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Aces captain Mazzolini hopes to draw on attributes of predecessors

Doyle Woody
Nick Mazzolini at Sullivan Arena in April 2013
Bill Roth
Alaska's Nick Mazzolini redirects the puck toward the San Francisco net around Dylan King. The Alaska Aces began the ECHL playoffs with a home game against the San Francisco Bulls on Friday, April 5, 2013.
Marc Lester

Nick Mazzolini's offensive credentials are strong, as his 36 goals and 71 points in 68 hockey games for the Alaska Aces last season attest. Ditto for his defensive capabilities -- he's generally first over the boards to kill a penalty. And he shoulders responsibility -- when the Aces need a late goal or need to protect a late lead, coach Rob Murray taps Mazzolini.

As the recently appointed captain of the Aces, Mazzolini strives for his leadership to be as multi-dimensional as his game.

Mazzolini as an Ace previously played with captains Scott Burt, Brian Swanson and Steve Ward, and learned from all three.

Burt inspired by frequently playing hurt, blocking shots, dropping the gloves when his team required a spark and, when necessary, speaking his mind. Swanson, the former NHLer, was quieter by nature, but a consummate professional and he played most of the 2011 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals with a broken toe. Ward proved preternaturally incapable of being rattled and was detail-oriented. None of them took shortcuts.

"Burtie was one of those captains who was going to do anything he had to for the team,'' Mazzolini recalled. "Swanny was one of those captains who was smart and knowledgeable, and who you learned from. Wardo led by his calm presence -- no matter the situation, he was always calm.

"Hopefully, I'll take something from all three of those guys.''

The Aces on Friday night begin a three-game home series against the Bakersfield Condors, and the opener will mark Mazzolini's first time wearing the 'C' on his hometown ice. Mazzolini last season wore an 'A' as an alternate captain and this marks the first time in his career, amateur or pro, he's worn the 'C.'

"I was trying to be a leader from the get-go (this season),'' Mazzolini said. "I take it very seriously, and I'm honored to be the captain. This is very special.''

Murray said he waited until the season had begun to appoint a new captain because he wanted time for new players -- half the club's roster this season is new -- to take the measure of Mazzolini. The captaincy was vacant because Ward, after three seasons with the Aces, one as captain, signed with expansion Brampton (Ontario) in the Central Hockey League to be closer to home.

"We figured he would be the guy,'' Murray said of Mazzolini, 29. "I wanted guys to come in here, and instead of them thinking, 'Nick Mazzolini is the captain, I wonder what he's all about?' I wanted to get us through training camp and a week of the season, and have guys get to know him.

"He's invested in wanting this team to do as well as it can. He's proven that.''

A week ago, at the morning skate before a series opener in Las Vegas, Murray and assistant coach Louis Mass told Mazzolini he was the captain. The coaches also announced returner Jordan Kremyr and newcomer Brendan Connolly would be alternate captains.

Mazzolini, an All-ECHL second-team selection last season, said he intends to lead by both his actions and his words, and also figure which of his teammates respond better to hard words and which react better to a pat on the back. It won't hurt that he's outgoing -- he's planned fishing trips for the team and had a part in organizing events like the annual players' pool of the Masters golf tournament.

"First, you need to lead by example,'' he said. "You also need to be that guy who holds other guys accountable.''

He'll hold himself accountable too, Mazzolini said. In the past, he's been known to occasionally bark at on-ice officials, and figures he'll need to dial down that dialogue without surrendering his intensity.

"It's very tough to find that balance because I am fiery out there, especially on a ref when I see something mediocre,'' Mazzolini said. "That's something I have to work on.''

Shuffling the deck

Murray said Mark Guggenberger will get the start in goal Friday night.

The Aces have activated rookie center Eli Zuck of Anchorage, who missed the first five games of the season with a lower-body injury. He could make his pro debut in the series.

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

Bakersfield condors (0-3-1)
at
Alaska Aces (4-1-0)

WHERE: Sullivan Arena
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 7:15 p.m.; Sunday, 3:05 p.m.;
RADIO: LIVE, AM-750 AND FM-103.7 KFQD


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com