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Brian Compton | correspondent
Oct 27, 2006, 12:00 PM EDT

The Alaska Aces celebrate their 2005-06 ECHL title triumph with the Kelly Cup.

Alaska's Sullivan Arena is unquestionably the loudest arena in the ECHL.

Last Friday night was not any different, as the people of Anchorage witnessed what they had been waiting months for - they finally got to see the 2005-06 Kelly Cup championship banner raised to the rafters of the building they pack on a consistent basis.

It was a special moment for Alaska Aces head coach Davis Payne and his players - who recorded a league-best 113 points during the regular season before disposing of Utah, Las Vegas, Fresno and Gwinnett in the playoffs en route to the championship. A standing-room-only crowd of 6.451 looked on as the banner was lifted to the top of Sullivan Arena.

Alaska had come oh-so-close to winning the ECHL title the year before, but fell short after it dropped Game 7 of the National Conference Finals on its home ice to the Trenton Titans. Last year, the Aces made sure nothing like that would happen again, as they defeated Fresno in the same, exact situation by a 3-2 score in overtime.

"We tried to make it as acknowledgeable as possible," Payne said. "We just tried to recapture what we had accomplished as a group last year. It's really your last chance to stand tall before the new season begins. It was a special season with everything we accomplished, starting with the regular season."

The Aces are off to the start they were hoping for this season as they reeled off back-to-back victories at Sullivan Arena over the new-look Victoria Salmon Kings. In last Saturday night's 4-2 win, the Aces out-shot Victoria by a 9-2 margin in the third period, negating any chance of a letdown following Friday night's season-opening 5-3 victory.

As for whether or not the Aces will repeat as champions, it's much too early in the season to tell. But after starting the season with back-to-back wins, you can bet fans in Anchorage are excited that their team will be playing well into the spring.

"It's impossible to say until we've seen everybody play," Payne said of a possible repeat. "We've got a lot of work to do. There are going to be some very tough teams we've got to up against in some tough buildings."

Payne has achieved nothing but success since taking over the coaching reins in Alaska. Since arriving from a solid three-year run with the Pee Dee Pride (now a member of the Southern Professional Hockey League), Payne entered the season with a three-year record of 136-59-21 as head coach of the Aces. Alaska has reached the postseason every year since Payne took over. He repaid the city of Anchorage last season with a Kelly Cup championship.

"As far as coaching, it's certainly been my crowning achievement," Payne said of capturing the ECHL title. "It's certainly been the highlight of my career, and hopefully there will be more special moments to come."

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