Mazzolini lifted Aces in regular season, is ready for playoffs

Bill Roth

Any number of, well, numbers illustrate Nick Mazzolini's immense value to the Alaska Aces this hockey season.

He led the ECHL's Brabham Cup winners as regular-season champions in goals, assists, points, power-play goals, power-play points, short-handed goals, game-winning goals, unassisted goals, first goals, insurance goals, plus-minus rating, shots on goal and glib comments.

He never went more than two straight games without a point.

He was held without a shot on goal just four times in 68 games.

And in virtually any important situation, No. 42 got the tap on the back from coach Rob Murray for yet another shift, as he no doubt will again when the Aces open the Kelly Cup playoffs Friday night against the San Francisco Bulls.

Yet the truest measure of the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Anchorage that everyone calls Mazz -- and in this corner of the typing factory, the center rated as the club's MVP in a landslide -- is the anecdotal evidence cited by the guys who work alongside him.

They witnessed, and felt, how Mazzolini, a fourth-year pro, tilted games with goals, timely helpers, dominating shifts and superb penalty killing.

"He brought it every night,'' said Aces captain Steve Ward. "Everybody knew he was going to be good, but I don't know if anybody knew he was going to be this good.

"I don't think, in my six years (as a pro), I've played with a guy who was that clutch. I've never played with a guy who scored so many key goals for us, or made so many big plays for us.''

Murray likewise marveled at how Mazzolini never shrunk from the big moments.

"He's the type of guy who, in all situations, understands the urgency of a great shift, or a goal, or a great penalty kill,'' Murray said. "He just finds a way to get it done. In turn, that rubs off on the other guys. That's leading by example.''

That's one reason Murray this season slapped an 'A,' for alternate captain, on Mazzolini's sweater.

For Mazzolini, there are many ways to make a difference, and they're not all connected to his 36-35--71 scoring line in 68 games.

"Every time I step on the ice, I think about what someone once told me -- 'Make sure you're an asset, some way,' whether that's on the penalty kill, blocking a shot, on the face-off dot,' '' Mazzolini said. "You have to find a way to leave your mark.''

Many of his contributions do not show up in the narrow template of an ECHL summary -- winning important face-offs, pick-pocketing opponents, using his long reach and long stick on the penalty kill to deflect the puck out of the zone, using that wingspan and his skills to control the puck for long periods in the offensive zone.

"You've got to watch a couple games, at least, to really appreciate his game,'' Ward said.

Mazzolini, who finished second in the league in goals and tied for ninth in points, was an All-ECHL second-team selection in voting by league coaches, broadcasters, media and media relations directors. That rankled him some.

Mazzolini was certainly worthy of first-team consideration. But the voting process is flawed. It's not like you can dial up ECHL highlights on SportsCenter. Hey, Florida's scoring champ and All-ECHL first-teamer, Mathieu Roy, might be a remarkably complete player. He also might be a guy, on the other side of the puck, who couldn't check his own shadow. Don't know, never seen him play.

In any event, Mazzolini is accustomed to slights. He has played three of his four pro seasons, all of them strong ones, for the Aces. Yet he has never been summoned to the American Hockey League.

Part of that absence on his rink resume surely stems from his skating -- he's not going to show up as a model of technique in a power-skating video, but it's not as if he's getting around the rink on two stumps. He's 28, so his window for promotion is closing. And he doesn't employ an agent, which means he doesn't have a guy constantly on the horn to AHL general managers, pumping his client's tires.

"I didn't get a call about Nick from an AHL team this season,'' said Murray. "I would not have held him back.''

Mazzolini thinks the AHL ship has sailed on him.

"I don't think it's my boots,'' he said, referencing his skating. "I think I've just been written off. It fires me, but I've come to grips with it. I know, as a player and as a person, I can play at that level, and play well.

"I don't want to get called up for a worthless weekend and live out of my suitcase. If I was called up for an honest chance, I'd take it.''

For now, the playoffs beckon and a hometown awaits more from a hometown boy.

"I play in front of people I know every night,'' Mazzolini said. "I never want to give a poor effort.

"This is my AHL.''


This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at or call him at 257-4335.


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