The Alaska Aces were one of the league’s most successful franchises, winning three Kelly Cup titles, and adding five Brabham Cup championships, including being the only team to go back-to-back-to-back-to-back. In addition, the Alaska Aces added eight division championships and four conference titles. Today we will talk about the history of the Alaska Aces.
The Aces were originally formed in 1989 in the Pacific Southwest Hockey League and then moved to the WCHL in 1995, and when the merge occurred into the ECHL in 2003, the Aces were sold, marking a new era in Alaska Aces History. People weren’t sure if the Aces would stay in Alaska, but after the new owners bought the franchise, they did stay and a dynasty was then born. The Aces eventually won their first Kelly Cup in 2006 after a season that a lot of Aces fans didn’t forget not losing back to back games all season.
Throughout the franchise of the Alaska Aces, they had many great players, including crowd favorites such as Wes Goldie, Gerald Coleman, Scott Gomez, Peter Sivak, and Nick Mazzolini, just to name a few.
Throughout the Aces franchise history, they have had three NHL affiliates; the Calgary Flames, the Minnesota Wild and the Vancouver Canucks. The Aces’ best season came in the same season as their first Kelly Cup Win, going 53-12-7, recording 113 points. The 2010-11 season was the season that started the legendary run of four straight Brabham Cup Championships spanning all the way to the 2013-2014 season.
In the Kelly Cup Finals, the Aces were up 1-0 in OT in game two against the Kalamazoo Wings when the Wings got caught with too many men, giving the Aces a power play at the 6:48 mark of the first OT. The Aces season average on the power-play was 20% at the time when Bryan Miller shot the puck into the goal from the Blue line to give them a 2-0 series lead in the Finals. The Aces then won their second Championship in game five, winning 5-3. Scott Howes of the Aces won the playoff MVP trophy. The Aces took home individual awards that year as well as Brent Thompson winning coach of the year, Goldie winning season MVP, Coleman winning goaltender of the year and, Brian Swanson taking home the Sportsmanship award.
Go forward to the 2012-2013 and 13-14 seasons. As a hockey fan living in Alaska, this was the time when I became very passionate about the best sport in the world, being able to attend the games.
In the 2012-13 season, the Aces clinched their 3rd of four straight Brabham Cups, clinching it earlier than normal, grabbing the title in the middle of February. In the second round of the playoffs, they were upset by the Stockton Thunder and got eliminated in six games. The 13-14 season will be a season no Aces fan will ever forget as it was the final playoff year that the Aces participated in. In the first round, the Aces swept the Las Vegas Wranglers, advancing and defeating the Idaho Steelheads in five games. The Aces had tons of fun in the Western Conference Finals, defeating the Bakersfield Condors in six games. In game four down 2-1 in the series, the Aces needed a spark and they got a momentum advantage immediately as Aces Captain Nick Mazzolini scored two goals in the first 2:51 and Kane Lafranchise scored at the 4:06 mark to make it 3-0 in the first five minutes. The Aces then went on to win game five by a score of 4-0 and game six 2-1 to advance to the Kelly Cup finals where they would face the Cincinnati Cyclones.
It was a hard fought series between both teams as, in game 1, Mazzolini scored the first goal of the game. The Cyclones would then respond by scoring three straight and forcing Coach Rob Murray to make a goaltender change, pulling Oliver Roy and putting Coleman in the net. I asked Mazzolini if he knew why the switch was made only down two and he told me, “yeah, Coach Murray was showing the bench that he wasn’t afraid to bench a player if he had to for a momentum shift.” Due to scheduling issues, game three was played at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, with the series tied at 1-1, it was a crucial game three. I asked Mazzolini about how the crowd at the Sully impacted everyone’s play and he told me “It’s an environment that everyone loved playing in from the cowbells in the sky or Bob Lester leading the chants, it made everyone happy to play in Alaska.” Those words came very true, as with under five minutes to play, both goaltenders Rob Madore and Coleman were playing very solid as nobody let pucks into the goal. That was until it was Jordan Morrison crashing the net and putting it past Madore to give the Aces the lead with 4:08 left. With 1:46 left, it was Tyler Mosienko slapping one past Madore to seal the win and send the Sully into craziness. As radio broadcaster Mike Benton said after the goal was scored “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN IT IS BEDLAM INSIDE THE SULLY, TYLER MOSIENKO #1 OF THE KELLY CUP PLAYOFFS ITS 2-0 ACES!”
The series would then shift to Cincinnati, where the Aces won the series in six games as Mazzolini scored the eventual winning goal. I asked him about that goal and he responded, “yeah, when you score with 22 seconds left in the period it’s a huge momentum boost heading into the locker room.” The Aces won the game 4-0 and were presented the Kelly Cup for the 3rd time.
On February 23, 2017, it was a very heart wrenching announcement for the Alaska Aces as they announced they were folding following the end of the 16-17 season.
Like I said previously in the article, when I became a fan of the Aces, I fell in love with the sport. And like every fan, there was energy in the building every night, with the sound of cowbells in the sky, Boomer(mascot) banging his drums, the goals, and Pa announcer Bob Lester leading chants. I asked other fans about the memories they had with the Aces, and some said Bobby Hill, who was an unofficial mascot. Fan Rick White was nicknamed “Helmet Man” as he wore a cap with a siren on top every game. Other fans said Boomers birthday game every year on December 31st. As a fan like me, I had so many memories of banging on the glass, ringing my cowbells with other fans, and even crying at the last salute ever for Aces Hockey.
However, in the summer of 2019, it was announced that the Aces would have not one but two alumni games later that year. Tickets to that event were sold out within hours as Aces fans and former players came together to give Alaska some more hockey. I spoke with Bob Lester about his 20 years as the voice of the Sullivan Arena and he told me that he had the best seat in the house being able to watch every game along with great players.