Monday, December 21, 2009

Wranglers set pace, defeat Ontario Reign

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009 | 11:31 p.m.

Just a day removed from Friday's loss against the Ontario Reign, where fists flew and words were exchanged, the Las Vegas Wranglers decided to get Saturday night's party at Orleans Arena started early.

So when the Reign started chirping during pregame warmups, the Wranglers chirped back.

When the Reign started pushing, the Wranglers pushed back.

But once the puck dropped at the Orleans Arena, it was the Wranglers who set the tone.

"We wanted to respond before the game started," Wranglers defenseman Chris Frank said.

Propelled by arguably their best period of hockey in weeks, the Wranglers defeated the Reign, 2-1, in the second tilt of a home-and-home series with Ontario.

"When we play determined and ready to compete, we can be a dangerous team," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "I think the guys were disappointed in last night's performance and it carried over."

For the third time in three games, Las Vegas held a two-goal lead in the final period, but this time, unlike the previous two, the team persevered for the victory.

Shay Stephenson's tic-tac-toe third-period goal proved to be the game-winner.

The left-winger's power-play goal at the 4:48 mark of the final period was set up by a pair of brilliant cross-ice passes, the final of which connected with Stephenson's stick into the lip of the goal.

"It was nice to find a power-play goal, which we should be getting more of," Stephenson said.

Ryan Weston, who had the puck at the top of the right circle, fed it through the slot to Miller, who occupied the left circle. As the pass came, Miller saw Stephenson camping out to the right of Ontario goaltender Curtis Darling.

Miller hit Stephenson, and Stephenson hit the game-winner.

"I think it was just a merry-Christmas gift from my line mates Weston and Miller," Stephenson said.

The Wranglers opened Saturday's contest dominating on offense and defense, forcing 18 first-period shots on Darling, the team's most in any one period this season.

Defensively, Las Vegas kept Ontario from recording a shot until 8:24 left in the first.

"I thought we dictated the pace and play and definitely out-chanced them," Mougenel said. "I was very happy with the way our guys responded."

Miller opened the scoring late in the second period when he shelved a breakaway past the glove of Darling for his ninth goal of the season.

The goal was set up by a Weston pass that hit Miller in stride.

"It was a textbook play," Miller said. "It was a controlled breakout, and I just used my speed to create separation and bury it."

Fisticuffs were once again on display when Las Vegas rookie Chris Frank and Ontario captain James McEwan squared off as play began in the second period.

"I turned him down a couple of times earlier and we were both ready to go at the moment," Frank said.

The skirmish ended with McEwan on the ground as the players on the Las Vegas bench slapped their sticks against the bench.

Ouzas stopped 22 of 23 shots, his only blemish on the day coming with just under five minutes to play. Ontario's Michael Pelech found the goalie's five-hole with a deflection.

Ouzas, a Hamilton, Ontario, native is now 3-0-1 against Ontario this season, with a 1.75 goals-against average.

"I had to prove to the boys that I could come back for them," Ouzas said. "And they stepped up as well. It was a great all-around effort, and we needed that going into the break."

Three stars: 1. Shay Stephenson (goal); 2. Adam Miller (goal, assist); 3. Michael Ouzas (22 saves)

Heavy hitter: Frank, who stood up to Reign captain McEwan and floored him with a flurry of rights in front of the 4,792 in attendance.

Roster report: Center Francis Lemieux was recalled Friday to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League. Lemieux had 10 points in 12 games with the Wranglers, including seven goals.

Next up: A weeklong break from action before hosting Ontario on Dec. 26

Final word: "It's positive, the win is," Mougenel said. "But it's still not where we want to be. We've been finding ways to lose as of late, but tonight we found a way to win."

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