Considering the Alaska Aces play their last 10 ECHL regular-season hockey games on the road as they chase a fourth consecutive Brabham Cup, the six-game homestand they open Friday night looms pivotal.
The Aces entertain the Bakersfield Condors for three games this week and the Colorado Eagles for three games next week at Sullivan Arena . Then, nothing but roadies.
And given they are one of at least six teams with legitimate designs on the Brabham, the regular-season crown that earns the winner home-ice advantage throughout the Kelly Cup playoffs, the Aces need to cement their status as the circuit's best home team.
The Aces own the league's best home winning percentage (.750). They tied for the best home mark last season and put up the best home record in each of the two seasons before that, which proved critical in winning an unprecedented three straight Brabhams.
"We always take pride in how we play at Sullivan,'' said Aces captain Nick Mazzolini. "After playing 14 games in 23 days or whatever (previously), it's going to be a grind the next two, three, four weeks.
"This is kind of business as usual for us and the new guys here are catching on.''
Still, coach Rob Murray would like more consistency. The Aces fractionally lead the ECHL in winning percentage -- .673 to Ontario's .670 and South Carolina's .658 -- and that calculation will determine the Brabham. They have not won consecutive games in their last 10 matches
"I'd like to see us find a way to get that swagger, string some wins together,'' Murray said. "We sometimes get complacent, win a couple games, then drop off.
"I'm looking for us to be more consistent and ramp up for the playoffs.''
Getting there won't happen against a pushover. Bakersfield last season was the league's worst club and two seasons ago was second-worst. The Condors began this season 1-10-1, yet they've been as good as any club the last three months and arrive with a six-game point streak (5-0-1). Their improvement, along with Utah's, has made the Western Conference a tougher go.
An obvious difference for the Condors in their resurrection has been rookie goaltender Laurent Brossoit, who began the season with the Aces before an NHL trade moved his contract from Calgary to Edmonton, and thus moved him to Bakersfield.
As an Ace, Brossoit twice shut out the Condors in a three-game sweep at Sullivan in early November. Since then, he hasn't wavered, and his seven shutouts overall lead the league and put him one bagel shy of the league single-season record of eight -- Alaska's Jean-Phillipe Lamoureux (2009) and South Carolina's Ryan Zapolski (2013) share that benchmark.
Brossoit, who shut out the Aces in California last month, also leads the league in goals-against average (1.89), is second in save percentage (.928) and is tied for third in wins (19-6-2).
Shuffling the deck
In the Aces' original schedule, their last 16 regular-season games went like this -- two at home, eight on the road, three at home, three on the road.
The schedule was revamped after the San Francisco Bulls folded in late January. Then the Aces' last 16 became six home games followed by 10 road games.
And in that 10-game road stretch is a 10-day break, an unusually long time between games, especially considering it's near the end of the season.
Suddenly, there are bodies aplenty on the ice at Aces practices. Defenseman Corey Syvret, winger Ross Ring-Jarvi and center Tim Coffman are all back practicing. There's also new winger Alex Belzile, who joined the club on the road last Saturday after being acquired from Gwinnett.
Murray said Syvret and Ring-Jarvi have been cleared to play, and Coffman's getting closer. Syvret has missed 38 games with a lower-body injury. Ring-Jarvi has missed 11 games with a lower-body injury and Coffman has missed 21 games with a broken foot.
Number changes: Center Tyler Mosienko is now wearing No. 21 and Belzile is wearing No. 10.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog 
Sullivan Arena: Friday and Saturday, 7:15 p.m.; Sunday, 3:05 p.m.
Radio: Live, AM-750 and FM 103.7 KFQD
By DOYLE WOODY