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Aces clinch fourth consecutive Mountain Division title

Doyle Woody

In season series with a significant sample size — call it six hockey games — no ECHL team has dominated another like the Alaska Aces have owned the Las Vegas Wranglers.

The Aces’ 5-1 road victory Friday, which earned them a franchise-record, fourth consecutive division title, was more piling on.

League-leading Alaska (43-17-6) improved to 10-1-0 against Las Vegas (18-39-7) this season, and the Aces have two more cracks at the league-worst Wranglers — the teams play against Saturday night at Orleans Arena and wrap the three-game set with a Sunday matinee.

That one-sided season series — Alaska’s winning percentage against Las Vegas is .909 — is the most lopsided in the ECHL among teams that have played at least six times this season. Reading’s 13-2-0 mark against Elmira checks in second at .867.

The Aces secured the Mountain Division title, which guarantees them at least the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference for the Kelly Cup playoffs and means they’ll drop another banner inside Sullivan Arena at the home opener in the fall.

But they have a much more substantial target on their radar — an unprecedented fourth consecutive Brabham Cup as the league’s regular-season champions. That banner is much more noteworthy because it guarantees the No. 1 seed in the conference and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Brabham this season will be decided by winning percentage. The Aces improved their winning percentage to .697 and the Ontario Reign, 3-2 shootout winners at Bakersfield on Friday, sit at .685.

Aces coach Rob Murray said winning the division is a noteworthy achievement worth appreciating and a stepping stone to the club’s next goal.

“I didn’t even realize (winning the division) was up for grabs tonight,’’ Murray said by cellphone. “Everything is an accomplishment. You can’t get too complacent when you have success and think of it as old hat.

“That said, the ultimate goal is to win the conference, the Brabham Cup and move on. But you’ve got to enjoy (winning the division).’’

Alaska’s victory pushed its point streak to seven games (6-0-1) and gives it points in all five games (4-0-1) on the road trip, which began with a 4-1 win in Sin City last week.

It would be easy to sleep on the Wranglers — Ontario, for instance, fell 3-2 to visiting Las Vegas in a shootout Wednesday — but the Aces remained unbeaten in regulation on this trip.

“We’ve gotten the job done — nine out of a possible 10 points,’’ Murray said. “Even if you’re playing Las Vegas, which has had a tough year, you have to be sharp. It was quite evident tonight the guys were ready to go.’’

That’s because the Aces reeled off four unanswered goals in the first period. Peter Sivak, Turner Elson, Jordan Morrison and Brendan Connolly mustered the goals. Aces defenseman Zach McKelvie and former Aces winger Shawn Skelly traded second-period goals.

The Aces cranked off a season-high 51 shots on goal — their previous high was 50 against, you guessed it, the Wranglers — and continued their trend of strong starts against Las Vegas. Alaska has trailed just once after one period against Las Vegas this season and has outscored the Wranglers 20-5 in the opening 20 minutes of games. They outshot the Wranglers 19-6 in the first period Friday and, on average, have outshot them by better than a 2 to 1 margin in first periods this season.

Rookie goaltender Aaron Crandall stopped 28 shots for the Aces and has won all three of his starts since joining the club on this trip.

“You can’t ask anything else of him,’’ Murray said. “He’s been solid. He’s not flashy, but he battles.

“He probably had two or three really quality saves tonight.’’

 

Shuffling the deck

Connolly, who had one goal and one assist in his first game back from Abbotsford of the American Hockey League, and defenseman Sean Curry each fired a game-high seven shots on goal. Nine different Aces were credited with at least three shots on goal.

The only Aces skater without a shot on goal was left winger Brett Findlay, who merely furnished two assists and a plus-2 rating in extending his point streak to seven games (6-5—11 totals).

Morrison’s one goal and two assists marked his first three-point game as an Ace.

Captain Nick Mazzolini’s assist kept him from going three straight games without a point for the first time all season.

Sivak was plus-2 to improve his league-leading plus-minus to plus-44 in 62 games.

Center Tim Coffman, released by the Aces on Thursday, was claimed off waivers by the Greenville Road Warriors.

 

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

 

Aces 4  1  0   — 5

Las Vegas 0  1  0   — 1

First Period — 1, Aces, Sivak 28 (Connolly, Mazzolini), 7:22; 2, Aces, Elson 3 (Trupp, Mosienko), 11:33; 3, Aces, Morrison 16 (Belzile, Findlay), 16:51; 4, Aces, Connolly 21 (Morrison), 18:39. Penalties — Elson, Aces (tripping), 2:20; Cook, Las Vegas (tripping), 13:44.

Second Period — 5, Las Vegas, Skelly 10 (Tassone, Cook), 3:54; 6, Aces, McKelvie 2 (Morrison, Findlay), 15:59. Penalties — Hughesman, Las Vegas (high-sticking), 6:18; Syvret, Aces (hooking), 15:59.

Third Period — None. Penalties — Huxley, LV, major (fighting), 4:34; McKelvie, Aces, major (fighting), 4:34; Connolly, Aces (slashing), 7:16; Syvret, Aces, minor-misconduct, served by Taranto (boarding, unsportsmanlike conduct), 8:18; Huxley, Las Vegas (slashing), 18:32.

Shots on goal — Aces 19-18-14—51. Las Vegas 6-16-7—29.

Power-play Opportunities — Aces 0 of 3. Las Vegas 0 of 4.

Goalies — Aces, Crandall, 3-0-0 (29 shots-28 saves). Las Vegas, Fullerton, 12-19-6 (51-46).

A — 5,851 (7,773). T — 2:27.

Referee — Andrew Wilk. Linesmen — Todd Owen, Wally Lacroix.

 


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com