when they were unable to engineer victory despite an overwhelming advantage in shots and power plays, and had their 12-game point streak snuffed.

The Las Vegas Wranglers used two goals from former UAA winger Sean Wiles, two more from former Ace Judd Blackwater and a sterling 33-save effort from Mitch O’Keefe to rack a 4-1 win at Sullivan Arena.

As much as the ECHL-leading Aces (39-12-6) had been streaking — Saturday’s loss marked their first defeat in regulation since Jan. 25 and snapped an 8-0-4 run — the Wranglers (28-22-5) were eager to squash their three-game losing streak.

The Aces, though, owned a 34-20 advantage in shots on goal and a 5-1 advantage in power-play opportunities, none of which mattered much in a game they never led. The Wranglers, meanwhile, scored their second and third goals on counter-attacks directly off Aces turnovers.

“That’s just about capitalizing on chances,’’ said Aces leading scorer Nick Mazzolini. “They did, and we didn’t.

“It was a frustrating game. Up until the third period, I felt good. It felt like we were letting them hang around, even though they were leading.’’

The difference was O’Keefe, particularly when he denied all 14 Alaska shots in the opening 20 minutes, when Wiles furnished the visitors a 1-0 lead off a splendid backhand pass from linemate Scott Pitt.

“Mitch was the big reason we were even in the game, especially in the first period,’’ Wiles said.

Blackwater’s second-period goal, which pushed Las Vegas’ edge to 2-0, came after Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise collided with teammate Alex Hudson while carrying the puck through neutral ice. Blackwater slammed home a Charlie Cook rebound.

Though the Aces pulled within 2-1 on Shawn Skelly’s goal off a Mazzolini feed late in the second period, they couldn’t help but think back on chances unfulfilled.

O’Keefe denied Hudson from point-blank range in the first period. Later in the period, Skelly steered Mazzolini’s terrific cross-crease feed wide right. The Aces also mustered just five shots on goal on their five power plays.

“I said to (assistant coach Louis Mass) on the bench: ‘This is one of those nights,’ ” said Aces head coach Rob Murray. “Give them credit — O’Keefe was very strong.

“We had chances and should have connected. We could have come out of the first period up 3-1 or 4-1. But it was one of the nights.’’

The game turned Las Vegas’ way for good midway through the second period when Aces veteran defenseman Sean Curry made a pass up the middle in his own zone but was unable to connect with Mazzolini. Andrew Sarauer picked off the errant pass and fed Wiles for what amounted to a tap-in and a 3-1 lead on Wiles’ 19th goal of the season and eighth in the last 12 games.

For a Las Vegas team that recently reeled off a nine-game winning streak before hitting a three-game skid, that was a reward badly needed.

“We needed that sense of urgency back,’’ Wiles said. “We had to get back to square one, do the simple things. It wasn’t the greatest performance, but we got it done.’’

Blackwater capped the night with an empty-net goal in the last minute off a Wiles helper. The assist earned Wiles, a second-year pro, his third three-point game in 92 career regular-season games with the Wranglers.

And for the Aces, who lost for the first time in regulation to the Wranglers in eight games this season, Sunday afternoon can’t get here quick enough.

Alaska and Las Vegas close their three-game series with a matinee, which for the Aces is a chance to start another streak.


Shuffling the deck

Aces defenseman B.J. Crum sat out the first game of a league-imposed, two-game suspension he was hit with for his major boarding penalty against Las Vegas center Geoff Paukovich in Alaska’s 3-1 win Friday. Crum will also miss Sunday’s game.

Paukovich sat out too — he suffered an upper-body injury from the hit and will likely sit out Sunday’s series finale.

Aces winger Alexandre Imbeault missed his third straight game with a bad back and is not expected to play Sunday.

Mazzolini’s assist stretched his point streak to seven games — he owns 5-5—10 totals in that span. With 31-25—56 totals in 55 games, Mazzolini is tied for eighth in the league in scoring.

Garry Nunn’s helper on Skelly’s goal gives him a four-game point streak with 2-3—5 totals.

Spencer Bennett’s five-game point streak ended. Ditto for Bobby Hughes and his four-game point streak.

Saturday’s announced crowd of 5,415 gives the Aces an average of 4,748 fans per game through 29 of their 36 regular-season home games. That’s an increase of 298 fans per game, or 6.7 percent, from last season’s average of 4,450 fans per game.


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


Las Vegas 1  1  2 —  4

Aces 0  1  0  — 1

First Period — 1, Las Vegas, Wiles 18 (Pitt, Sarauer), 16:11. Penalties — Fritsch, Las Vegas (delay of game-puck over glass), 5:00; Cook, Las Vegas (slashing), 16:34.

Second Period — 2, Las Vegas, Blackwater 14 (Cook, Francis), 14:11; 3, Aces, Skelly 7 (Mazzolini, Nunn), 1725. Penalties — Madill, Las Vegas (tripping), 3:54.

Third Period — 4, Las Vegas, Wiles 19 (Sarauer), 8:48; 5, Las Vegas, Blackwater 15 (Wiles), 19:18 (en). Penalties — Sarauer, Las Vegas (tripping), 5:43; Skelly, Aces (tripping), 11:01; Madill, Las Vegas (slashing), 16;46.

Shots on goal — Las Vegas 6-7-7--20. Aces 14-13-7--34.

Power-play Opportunities — Las Vegas 0 of 1. Aces 0 of 5.

Goalies — Las Vegas, O’Keefe, 4-4-0 (34 shots-33 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 21-7-5 (19-16).

A — 5,415 (6,399). T – 2:21.

Referee — Geoff Miller. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Travis Jackson.