Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Las Vegas Wranglers back in the win column

By Anthony Fenech

Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.

It took seven games, three road trips and one replacement goaltender, but an overtime deflection by Francis Lemieux gave the Wranglers a 4-3 victory over the Victoria Salmon Kings Tuesday night at the Orleans Arena.

“It feels awesome,” Lemieux said. “We just needed to find a way to score goals, and tonight we came back and got our offense going.”

With just more than two minutes remaining in overtime, as the Wranglers worked the final minute of a four-minute power-play, center Adam Miller wound up a slap shot from just outside the right circle.

Lemieux, who was camping just to the right of the Victoria net, nudged Miller’s shot just enough to evade Salmon Kings goalie David Shantz for the game-winner.

“I needed to find any way to get a stick on that puck,” Lemieux said. “We were just waiting for a good angle to shoot and I just waved my stick at it and towards the five-hole.”

The overtime victory was the first win for the team since Nov. 12, and up until the waning seconds of Tuesday’s night’s game, it looked as if the losing streak would reach eight.

With the recently acquired Billy Sauer on the bench for an extra attacker, Craig Switzer tallied Las Vegas’ game-tying goal with 13.5 seconds remaining on the clock. It was a slap shot from the point that found its way through traffic and into the net, forcing overtime.

Shortly into the overtime period, Miller drew a major high-sticking penalty on Victoria’s Gary Gladue, giving the Wranglers a man advantage for nearly the entire period, which culminated with Lemieux’s goal after a series of near misses.

“We’ll take the win,” head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “That’s called finding a way and being determined. I liked the character we showed. A lot of guys stepped up, and I think we’re turning the corner.”

Earning his first win for the Wranglers in the most crucial of times was Sauer, who was loaned by the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League.

“It was a little bit more pressure, but I didn’t look at it that way,” Sauer said. “It was my first game here and I hadn’t been playing a whole lot, so I just wanted to get on the ice.”

The former University of Michigan standout who stepped in for Michael Ouzas (bereavement leave), stopped 26 of 29 shots in the win.

“I was very impressed by a guy who just got acclimated to a new setting and his teammates,” Mougenel said, noting that he expects the team carry three goalies in the immediate future.

As they were accustomed to during the losing streak, the Wranglers fell behind early.

Trailing by two goals deep into the third period, left-winger Kyle Hagel scored a brilliant goal directly to the right of Shantz, seemingly putting a puck where no puck could go as his wrist shot snuck between the goalie and his post.

“I didn’t see anything,” Hagel said. “There wasn’t any room. I ...just kind of closed my eyes and fired it.”

Mougenel wasn’t surprised with Hagel’s goal.

“He’s been relentless,” Mougenel said. “He’s been working his tail off and it’s nice to see him get rewarded.”

It was the Wranglers sixth straight victory against Victoria and pushes the team’s record to 5-2-1 in one-goal games this season.

“There’s a lot of things I’m not happy about, and I think the guys in that room know it,” Mougenel said. “We can’t spot teams two or three goals and expect to come back, but our resiliency came into play today.”

Three Stars: 1. Francis Lemieux (2 goals); 2. Adam Miller (2 assists); 3. Craig Switzer (1 goal)

Heavy Hitter: Las Vegas right-winger Mick Lawrence, who was bowled into Salmon Kings goalie Shantz after taking an off-balance lunge at the puck. Shantz fell back into the goal, knocking it off the pegs and needed a breather from the trainer.

New Kids On The Block: Lemieux, who was called up on Nov. 9 from Grand Rapids and scored two goals, including the game-winner, and Sauer, called up Sunday from Lake Erie, who delivered the win.

Up Next: Victoria on Thursday and Friday nights at Orleans Arena.

Final Word: “We needed this win so bad,” Hagel said. “It’s good to see our hard work starting to pay off.”

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