Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wranglers lose in shootout to Ontario Reign

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009 | 1:56 a.m.

Ontario, Calif. — The player dropped his stick, the goalie raised his glove and the game was over.

Sixty-five minutes and change of hard-hitting, fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat hockey had just come to an end with the Ontario Reign winning, 3-2, and Las Vegas Wranglers defenseman Jason Krischuk couldn’t believe it.

“I messed up,” he said afterward. “I made a bad mistake.”

Moments earlier, Krischuk was the sixth man, called on to extend Friday night’s game against the Reign at Citizens Business Bank Arena.

After the two teams battled to a tie that neither overtime nor a regulation shootout could break, Ontario’s Shawn Germain found daylight above the left shoulder of Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas.

The Reign had a one-goal shootout lead, and out came Krischuk to face Ontario net minder Curtis Darling.

He retrieved the puck at center ice, steadily skated in from Darling’s right, neared the crease and put on the brakes.

He had the goalie right where he wanted him — out of the net — as Darling sprawled from left to right, inching further and further away from the net as Krischuk stopped.

The net was open, and then it wasn’t, as Darling’s right foot nestled the left post and beat Krischuk’s wrist shot.

“In my head, I saw the empty net and thought I could just slide it in, and he made a kick save to stop it,” he said. “I should have buckled down a little bit more and lifted it.”

Darling responded to the 6,285 screaming fans with a fist pump, while Krischuk was left to linger in the corner, dropping his stick in disbelief.

The loss was the second straight in which the Wranglers (9-14-3) led by two goals in the third period.

“We’re obviously not finding ways to win but finding ways to lose right now, and that’s a problem,” head coach Ryan Mougenel said.

“I had the wrong players on the ice,” he said. “I’ll take the fault for that. I put some of my guys with the most experience out there and they didn’t answer the bell.”

For the fifth consecutive game, the Wranglers opened the scoring, this night on Jeff Hazelwood’s first goal of the season at the 9:38 mark of the second period.

The goal was the only hint of offense in a rough and physical first two periods of play that saw both teams combine to go 0-9 on the power play while racking up 48 penalty minutes, including six fighting majors.

Late in the second period, Wranglers left-winger Mick Lawrence got tangled up with Ontario’s Jon Francisco. The two went at it and Francisco was left on the ice with a trail of blood.

“I hope that the guys understand that we haven’t had a fight in 15 games,” Mougenel said. “To me, when you battle night after night, I can’t even comprehend that.”

The fight ignited both benches, which were jawing at one another until the ensuing face-off.

Seconds after play resumed, Wranglers defenseman John Schwartz mixed things up with Mike Egener.

Those two fights — including one in the first period — put an exclamation point on the physicality of the game.

“It was a very physical game,” Las Vegas center Chris Nieszner said. “We’re trying to go out there and turn this around and that’s definitely going to be part of our way to do that.”

Early in the third period and on the power play, Ned Lukacevic deflected a point shot from Craig Switzer into the back of the net to extend the Wranglers lead to two.

But as they have done so often this season, the Reign responded by pelting Ouzas with shots.

“We’ve came back in a bunch of games this year and we’ve learned how to keep pushing forward,” Ontario head coach Karl Taylor said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

They missed wide left, wide right, hit posts and finally tallied a goal at the 8:01 mark. Francisco scored with assists from Egener and Andrew Martin.

While the offensive pressure continued, Ouzas remained up to the challenge before Ontario center Tim Kraus found Greg Hogeboom wide open in the slot for a one-timer that beat Ouzas blocker-side.

“Ouzas played great the whole game,” Mougenel said. “You couldn’t ask for more from him tonight.”

Hogeboom’s goal came with 3:14 remaining in the third period, and neither team mustered any more offense in regulation or overtime, sending the contest to a shootout.

Lukacevic gave the Wranglers an early lead in the shootout’s second round, but the lead was erased when Ontario’s Chad Starling scored in the fourth round.

Jon Landry added a goal on the Reign’s next try to take the lead, but defenseman Robbie Bina responded with a five-hole goal to keep Las Vegas alive.

Germain followed Bina’s tally with a goal of his own, and the three straight Reign goals sunk the Wranglers for their fourth loss in a row.

“We played well and it’s a point on the road, but we get another shot at them tomorrow night where we’ll be ready to answer the bell,” Mougenel said. “I don’t think they respect us and I hope the guys take it to heart.”

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