Aces re-sign their top center in Mazzolini, a pivot to build around

Doyle Woody

Nick Mazzolini isn't just a center for the Alaska Aces.

He's a centerpiece.

"He is the guy you build around,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray. "And in saying that, you find good guys to play with him. We need to complement Mazz. He makes everybody he plays with better.''

And Mazzolini will do it for another season of hockey in his hometown.

The ECHL club on Tuesday announced that Mazzolini, who last season led them in basically everything, has re-signed with the team, giving them a first-line center who also operates on the first power-play unit and is a premier penalty killer.

The Aces also announced the return of winger Tommy Mele.

Mazzolini, 29, last season delivered 36-35--71 totals in 68 games to lead the Aces in goals, assists and points. His plus-13 rating also led the club. As did his 202 shots on goal. And his 10 power-play goals. Ditto for his league high-tying four short-handed strikes. Oh, and his nine game-winning goals, which were second in the league.

Mazzolini will be a fifth-year pro and an Ace for the fourth season -- he played one season (2010-11) in Italy. He finished tied for second in the ECHL in goals last season, and tied for ninth in points, and was voted to the All-ECHL second team.

Murray will undoubtedly have Mazzolini in the pivot with two skilled wingers, at least one of which will be a new linemate. Mazzolini late last season most often played with left winger Evan Trupp of Anchorage, who has been re-signed, and right wing Garry Nunn, the longtime Ace who is headed abroad for the first time, ticketed to play in Italy.

Mazzolini could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The Aces said he had gone fishing.

Last season, Mazzolini flourished with those 36 goals, nine more than his previous career high, and 71 points, seven more than his previous best.

"He really became that marquee player,'' Murray said. "When you need a goal, or a big play, inevitably he seems to come up with it. He's turned into probably our best penalty killer.

"More than anything, he reads the game so well. He reads plays, he's so good with his stick and he anticipates plays better than the next guy.''

Mele, 27, last season furnished the Aces 11-10--21 totals and a -4 rating in 43 games. He missed 19 consecutive games in December and January after undergoing thumb surgery and endured a 15-game goal drought when he returned to the lineup. Mele rebounded to score four goals in his last seven games.

"I know he really has something to prove coming into the season,'' Murray said. "He has a good skill set. It just has to be cultivated.''

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