Friday, November 20, 2009

Wranglers brace for long road trip against familiar foe

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 | Midnight

It's been a very different week for the Las Vegas Wranglers.

This week, the team practiced at a different time, inside a different arena and with different players.

But the same opponent still looms this weekend in Utah.

Tonight, the Wranglers (6-8) will kick off a three-game road trip against the ever-familiar Utah Grizzlies (8-4), and will do so without the help of three of their top players.

On Monday, the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League recalled forwards Justin Bernhardt and Matt Watkins, while acquiring defenseman Robbie Bina through a loan with the Wranglers.

"At this level, we're dealing with it all the time," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "Now it's important that we fill those voids and it's the guys that have been here need to step up and they understand that. Those guys really deserved to get called up and now it's time for others to show they can dominate this level."

Mougenel said that in the wake of the trio getting called up, the team is going to have to lean on the shoulders of forwards Shay Stephenson, Josh Prudden and Ned Lukacevic.

"Offense isn't our nemesis right now though, our nemesis is playing hard and turning the puck over at the blue line is our Achilles heel. Once we get that under control, we're going to be alright," Mougenel said.

In all, the Wranglers lost 29 points from players in the call-ups, so there looks to be more pucks to go around.

"I think it's a good opportunity for the rest of the guys that may not get as much playing time," Lukacevic said. "It's a test for our squad and it's a good challenge for us this weekend."

While the roster changes may seem to have come at an inopportune time for the Wranglers –- traveling to Utah to face a team they are 1-5 against this year –- the Grizzlies also lost three players to the AHL, including the ECHL's leading scorer, Ryan Kinasewich.

One change that will affect the Wranglers this weekend is that Bina's departure will cause the team to rotate five defensemen instead of the usual six.

"It will be different but we worked hard in practice this week so we should be alright," defenseman Craig Switzer said. "There will be a little more ice for everybody but we should be ready for it."

While there was a little more ice for players during practice this week, there was a little less room. The team practiced an hour earlier than they regularly do at Las Vegas Ice Center due to the American Motorcyclist Association's EnduroCross race this Saturday at Orleans Arena.

"We're used to those kind of smaller rinks," Lukacevic said. "Wherever you go, you're just going to have to adjust. If the ice surface has two nets and glass, that's all you need."

Mougenel said the change of scenery might have been good for the young team.

"It went very good," he said. "It was one of the better practice rinks I've been in and the people have been nothing but great. It's kind of a smaller rink, which is similar to Utah, so it helped get the guys focused on the ice."

Off the ice, however, Mougenel encouraged the team to let loose and relax before the weekend.

"This week's practices were intense and guys battled hard every day," he said. "But we still know how important it is to have fun. I told them to get out, go play golf, enjoy the city and get to know your teammates. They have a great gig, so I just told them to enjoy it and relish it, but come to the rink every day to work."

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