Slovakian sniper Peter Sivak, the Alaska Aces' most lethal offseason acquisition, speaks very little English.
Center Nick Mazzolini of Anchorage, the club's No. 1 pivot and its leading scorer last season, speaks even less Slovak.
"Zero,'' Mazzolini said. "I don't know how to say hi. I don't know how to say bye. I don't know how to say thank you. I got nothing.''
Still, some communication between skilled hockey players is universal, and non-verbal - a gesture or a moment of catching a teammate's eye, or simply common bond of a high hockey IQ.
There were times Tuesday night in the Aces' 4-2 exhibition loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones when Mazzolini and right wing Sivak were on the same page, along with left wing Brendan Connolly, another coveted offseason get for Alaska.
Sivak, coming off a 33-goal North American debut last season with ECHL San Francisco, scored a goal with less than five minutes left to pull the Aces to within a goal at 3-2 and fire up the announced crowd of 3,848.
Cincinnati's Mathieu Aubin snuffed any lingering thought of extra time with his empty-net goal with 9.4 seconds left in the first of two preseason games between the clubs. The series, the Aces' annual "Paint The Rink Pink'' fundraisers to benefit breast cancer awareness, wraps with Wednesday night's rematch.
Sivak, who at 31 would likely be in the American Hockey League if he were five years younger, fired a game-high five shots on goal. In the first period alone, he showed why coach Rob Murray was so happy to sign him. Sivak gained a quality scoring chance between the circles on his first shift. He later made a smart chip up the wall to clear the zone. And he rifled a 75-foot cross-ice dart onto the tape of defenseman Kane Lafranchise off the rush.
In the second period, Sivak's short, deft pass from along the wall at his own blue line sprung Connolly and Lafranchise 2-on1. And in the third period, stationed off the right post, he banged in Lafranchise's feed from the left circle after the blueliner took a pass from Mazzolini.
The Aces only opened their training camp Friday, and Tuesday morning's skate marked the first time Murray put both Connolly and Sivak on Mazzolini's wings - "Just to see how a power line would work,'' Murray said.
It's a work in progress, for sure.
"It takes time to develop chemistry,'' Mazzolini said. "It's not often you go 'boom' out of the gate.''
For the past two seasons, Garry Nunn, who departed to play in Italy this season, has usually manned Mazzolini's right wing. Tuesday, Mazzolini said, he left a couple of blind passes in areas where Nunn would usually be, but where Spivak was not. He'll have to get used to Spivak, and vice versa.
Toward that end, and considering their communication gap, Mazzolini said he's going to pitch the idea of having a small white board on the bench so he and Spivak can speak the language of X's and O's between shifts.
The idea came to Mazzolini prior to the game, when he and Spivak drew up some things on a white board in the locker room, which Mazzolini said helped them communicate.
After all, hockey is their one common language.
Cincinnati roared to a 3-0 lead, courtesy of David MacDonald's first-period, power-play strike, which seemed to dip on Aces rookie goaltender Laurent Brossoit (23 saves) and second-period goals from Vinny Saponari and Mike Embach.
Embach and Trevor Lewis worked a sweet give-and-go. MacDonald and Embach each furnished one goal and one assist, and Lewis and Brett Wysopal each delivered two helpers.
Player of the game for the Cyclones surely was 6-foot-6 goalie Scott Darling, who is under contract to Milwaukee of the American Hockey League. He made 27 saves and looked razor sharp.
"Their goalie really held them in,'' said Murray, who liked Cincy's club. "A lot of pucks got tipped on the way to him, and he fought to find them. I thought he did well to do that.''
Newcomer Tim Coffman generated a strong game for the Aces, firing four shots on goal. Returners Evan Trupp and Shawn Skelly assisted on the goal by Kremyr, another returner.
The Aces enjoyed a 5-on-3 power play for 73 seconds in the first period after consecutive penalties to the Cyclones for delay of game (puck over glass). They didn't do much with it. Not surprising since they haven't practiced the two-man advantage for a second yet in camp.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335
Cincinnati 1 2 1 4
Aces 0 0 2 2
First Period - 1, Cincinnati, MacDonald 1 (Wysopal, Lewis), 13:11 (pp). Penalties - Mazzolini, Aces (hooking), 12:08; Schmunig, Cincinnati (delay of game-puck over glass), 15:03; Corbin, Cincinnati (delay of game-puck over glass), 15:50.
Second Period - 2, Cincinnati, Saponari (Embach, MacDonald), 13:32; 3, Cincinnati, Embach (Lewis, Wysopal), 16:28. Penalties - Magnone, Aces (boarding), 8:39; Embach, Cincinnati (cross-checking), 8:39.
Third Period - 4, Aces, Kremyr (Skelly, Trupp), 14:12; 5, Aces, Sivak (Lafranchise, Mazzolini, 15:34; 6, Cincinnati, Aubin (Luciani), 19:50 (en). Penalties - Bodie, Cincinnati (hooking), 14:54; Connolly, Aces (cross-checking), 15:20.
Shots on goal - Cincinnati 9-12-5--26. Aces 8-10-11--29.
Power-play Opportunities - Cincinnati 1 of 2. Aces 0 of 3.
Goalies - Cincinnati, Darling (29 shots-27 saves). Aces, Brossoit (26-23).
A - 3,848 (6,399). T - 2:18.
Referee - Andrew Wilk. Linesmen - Scott Sivulich, Steve Glines.
By Doyle Woody