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Alaska Aces win Kelly Cup with 4-0 victory over Cincinnati

  • Author: Doyle Woody
  • Updated: July 14, 2016
  • Published June 9, 2014

CINCINNATI -- Their passion leaked out once the scoreboard clock overhead drained to all zeroes, when they rushed their goaltender and mobbed him, when the Kelly Cup was theirs for the lifting, when the beers were busted out, and definitely when they repaired to their dressing room here at U.S. Bank Arena to crank the music, scream their delight and savor the celebration with friends and family.

But until the final horn signaled game's end and the Alaska Aces were ECHL champions for the third time in franchise history, they proved as cold-bloodedly lethal as snipers.

The Aces claimed their 4-0 title-clinching victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones to win the Cup on Monday night with the efficient attention to detail of a bookkeeper and the clinical detachment of a medical examiner.

"Textbook,'' said defenseman Kane Lafranchise.

With the possibility of a decisive Game 7 looming Wednesday night back home in Anchorage, the Aces were intent on rendering that alternative moot. They won the Finals in six games, snuffing the Cyclones on Monday after putting them in critical condition with Saturday night's 4-2 victory.

"We didn't think,'' said center Tyler Mosienko. "We went out and played our game. That's when it's hardest, right? When so much is on the line?

"We managed to find a way to shut off the emotions and just play the game.''

Behind Gerald Coleman's 23-save shutout, a big-game performance from captain Nick Mazzolini and a power play that rose from the dead, the Aces became just the third team in the league's 26 seasons to win three titles. They joined the South Carolina Stingrays and Hampton Roads Admirals.

The Aces have collected their hat trick of titles in the last nine seasons -- they won in 2006 and 2011. Like the previous two titles, this one came on the road, and they are the only franchise to lift the Cup three times in another team's rink.

They are also the only franchise to win consecutive Brabham Cups as regular-season champions -- the Aces have won the last four Brabhams.

Their latest hoisting of hardware came under the direction of third-year coach Rob Murray, who joins former Aces bench bosses Brent Thompson (2011) and Davis Payne (2006) as architects of achievement.

Coleman and Lafranchise are the only remaining members of the 2011 club, which Coleman back-stopped to glory. Lafranchise was a rookie on that team but didn't play in the playoffs. Now, he has become so good he spent most of the season in the American Hockey League, and he assisted on Mazzolini's power-play strike to open the scoring in the final minute of Monday's first period.

Coleman's shutout was his second of the Finals -- he fed the Cyclones a 2-0 bagel in Game 3 in Anchorage -- and the sixth overall of his Kelly Cup playoff career, leaving him just one short of Scott Stirling's league record.

Through Alaska's first three series, Coleman, the self-described "29-year-old goalie with two bad hips,'' split time with Olivier Roy. But when Roy suffered a groin injury in a Game 1 Finals win, the burden fell solely to Coleman.

"Once (Roy) went down, he knew the load was on him, and he responded,'' Mazzolini said.

Mazzolini, who was beaten out for the Most Valuable Player award by Cincinnati goaltender Rob Madore, had a goal and an assist and was the leading scorer in the playoffs with 11-20--31 totals in 21 games. His 31 points are the fifth-most in league history.

At nearly every turn through four playoffs rounds with best-of-7 series, Mazzolini delivered when his team needed him most. So it was again Monday, when he approached Madore from the goalie's left, looked toward teammates Brendan Connolly and Peter Sivak as if to pass and rifled a shot over Madore's left shoulder for a 1-0 lead.

Mazzolini celebrated by racing to the blue line, sliding on one knee and sweeping his gloved right hand along the ice -- so, he was somewhat pumped.

"If you can't get up for a game like this, you better check your heartbeat,'' he said.

The power-play goal snapped Alaska's four-game drought with the man advantage and halted a string of 13 consecutive failures in that span. It also capped a first period in which the Aces, who outshot the opponent in all 21 playoff games, outfired the Cyclones 21-6.

Connolly set up defenseman Drew MacKenzie's back-door, power-play strike for a 2-0 lead in the second period and assisted on rookie Turner Elson's empty-net goal late in the game. Alex Belzile furnished Alaska's third goal, in the third period, after Brett Findlay captured another in a string of Cincinnati turnovers.

Not that the Cyclones went down easily in the series.

"They came out and showed why they're Eastern Conference champions,'' Coleman said.

Still, the Aces, the best team in the regular season, reaffirmed their status in the postseason, going 16-5, including 9-2 on the road.

When Lafranchise rejoined the club from the AHL midway through the second round against the Idaho Steelheads, a championship seemed the team's destiny, he said. He said the Aces were business-like before Game 6 -- focused and ready to roll.

"It felt like we were meant to win it,'' he said. "You felt it in the room, the confidence, the belief -- just another game.''

And one in which the Aces proved sharp in every aspect.

"That was as good as we played in Bakersfield,'' Murray said, referencing a pivotal victory in the Western Conference Finals. "Our penalty kill was great and we got two power-play goals. You don't have to look much farther than that.''

On the ice, after he was presented with the Kelly Cup by the man for whom it is named -- ECHL commissioner emeritus Patrick Kelly -- Mazzolini, 29, lifted the trophy, took a twirl on the ice and passed it to heavily bearded veteran defenseman Sean Curry, 32, who has played 12 seasons of pro hockey without a title.

"I just looked for the biggest beard, and found him,'' Mazzolini said with a laugh.

Curry beamed in the dressing room.

"I'm still in shock,'' he said. "It's unreal, an unreal feeling. What a group of guys. I just want to enjoy it for a month, or at least a couple weeks.''

After sharing a hug, and a couple of tears, with his father, Paul, in the hallway adjoining the dressing room, Mazzolini played dressing-room host at a doorway as friends, family members and Aces fans joined the party.

"Get in here! C'mon!'' Mazzolini roared.

Down the hallway at the edge of the visiting team's bench, center Jordan Morrison spoke on a cell phone.

"I don't think mum has a beer yet, but we'll get her one,'' Morrison said.

For Peter Sivak, the Slovakian sniper who missed much of the playoffs with a broken collarbone before returning, the championship was his first since he won one 10 years ago in his homeland.

"Everyone plays hockey for this moment,'' Sivak said.

For Mosienko, a 30-year-old veteran center, Monday night furnished redemption. On this same ice in 2008, when he played for the Las Vegas Wranglers, the Cyclones won Game 6 to seize the Cup. That was the closest he had come to a pro championship.

As Mosienko walked out of U.S. Bank Arena that night, he spotted Cyclones players down the hallway savoring celebratory cigars. He said he thought of that moment before Monday's game, and how badly he wanted to be the one with a cigar.

"I think I might have one at some point,'' he said, grinning. "I didn't want to get one today and jinx myself, but I'd like to have one.''

After the dressing-room celebration, the Aces briefly repaired to a local restaurant as the sleeper bus that would transport them to Chicago overnight for flights home idled outside the arena.

Perched on a seat up front in the bus was a silver chalice.

The Kelly Cup belongs to the Alaska Aces again.

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Aces 1 1 2 -- 4

Cincinnati 0 0 0 -- 0

First Period -- 1, Aces, Mazzolini 11 (Lafranchise), 19:37 (pp). Penalties -- Blazek, Cincinnati (cross-checking), 10:33; Ramage, Aces (interference), 12:46; Shalla, Cincinnati (cross-checking), 13:24; Blazek, Cincinnati (delay of game-puck over glass), 18:07; Krogh, Cincinnati (cross-checking), 20:00; Ramage, Aces (slashing), 20:00.

Second Period -- 2, Aces, MacKenzie 5 (Connolly, Lafranchise), 17:09 (pp). Penalties -- Lafranchise, Aces (hooking), 4:32; Budish, Cincinnati (high-sticking), 16:52; McKelvie, Aces (tripping), 18:12.

Third Period -- 3, Aces, Belzile 3 (Findlay), 15:09; 4, Aces, Elson 7 (Connolly), 16:59 (en). Penalties -- None.

Shots on goal -- Aces 21-13-11--45. Cincinnati 6-11-6--23.

Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 2 of 4. Cincinnati 0 of 3.

Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 10-4 (23 shots-23 saves). Cincinnati, Madore, 14-10 (44-41).

A -- 3,238 (6,955). T -- 2:17.

Referees -- Frederic Leblanc, Nic Leduc. Linesmen -- Shaun Morgan, Ryan Daisy.