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For Aces going after first pro title, staying in the moment is key

CINCINNATI -- Sean Curry tries not to think too much about the possibility, that after toiling as a professional hockey player for a dozen seasons and yet never sniffing a title he might finally, blessedly, cross over into the promised land.

The thought of what could be, though, cannot be completely curtained off in his mind -- brains don't work that way. We hope, dream, aspire -- that is part of what makes us human -- and several of the Aces' older players who like Curry lack a pro championship in their rink resume are trying to remain in the moment.

Curry, 32, has never made it out of the second round of the playoffs in his 10 seasons on North American pro hockey circuits. Well, there was that season in Sweden, when his club made it out of the relegation round and earned the honor of moving to a higher division the next season. Not the same. That was -- and, granted, this is oversimplification -- a case of being the best of a relative worst.

Yet here Curry sits, in the fourth and final round of the ECHL's Darwinian postseason, he and the Alaska Aces leading the Cincinnati Cyclones 2-1 in the best-of-7 series that continues with Game 4 here Friday night, his dream so close he can touch it.

Well, of course, he thinks about what it would be like to raise the Cup.

"Quite a bit -- all in a positive way,'' he said Thursday, with as impish a grin as a man can muster when he is 6-foot-5 and 227 pounds and sporting a thick, black beard.

Curry was pedaling a stationary bicycle outside the visiting dressing room at U.S. Bank Arena, a baseball cap turned backward on his head, practice time approaching.

"You're excited to come to the rink, whether it's a practice or whatever,'' he continued. "You don't want to look too far ahead. You picture yourself winning, and how it would be.

"But we've won two games. We have to win two more. I'll be focusing on my job, shift by shift on the ice, not thinking about anything else.''

That is how all the Aces should be approaching the rest of this series, and they seemed squared away on that front. They haven't celebrated when they have won and they haven't despaired when they have lost. Equilibrium is their ally.

That brings to mind something Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman, who backed the club to the 2011 Kelly Cup, said after he and the Aces eliminated the Bakersfield Condors in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. He flashed back to Brian Swanson, the former NHLer from Eagle River and an alternate captain on that 2011 team, and how Swanson epitomized professionalism.

"Swanny said, 'Every time you win, act like you've been there before,' ''Coleman recalled.

Like Curry, Aces veteran center Tyler Mosienko, 30, tries to stay centered. This is his ninth year as a pro. In 2008, he got to the Kelly Cup Finals with the Las Vegas Wranglers. His dream, and that of his teammates, died in this very rink in Game 6, when the Cyclones clinched the first of the franchise's two Kelly Cups.

Mosienko said he holds snapshots in his mind of "series-turning events, and what-not'' from those Finals. But he's trying, and doing well at it, he thinks, to focus on what stands immediately ahead.

"For me, I don't look at the big picture, and I treat it like another series,'' he said.

Aces veteran Jordan Morrison, who turned 28 on Wednesday, is trying to do the same. He's a sixth-year pro, and until this season he had never even escaped the first round of the playoffs. The closest he came was in 2009, when his Wheeling Nailers lost in double overtime, 2-1, in Game 7 of the first round to Cincinnati, in this building. Morrison scored the game-tying goal in the second period. Current Cyclones assistant coach Matt Macdonald assisted on Cincy's game-winning strike.

When the ECHL's San Francisco Bulls folded in mid-season, Morrison decided to either play in Europe or for the Aces, who came calling. His desire to win a championship won out.

"The longer you play, the more you appreciate these opportunities,'' Morrison said as he worked on his stick before practice. "Young guys think there will be other times. You don't know.

"When you get this opportunity, you have to grab hold and, ultimately, try to get that win. You're always trying to think positive and imagine yourself winning.''

So far, so good. Morrison scored two goals, including the game winner, in Alaska's 5-3 victory in Game 1. And he bagged the game winner, deep into the third period to break a scoreless tie in the Aces' 2-0 win in Game 3 last Monday in Anchorage.

Coleman, of course, has won a title. He's the only current Ace who played on that 2011 club, though defenseman Kane Lafranchise, who did not play in those playoffs, received a ring. Coleman considers himself lucky to have a shot at another championship. He gets that his teammates without rings would naturally ponder the possibility of slipping one on, but cautions "you can't get ahead of yourself.''

Those 2011 Aces, who after earning a first-round bye rolled through three rounds with a 12-1 record, seemed a lock to win that title. The road is much tougher this time around. Bakersfield took the Aces to six games. And Cincinnati is better than Bakersfield.

Still, Coleman wants his teammates to know the joy, the sense of accomplishment, he savored in 2011.

"I know what it felt like,'' he said before Thursday's practice while pedaling a stationary bike, "and I want these guys in that room to know that feeling.

"I can't even explain it. It was a group of guys who came together, and really were a family, and we'll always have that.

"It's what you dream about as a kid. I know it's not the NHL, but you want to be associated with being a winner.''

Scott Burt, who captained the Aces in 2011, seized the Kelly Cup three times in his career -- he previously won with Idaho in 2004 and 2007. He's Coleman's carrot.

"I want to match Burtie,'' Coleman said. "Gotta start with two, right?''

After three days off, the Aces get back at it Friday night, when the Cyclones get home ice for the first time in the series. And Sean Curry intends to put aside his dream and dial in only on what is in front of him.

"Just go out and work,'' he said. "It's just a hockey game.''

And then he let a long sigh and grinned, and said slowly, emphasizing each word: "A very important hockey game.''

This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog and follow his live tweets from every Kelly Cup Finals game @sportsadn.

2014 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals

Alaska Aces vs. Cincinnati Cyclones

Best of 7

Aces lead 2-1

Game 4, Friday, at Cincinnati, U.S. Bank Arena, 3:35 p.m. ADT

Radio: Live, AM-550 and FM-103.7 KFQD

TV: Live, GCI Channel 1