In his three seasons at the major-junior level, Brett Findlay's benchmark for goals was 20 -- he scored that many in two of those seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, and 19 in another.
In his first full season as a pro in the ECHL, he's already delivered a better benchmark.
The Alaska Aces' rookie winger furnished his first two-goal game as a pro Tuesday night to give him 21 goals this season and help spearhead the league leaders to a 4-2 comeback road victory over the Bakersfield Condors in California.
Findlay became the fourth Ace to hit the 20-goal mark this season -- winger Peter Sivak leads the charge with 27, center Nick Mazzolini has 23 and winger Brendan Connolly, who will rejoin the Aces from Abbotsford of the American Hockey League later this week, has 20.
Findlay, 21, is the unlikeliest suspect on that list, mostly because he's a rookie and his high-scoring teammates have prospered previously. Mazzolini last season finished tied for second on the circuit with 36 goals, Sivak checked in fifth with 33 and Connolly has scored at least 20 goals in each of the last four ECHL seasons.
Only the Colorado Eagles feature more 20-goal scorers with five. The Aces (42-17-6) and Fort Wayne Komets are tied for second in the league with four 20-goal guys each.
Findlay, who joined the now-defunct San Francisco Bulls last spring after finishing his junior career, began this season with them and scored nine goals in 37 games. When the Bulls folded in January, he and his center, Jordan Morrison, signed with the Aces. Aces coach Rob Murray liked what he saw of Findlay when the winger played for the Bulls, and Findlay has given the Aces 12 goals in 26 games.
"He's very light on his feet, almost like he floats -- he's a very good skater with good hands,'' Murray said by cellphone. "I've been all over him to shoot more, and he's taken it to heart.''
Findlay has fired 19 shots on goal in the last six games, and is averaging 2.38 shots per game with the Aces after averaging 1.76 shots per game with the Bulls.
He's been a force lately. He has scored at least one goal in five of the last six games and has six total goals in that span. He has scored at least one point in each of those games and owns 6-3--9 totals in that stretch.
Tuesday, when the Aces started dismally and fell behind 2-0 after 20 minutes at Rabobank Arena against an undermanned Condors club -- Bakersfield dressed just 14 skaters, two below the league maximum -- it was a pair of Alaska rookie wingers who helped orchestrate the comeback.
Andy Taranto beat Chet Pickard (31 saves) on a wraparound backhander five minutes into the second period to cut the margin to 2-1. That one-goal deficit lasted about 10 minutes before Findlay scored twice in 2:19. He tucked a backhander through Pickard's pads off the rush, then beat him with a one-timer from the slot.
Taranto added a third-period goal after Turner Elson (two assists) fired a shot off the post to notch his third multiple-goal game this season. Taranto, the former UAF sniper, has 11 goals in 33 games in a season that was interrupted by a shoulder injury.
Secondary scoring came up clutch for the Aces after Jordan Knackstadt and Erik Burgdoerfer scored first-period goals for the Condors (30-29-5). On a rare night when Alaska's top line of Mazzolini centering Sivak and Evan Trupp came up empty, and the Aces didn't score on four power-play opportunities, the rookies ruled.
That goes for goaltending too. Aaron Crandall, who recently closed his college career at Minnesota-Duluth, made his second straight start and his 19 saves furnished his second win. Crandall has moved into the crease because the Aces' No. 1 goalie, veteran Gerald Coleman, is out with an upper-body injury.
In Crandall's first start, Sunday's 7-2 win at Stockton, the Aces gave him a comfortable ride with four first-period goals and six straight goals to start the game. Tuesday, he held the Condors close enough early to give the Aces a shot as they cranked up their game in the final 40 minutes. The Aces outshot the Condors 28-14 in the final two periods.
"He competes,'' Murray said of Crandall. "He works hard. Probably, if I had a critique right now, it's rebound control -- he gets in a little bit of trouble with them. But he doesn't quit on the puck.''
Alaska extended its point streak to six games (5-0-1) and improved to 3-0-1 on this road trip, which finishes with three games against league-worst Las Vegas beginning Friday. The Aces opened the trip with a 4-1 win at Vegas, lost a 5-4 shootout decision at Stockton, then blew out Stockton before finishing their season series with Bakersfield with a 6-1-1 mark.
The Aces' .692 winning percentage leads the league over the Ontario Reign (.683) and Kalamazoo Wings (.656).
Shuffling the deck
The Aces' magic number for winning a fourth consecutive Mountain Division title is three. The Aces also are leading the chase for their fourth consecutive Brabham Cup as overall champions in the regular season. No other franchise in league history dating back to the 1988-89 season has ever won consecutive Brabhams.
Rookie defenseman Drew MacKenzie had an assist to give him 1-5--6 totals in his four-game point streak.
Mazzolini was held without a shot on goal for just the sixth time this season. Only once has Sivak, the team's leading scorer, failed to produce a shot on goal. Sivak fired four shots Tuesday, when Taranto and Elson each unlimbered a game-high six shots on goal.
Rookie defenseman John Ramage, who joined the Aces recently from Abbotsford, sat out with an upper-body injury.
The Aces improved to 16-9-4 in road games.
When Connolly rejoins the Aces in Las Vegas, Murray said the roster limit will force him to release a player.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 0 3 1 -- 4
Bakersfield 2 0 0 --2
First Period -- 1, Bakersfield, Knackstadt 17 (MacNeil, Hughes), 5:41; 2, Bakersfield, Burgdoerfer 11 (Schaber, Carroll), 16:36. Penalties -- Richard, Aces (tripping), 1:34; Steffes, Bakersfield (tripping), 11:54; MacKenzie, Aces (boarding), 12:38; Little, Bakersfield (holding), 19:26.
Second Period -- 3, Aces, Taranto 10 (Mosienko, Elson), 4:30; 4, Aces, Findlay 20 (Ring-Jarvi, MacKenzie), 14:26; 5, Aces, Findlay 21 (Belzile, Morrison), 16:45. Penalties -- Gawryletz, Bakersfield (tripping), 2:11.
Third Period -- 6, Aces, Taranto 11 (Elson), 11:33 . Penalties -- Mazzolini, Aces (hooking), 11:58; MacNeil, Bakersfield (boarding), 18:28.
Shots on goal -- Aces 7-17-11--35. Bakersfield 7-10-4--21.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 of 4. Bakersfield 0 of 3.
Goalies -- Aces, Crandall, 2-0-0 (21 shots-19 saves). Bakersfield, Pickard, 5-10-0 (35-31).
A -- 3,611 (8,782). T -- 2:08.
Referee -- Andrew Wilk. Linesmen -- Brett Martin, Steven Walsh.
By DOYLE WOODY