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Extended break for the Aces proves timely

Doyle Woody

With No. 1 goaltender Gerald Coleman still working his way back from an upper-body injury, and captain and second-leading scorer Nick Mazzolini dealing with a lower-body injury, the Alaska Aces' extended break between hockey games is timely.

The ECHL club, which Sunday afternoon wrapped a seven-game road trip with a 5-4 win at Las Vegas, does not play again until Wednesday, when it opens a three-game, regular season-ending series in Colorado. That 10-day hockey hiatus -- from games, at least -- furnishes guys like Coleman and Mazzolini healing time, and gives the rest of the team some rest before the Kelly Cup playoffs.

"It probably comes at a good time,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray. "Getting ready for the playoffs, it gives us time to recoup (energy).

"Earlier in the season, we were just mowing teams down in November, then we had a (10-day) break and came back and lost two games in Colorado. In that time of the season, we didn't need time off. Now, we welcome it because it's time off, and we get practice time that we haven't had much of lately.''

The Aces are coming off a stretch in which they played seven road games in 11 days. After flying home Monday from Las Vegas, and taking Tuesday and Wednesday off, they returned to practice Wednesday morning.

Coleman did some light skating, but didn't take shots. Mazzolini did not practice. And veteran defenseman Sean Curry was sick, so he did not practice.

Still, Murray expects them all to be good to go by the Colorado series.

"Colesy will be ready for Colorado,'' Murray said. "And Mazz, you could call it a maintenance day. He'll be fine.''

From new guy to go-to guy

Aaron Crandall's college career at Minnesota-Duluth ended the night of Saturday, March 15. The following Monday, he received a phone call from Murray and accepted his first pro gig, and since then his introduction to the play-for-pay game has been a whirlwind.

Murray figured to give the 24-year-old at least one start on that seven-game road trip. When Coleman was injured in the second game, Crandall's debut was pushed up and he ended up making five straight starts.

"It gave me less time to think about it,'' Crandall said. "It was kind of, 'Hey, kid, have at it.' Coach said he'd try to give me a game on the road. He didn't anticipate giving me five.''

Crandall is 4-1-0 with a 2.60 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.

Crandall became the eighth goalie the Aces have used in a game this season, the most the franchise has used in any of its 11 ECHL seasons. That turnstile in the crease has been caused by injuries, trades, waived goalies and call-ups to the American Hockey League.

Yet another masked man

With Coleman not quite ready for a full practice Wednesday, the Aces used assistant equipment manager Jonathan Gant, who has a set of goaltending gear, at the other end of the ice from Crandall.

"That seemed like a really long practice,'' Gant said. "A doozy. Maybe that bowl of ice cream I had last night is coming back on me.''

Based on a single practice, consider Gant, who said he was a defenseman growing up, a stand-up goaltender who eschews the butterfly technique and favors poke-checks. As an apprentice goalie, he was fair game for biting analysis.

Said assistant coach Louis Mass, the epitome of a stay-at-home defenseman in his playing days: "We did one drill where I needed rebounds, but it was hard not to score on him. That's not a problem I've had to deal with before.''

Winger Evan Trupp, asked to evaluate the key to scoring on Gant, smiled.

"Get it on net,'' Trupp said.

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


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com