Saturday, January 30, 2010

Las Vegas Wranglers drop road game to Utah Grizzlies, 3-1

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010 | 11:15 p.m.

With just two minutes left to play in Saturday night's game against the Utah Grizzlies, the Las Vegas Wranglers quest for two straight road wins ended.

Lance Galbraith's goal with 2:01 remaining on the clock sank the Wranglers, 3-1, in front of 7,043 at the E-Center in West Valley City, Utah.

The game-winning Grizzlies goal came when Galbraith corralled a rebound and scored, assisted by center Tony Romano and defenseman Matt Sorteberg.

"We just didn't come through tonight," captain Chris Neiszner said. "Our goaltender played exceptional and we couldn't pull one out."

Dylan Hunter scored an empty-net goal with 48 seconds remaining to ice the game, assisted by forwards Ryan Kinasewich and A.J. Perry.

The lone Las Vegas goal was off the stick of John Schwarz, a second-period goal assisted by Mick Lawrence that knotted the score at 1-1.

Schwarz' goal came just 1:09 after Matt Clarke opened the game's scoring with an unassisted goal at the 14:02 mark of the second period.

"We had chances and just didn't do anything with them," Neiszner said.

In his first action since Jan. 13, Wranglers goaltender Joel Gistedt stopped 33 of 35 Utah shots.

"He played great. The offense just couldn't pick him up," Neiszner said.

Las Vegas was 0-3 on the power play and continues to be mired in a 2-48 slump with the man-advantage.

"I wish I could explain it," Neiszner said. "We just need to keep working hard, crashing the net and making things happen and try to break through with a goal one of these games."

In their past ten games, the Wranglers have been outscored by nine goals overall and eight goals in the third period.

The Wranglers have been outshot in their past five games, recording 32 shots in Saturday night's game.

Beau Erickson stopped 31 of those 32 Wranglers shots.

The Wranglers wrap up a ten-game road trip Monday against Utah.

"Every game is huge now," Neiszner said. "With the standings as close as they are, every game is a playoff game."

Las Vegas sits in last place in the ECHL Pacific Division with 40 points. With the victory, Utah pulls two points ahead of the Wranglers.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wranglers score 8 goals in victory over Utah

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Jan. 29, 2010 | 10:51 p.m.

The Las Vegas Wranglers weren't going to be outscored Friday night.

Propelled by four straight goals that opened the game, the Wranglers quieted the Utah Grizzlies' biggest crowd of the season with an 8-5 victory at the E-Center in West Valley Center, Utah.

"We were very prepared," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "I think the guys are starting to understand how they have to play to have success."

Three Wranglers each scored a pair of goals in the victory, the team's first win in Utah in five tries this season.

Jeff Hazelwood opened the scoring with his sixth goal of the season just 2:34 into the game. The goal was assisted by captain Chris Neiszner, who recorded three assists on the night.

Hazelwood scored again in the second period to give the Wranglers (18-20-3-1, 40 points) a 5-1 lead.

"Jeff was arguably the best player on the ice for us tonight," Mougenel said. "It was nice to see him get rewarded."

Forwards Mick Lawrence and Andrew Orpik each added two goals for the Wranglers.

After the explosive first period, Las Vegas let Utah back in the game by allowing three goals in the middle frame.

"I thought they dictated the play in the second period," Mougenel said. "We weren't very sharp."

Consecutive goals by Ryan Kinasewich, Peter Aston and Tim Crowder closed the Grizzlies deficit to one goal late in the second period, but Orpik responded with less than a minute left in the period to give goaltender Michael Ouzas some breathing room.

"It was a good cushion, but we let up a bit and let them back into the game," Ouzas said.

Ouzas stopped 50 of 55 Utah shots, the most the Wranglers have given up this year.

"My goal is to give the team a chance to win, so I just had to keep my focus out there," he said.

The 55 shots also were the most totaled by Utah this season. Las Vegas had 37 shots in the game.

"They had us on our heels, scored some big goals and had us running around," Mougenel said. "But, nonetheless, it's a win and two points, so I'll take it."

Overall, 10 Wranglers skaters recorded points in the win, the most this season.

"It was nice to see the scoring spread out," Mougenel said.

Adam Miller and Josh Prudden each scored goals, and Prudden added two assists.

The victory came in front of 10,020 fans at the E-Center, the highest attendance this season for the Grizzlies.

Las Vegas takes on Utah twice more, Saturday and Monday, before heading home to face the Idaho Steelheads on Thursday.

"It's the same old cliché," Ouzas said, "But we need a playoff spot, and every win down the stretch counts."

Foothill senior leaving his mark on basketball program

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Jan. 29, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.

Evan Roquemore had two goals for his senior season as a Foothill Falcon — lead his team back to Nevada's 4A boys basketball final four and see his college recruiting pick up.

With a 14-5 record, Foothill is in first place and undefeated in Southeast Division play, and things are shaping up nicely for a deep run in the playoffs.

That kind of team success — along with some stellar personal performances — Roquemore is receiving more attention from the next level.

"Everything's gone according to plans so far," he said. "I've just been concentrating on working hard and doing things right."

The 6-foot-3 Roquemore is averaging more than 23 points a game and has had a couple of breakout performances to put him on the map.

In Foothill's season opener against Eldorado, he dropped a career-high 44 points.

And in his showdown with nationally ranked Findlay Prep and super-prospect Cory Joseph, he scored 31 points

"It's cool when people recognize your game," Roquemore said. "It makes you play harder to show everyone what you can do."

That even goes for a dunk contest, which is exactly where Roquemore found himself Dec. 13 at the Orleans Arena.

In 30 seconds, he showed off a dunking repertoire that included a 360-degree slam, a two-handed windmill and a reverse dunk.

"It was a lot of fun," Roquemore said. "And for the first one I've ever been in, I think I did all right."

He finished second.

Foothill coach Kevin Soares said that the Roquemore everyone is seeing as a senior is a product of the hard work put in as an underclassman.

"The progression that he's made since he was a freshman is amazing," Soares said. "There aren't too many guys that have come through here like him."

"In the offseason, he shows up to every workout. On top of that, he would go shoot up to 500 shots a day and, knowing him, after that he'd probably go up to the rec center and play ball."

He sets an example for other players, Soares said.

"Kids that are coming up in our program have seen what he's done," Soares said. "They know it just doesn't come natural — becoming a good all-around player."

Roquemore started during the Falcons 2008 run to the state semifinals where they were upended by Reno.

He remembers the loss and doesn't want his career to end with one.

"I know we have a good shot this year," he said. "Since it's my last, I don't want to let it go by."

With his last year comes options for what his next year will bring.

He has received scholarship offers from Air Force and Eastern Washington but has yet to make a commitment.

"He'll play at the next level," Soares said. "He's starting to get more and more interest from the Division-I schools, and I think he'll like his choices."

But Roquemore knows the best way to get on the scouts' radar is by winning, and, namely, winning against good competition.

"I love the competition we've played," he said. "I like playing against people that are better than me, because it makes me work harder. None of the stats matter if we don't win, though."

The Falcons take on Green Valley tonight.

"I expect him to continue to be the leader I've seen from him," Soares said. "He's doing the right things, trying to get everybody involved and when we need him to take over, he's doing a pretty good job of that, too."

Another Wranglers player leaves team for Norway

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Jan. 29, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.

Las Vegas Wranglers defenseman Shay Stephenson has chosen to continue his hockey career in Norway.

The decision to leave Las Vegas comes halfway through Stephenson's first year with the Wranglers and just two weeks after former teammate Robbie Bina made the same jump, from the ECHL to Norway.

"At this point in time, I feel like it's a good fit for me," Stephenson said. "I thought about it long and hard for a few days, but this fell into my lap and it seems like a good situation."

Stephenson said he received a phone call from a former teammate Sunday morning, notifying him that their club in Oslo, Norway, was looking for a forward.

"I'm not getting any younger so when there's a good opportunity knocking, you have to take it," he said

The 26-year-old forward said his pay in Norway would triple what he would bring in with the Wranglers for the rest of the season.

Stephenson tallied 19 points in 36 games this season with the Wranglers.

This will be his second stint overseas. He played the 2007-08 season in Milan, Italy.

"We had different philosophies," Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. "Sometimes it just works that way. It was just a matter of deciding to part ways. I wish him all the best."

Stephenson is excited for the opportunity in Europe, where he will join team that is in first place. He also will miss his teammates in Las Vegas.

"I enjoyed playing here, I really did," he said. "It's a wonderful place to play with great fans.

"And this is one of the best groups of guys I've had a chance to play with. I'll be talking to the boys all year, so I'll be up to date."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wranglers left-winger Shay Stephenson off team

By Anthony Fenech (contact)

Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010 | 10:37 p.m.

Las Vegas Wranglers left-winger Shay Stephenson has left the team, head coach Ryan Mougenel said Tuesday night.

“We had different philosophies,” Mougenel said. “Sometimes it just works that way.”

Stephenson did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Stephenson recorded 19 points in 36 games for the Wranglers this season.

“It was just a matter of deciding to part ways,” Mougenel said. “I wish him all the best.”

The 26-year-old from Outlook, Saskatchewan, played two games with the Los Angeles Kings during the 2006-07 season.

He was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 7th round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Stephenson’s departure marks the second player lost in two weeks for Las Vegas. Robbie Bina left the team Jan. 12 to play with a team in Norway.

Former Las Vegas resident still smiling after winning gold medal

By Anthony Fenech

Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.

Jason Zucker is smiling. Still.

A week past his 18th birthday and just more than two weeks since being decorated with gold in Canada, the Team USA Under-20 National Team forward is having trouble finding reasons not to grin.

"I was smiling then and honestly, I don't think I've stopped," Zucker said. "It's one of the best feelings in the world."

That feeling comes from being part of the best junior hockey team in the world. Team USA claimed that title with a 6-5 overtime win against Canada on Jan. 5 in the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation's World Junior Championship.

Zucker, a transplanted Las Vegan, watched John Carlson's tournament-winning goal from the far end of the bench and was the first to intercept Carlson before the championship celebration.

"I immediately hopped into the ice, threw my gloves up and went and tackled him," he said. "It was just crazy."

Zucker grew up in Las Vegas but traveled to California to play hockey for the Los Angeles Hockey Club when he was 10.

He would hop on a plane Friday, stay in California until Tuesday and return home for two days each week.

"We always trusted him," said Scott Zucker, Jason's dad. "The light bulb came on early, and he's always had a sense of responsibility about him."

After playing there for two years, he returned Southern Nevada to play for a local team for two years before attending Bonanza High for his freshman year.

These days, he's closing in on his high school diploma in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he trains with Team USA.

"It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," Jason Zucker said of moving. "Of course I still miss my family at home, but I've learned to be independent and responsible."

Zucker scored two goals in the tournament, both coming in a 12-1 blowout of Latvia on Dec. 29, and did so in front of his family, who traveled north of the border to watch him play.

"Words can't even describe the feeling inside when I saw him with the jersey," Scott Zucker said. "It felt like the national anthem lasted forever."

Jason Zucker is one of the youngest players on the under-20 team.

"Every part of your game improves when you're playing against better guys that are older and stronger than you are," he said. "It makes you dig down deep inside and really let everything out, and you grow as a player."

Zucker totaled 11 shots in the tournament and called the finals showdown with Canada, at the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the most exciting game he's played in.

After Team USA claimed a two-goal lead early in the third period, Canada stormed back late with Saskatchewan's own Jordan Eberle netting goals with less than three minutes remaining in the game.

"The fans were going nuts," Zucker said. "There were 15,000 fans and all they wanted was for Canada to win. It was so insane but our team showed great character and didn't let it bother us."

Scott Zucker echoed his son's thoughts about the Canadian crowd, saying, "They were extremely hostile. As parents, we could work through it but to see the kids handle it so well and tune it out, it was nice."

Heading into overtime, Canada was eyeing its sixth-straight world junior championship, but Team USA and goaltender Jack Campbell wouldn't let that happen.

Four minutes into the extra frame, Campbell made a sprawling save on a Canadian 3-on-2, which turned into a USA 3-on-1 the other way.

Carlson saw daylight on the short side of Canada goalie Jake Allen and ended the game 4:31 into overtime.

"It was a once in a lifetime thing being on that ice," Zucker said. "When we got our gold medals, it was such an accomplished feeling."

Zucker's normal day consists of waking up around 7:30 a.m. for class at Ann Arbor Pioneer High. Players live in Ann Arbor with hockey families and attend Pioneer.

From class, he goes directly to the rink to practice and lift weights and then heads home for dinner, homework and bed.

"Every day is busy," he said. "But I like it like that."

Through all of the practices, classes and games, however, one thing remains in the back of Zucker's mind: June's NHL Entry Draft.

While he said some ratings have him going in the first two rounds, they are rankings and not direct feedback from NHL teams.

"You always think about it because it's such a big thing in your career," Zucker said. "But the draft is a by-product of how hard you work. If you work hard and have a good year, then you'll have a good draft."

And chances are, come June, Jason Zucker still will be smiling.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wranglers give up 8 goals in loss to Idaho

By Anthony Fenech

Sunday, Jan. 2, 2010 | 11:36 p.m.

After overcoming an early deficit, the Las Vegas Wranglers couldn't hold up defensively Sunday night and lost their second straight game to the Idaho Steelheads.

The team allowed eight goals on 45 shots in an 8-5 loss in front of 3,026 fans at Qwest Arena in Boise, Idaho.

Both Tyler Spurgeon and Evan Barlow recorded hat tricks in the victory, as the two scored successive goals in each period.

The scoring opened 2:38 into the game with a short-handed goal from Michael Olson — the first of two short-handed Steelheads goals in the game.

Five minutes later, Barlow, the Idaho left-winger, scored his 16th goal of the year to give the Steelheads an early two-goal lead.

The Wranglers then responded with three consecutive goals from Jeff Hazelwood, Alex Bourret and Matt Kang in the final 10 minutes of the first period and took a lead into intermission.

After Las Vegas's goals, Steelheads goaltender Ronald Bachman was relieved of his duties in favor of Rejean Beauchemin.

The teams then traded a pair of goals each, with Spurgeon and Barlow striking again for the Steelheads to take a one-goal lead before Shay Stephenson and Adam Miller answered to reclaim the lead.

With 2:15 on the clock in the second period, Olson pushed a goal past Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas to tie the game.

Idaho opened the third period with another quick goal, scoring in the first three minutes of the period.

Mark McCutcheon's short-handed goal just 2:08 into the period put the Steelheads ahead for good. They scored three times on eight shots in the third period.

The Wranglers (17-20-3-1) now have failed to record double-digit shots in a period in two games. They went 0-for-4 on the power play.

Spurgeon scored at the 6:59 mark of the third period and Barlow scored on an empty net to ice the game.

The eight goals were the most allowed by Ouzas this season.

Las Vegas returns to action Friday when it faces the Utah Grizzlies for three games at the end of a 10-game road trip.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bourret ejected as Wranglers lose, 4-1, to Idaho Steelheads

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010 | 11:29 p.m.

The Las Vegas Wranglers' road woes continued Saturday night in Boise, Idaho, with a 4-1 loss to the Steelheads.

"We battled to the end, but we weren't as good as we were supposed to be tonight," Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said.

The loss comes on the heels of Friday night's victory, which was the team's first on the road in five games.

Las Vegas has not won back-to-back road games since the first trip of the season when they beat the Ontario Reign on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1.

Tyler Spurgeon's goal on an Idaho two-man advantage just 19 seconds into the third period gave the Steelheads a two-goal lead that proved too much to overcome for the Wranglers.

"That goal was a backbreaker," Mougenel said. "Our guys did a great job of killing the penalty, but the puck found a way into the net and that hurt."

Spurgeon was playing in only his second game with the Steelheads after playing in 20 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL.

Shay Stephenson tallied his fifth goal of the season 32 seconds later, cutting the lead in half, but two late Steelheads goals iced the victory.

"We played hard but we didn't play good enough early or late to get the win," Wranglers captain Chris Neiszner said. "That caught up to us."

For the eighth consecutive game, the Wranglers have allowed 30 or more shots. Idaho outshot Las Vegas 38-17.

"A lot of those shots are from the outside and that's perfect," Mougenel said. "We're trying to not give them too many grade-A shots, and we let them have those shots tonight."

"They're an offensive team, and they will shoot the lights out if you let them," he said.

Left-winger Mark Derlago scored two goals on the night for Idaho, bringing his total to 14 on the season. He also assisted on Spurgeon's power-play goal in the third period.

Weston Tardy recorded two assists for Idaho.

Friday night's hero for the Wranglers, forward Alex Bourret, was ejected from the game with 35 seconds remaining in the first period after a skirmish with Idaho's Riley Weselowski.

Mougenel said Bourett removed his elbow pad while tangled up during the fight, which is a violation of league rules.

"I wasn't happy about that trade-off," Mougenel said. "We gave up a guy that scored five points the night before for a guy that played one shift."

Las Vegas didn't score in five tries on the power play and is still mired in a 2-for-39 slump with the man-advantage, scoring that way only twice in the past seven games.

"We just have to be a better team," Mougenel said.

The Wranglers (17-19-3-1) fell to 4-15 on the road with the loss. Their 38 points remain tied for second in the ECHL Pacific Division.

"It's a matter of playing 60 minutes consistently on the road," Neiszner said. "We need to work on that first."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Wranglers break losing streak with win against Idaho

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Jan. 22, 2010 | 11:14 p.m.

The Las Vegas Wranglers were ready to break their four-game losing streak Friday, and they didn't waste any time.

In their first period of action since a five-day all-star break, the Wranglers scored four goals, jumping out to an early lead over the Idaho Steelheads on the road.

The early lead didn't hold, but the Wranglers kept battling and held on for a 6-5 win, the team's first in five games.

"Simplicity works best," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "We got four quick goals and played a simple, detailed game from there."

Alex Bourret, in his third game with the team, scored a hat trick as he joined Adam Miller and Ned Lukacevic on the team's top scoring line.

"I felt real good out there today," Bourret said. "We played really good tonight, and our line worked very hard."

Bourret followed Shay Stephenson's game-opening goal with back-to-back first-period tallies and completed the hat trick with 7:23 in the third period.

"He's coming in here to fill a serious role for us," Mougenel said. "He's very talented and has great instincts on the ice."

The 23-year-old right-winger came to Las Vegas from Brno Kometa in the Czech Republic. He was the Atlanta Thrashers' first-round pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, selected with the 16th pick that summer.

Bourret added two assists to his hat trick, helping on Miller's 11th goal of the season in the first period and on Lukacevic's 16th of the season in the third period.

"They're two of the best players on our team," Bourret said. "We worked well together, and it was good to battle to a win on the road."

After the four-goal flurry in the first period, Las Vegas let Idaho back into the game by allowing three unanswered goals, including two consecutive on the power play in the second period.

"We went into a lull in the second period," Mougenel said. "But we found our legs in the third and got the two points."

Bourret's third goal of the game gave the Wranglers a 6-3 lead with just over seven minutes to play, but the Steelheads responded less than a minute later on Matt McKnight's second goal of the game.

The Steelheads would score just 18 seconds later to pull within a goal, but Las Vegas goaltender Michael Ouzas blanked the home team from there, turning in his most workmanlike performance of the season.

The 48 Idaho shots were the most Ouzas faced all season. "He made big saves when we needed him to make those saves," Mougenel said.

The victory is Las Vegas' first on the road since Jan. 6 and came despite posting their second-lowest shots total of the season.

"We played good on both sides of the puck tonight," Mougenel said. "We were past due turning in a performance like this."

Three stars: 1. Idaho's Matt McKnight (two goals); 2. Alex Bourret (three goals, two assists); 3. Idaho's Mark McCutcheon (four assists).

Bernhardt's back: Wranglers center Justin Bernhardt was active for his first game since being injured Jan. 12.

What was originally thought to be a serious knee injury was "nothing significant," Mougenel said.

Bernhardt assisted on Stephenson's first-period goal.

Orpik's out: Forward Andrew Orpik was placed on the seven-day injured reserve Friday.

Final word: "He scored big goals when we needed him to score them," Mougenel said of Bourret.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wranglers' Miller scores four points in all-star game

By Anthony Fenech

Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.

ONTARIO, Calif. — Adam Miller was here.

He stood on the blue line at Citizens Business Bank Arena, his head resting on his gloves as the butt-end of a hockey stick propped up his 6-foot, 179-pound frame.

He wasn’t supposed to be here, and just last week, he wasn’t going to be.

After a couple of player introductions, the spotlight crept closer to Miller.

“From the Las Vegas Wranglers,” Ontario Reign public address announcer Jeff Pope said. “Adam Mill-ler!”

Glowing in the spotlight, he cracked a smile and nodded as he prepared to play in the 2010 ECHL All-Star Game.

So what if he was a late addition to the team, replacing an Ontario Reign player who is playing in the American Hockey League?

And so what if Tuesday night’s winner of the fastest-skater competition wasn’t even featured in the official all-star game program?

He was here.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” Miller said.

Wednesday night, he was on the ice, playing with the best the ECHL has to offer. In turn, Miller showed the league what he has to offer.

“Just to play with all those guys, to get to know them and compete with them is something I’ll never forget,” he said.

The Wranglers center scored two goals and recorded two assists as the American Conference defeated the National Conference in a shoot-out, 10-9, at the 18th Annual ECHL All-Star Game in Ontario.

“Unfortunately, we lost. But this was all for the fans,” Miller said. “But when the game was close in the end, the intensity went up and both teams wanted to win this one.”

Elmira Jackals forward Justin Donati beat Idaho Steelheads goalie Ronald Bachman in the fourth round of the shoot-out, giving the American Conference the victory.

The win marks the second straight by the American Conference and two out of the last three, a string that began by facing off against former Wranglers head coach Glen Gulutzan in 2007.

“It was a fun game,” Ontario Reign captain David Walker said. “We all came out here to have fun, put on a show for the fans and represent our team, our organization and the city of Ontario.”

It was a record-setting game. The overtime and shoot-out contest was the league’s first in an all-star game, and the 19 goals scored ranked the most ever.

Miller’s four points were one shy of former Wrangler Peter Ferraro, who totaled five two years ago in Stockton.

“I think Adam Miller is a top player in our league,” Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “This is a testament to his hard work.”

Miller’s four-point game comes just a night after winning the fastest skater competition.

“The one thing about all-star games, there’s a lot of hockey brass there. I’m happy for him,” Mougenel said.

Trophy time: Idaho Steelheads forward Evan Barlow took home the Reebok Most Valuable Player Award. Barlow scored two goals and added two assists for the National squad.

Clutch kid: After spending the first two periods on the bench, 20-year-old Cincinnati Cyclones goalie Jeremy Smith came on for the third to lead the American Conference to the victory.

Smith stopped three of four shots in the shoot-out for the victory.

“This is part of my job — coming in for a pinch and giving the team a boost, and I’m glad we won,” Smith said.

Sweet save: In a game of goals, Bakersfield Condors goaltender Timo Pielmeier made sure the goalies got some love.

With a few minutes remaining in the second period, Pielmeier stole from Donati an all-star goal that could be best summed up by Donati’s jaw-dropping stare afterward.

As play moved into the National zone, a deflection put the puck on Donati’s stick right at the doorstep of the goal line. But when he went to flick the puck into the net, Pielmeier made a backhanded glove save that left the crowd buzzing for minutes.

Up next: ECHL play resumes on Friday with a slate of games that includes the Wranglers traveling to Idaho to take on the Steelheads.

Final word: “I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Miller said of the two-day experience.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wranglers' Adam Miller proves his speed in hockey skills competition

Father on hand to watch son take win in ECHL All-Star Skills Competition

By Anthony Fenech

Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.

ONTARIO, Calif. — Steve Miller remembers the first time his son Adam put on ice skates.

He helped tie the laces.

He remembers the early Sunday morning hockey practices, the pond games and watching him play four years at Ferris State.

He definitely will remember Tuesday night.

Adam Miller, now the Las Vegas Wranglers' center, won the Reebok fastest skater competition at the 2010 ECHL All-Star Skills Competition with a time of 14.29 seconds.

"It was awesome," Adam said. "And to have my dad here with me made it that much better."

Miller, the fifth of six skaters, picked up steam toward the second half of his run and accelerated to the finish line. Toledo Walleye forward Maxime Tanguay appeared as if he might challenge Miller's time but slipped up.

"Just being named to the All-Star team was an honor," Adam said. "This is the cherry on top."

Watching from Section 115 as his son skated, Steve likely was the most nervous of the 4,368 in attendance at Citizens Business Bank Arena.

"It was hard watching, I'll tell you that," he said. "It just means the world to our family, and we're so proud of him.

"To get to this point in his career is amazing, and it's a testament to his hard work. I'm so gratified."

Miller finished ahead of Tanguay and the Idaho Steelheads' John Swanson.

He didn't stop there, later scoring in the breakaway competition as the National Conference defeated the American Conference 11-10.

The Millers drove from Las Vegas together and "spent some real quality father-and-son time," Adam said.

The two reminisced about how Adam had gone from wobbling on skates and getting whistled for being the sixth man on a too-many-men penalty his first time out, to being named to a professional all-star team.

"He got out there and was all ankles on the ice, falling around," Steve said. "Then he got called for the penalty and shrugged his shoulders like, 'What did I do?'"

Adam remembers his first skate, too.

"I fell and I fell and I fell," he said, laughing. "Oh, and my dad had to lace my skates."

Other winners from Tuesday's ECHL All-Star Skills Competition:

Hardest shot: A.J. Thelen, Florida Everblades, 101.9 mph.

Rapid fire: Braden Holtby, South Carolina Stingrays, nine saves out of 10.

Accuracy shooting: Ryan Kinasewich, Utah Grizzlies, 4-for-4.

Puck control relay: Evan Barlow, Idaho Steelheads; Chris D'Alvise, Stockton Thunder; John Lammers, Alaska Aces.

Individual puck control relay: Peter Lens, Ontario Reign.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wranglers close road series with 3-0 loss to Alaska

By Anthony Fenech

Sunday, Jan. 17, 2010 | 12:46 a.m.

The All-Star break this week couldn't come at a better time for the Las Vegas Wranglers.

After winning seven of their previous eight games, the Wranglers embarked on a four-game road trip that end up a winless one after a 3-0 loss Saturday to the Alaska Aces at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska.

"We committed undisciplined, stupid, lazy and irresponsible penalties, and it put us behind," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "It caught up to us. There's only so many times you can put a team on a power play."

Alexandre Imbeault scored two second-period goals in the victory and added an assist. He had four points in the two-game series against Las Vegas.

Aces defenseman Bryan Miller opened the scoring late in the first period as Alaska worked a two-man advantage. The power-play goal was his fourth of the year, assisted by Imbeault and T.J. Fast.

Imbeault then scored at the 3:15 and 11:49 marks of the second period, the second goal coming on a power play.

Just a day after the Wranglers dropped below the .500-mark for the first time in two weeks, the Aces climbed back to that mark for the first time in more than a month.

Miller's first-period goal came after Alaska fought off two first-period Las Vegas power plays.

The Wranglers were scoreless on 10 tries with the man advantage Saturday, prolonging their power play scoring drought to 20 opportunities.

They converted just 1 of 24 power plays on the trip.

"It's definitely not the game plan we had going in, but guys aren't buying into things and there are going to be changes around here," Mougenel said.

One of the Wranglers' best opportunities to get on the board came at the 7:27 mark of the second period, but Aces goalie Frank Doyle stopped Wranglers defenseman Chris Frank on a penalty shot.

Renewing the bad blood that was prevalent at the Orleans Arena earlier in the season, both teams combined for 76 penalty minutes on 28 infractions.

There was one ejection, two fights and three roughing calls, in addition to goalkeeper interference and high-sticking double-minor penalty calls.

Matt Kang was whistled for goalkeeper interference with 7:14 remaining in the second period and immediately squared off with Alaska's Derik Martin.

Alaska's Matt Stefanishion was called for the high-sticking double minor and was ejected with just a minute remaining in the third period for attempting to injure a Wranglers player.

Mougenel, who used to coach Stefanishion, said the Alaska right-winger threw a sucker punch at a Las Vegas player.

"It's cowardly what he did," Mougenel said. "But it's par for the course with him.

"He's a kid that played for me and I'm mad at myself for not having an influence on that kid, the way he isn't respecting the game."

The 76 penalty minutes stand third-highest in the season series between the two teams, which racked up 157 minutes on 42 infractions Oct. 23 and 113 minutes on 37 infractions Oct. 24.

"Our penalties weren't physical penalties; they were stupid penalties," Mougenel said. "They weren't penalties where guys were being extra physical."

With the victory, the Aces pushed ahead of the Wranglers in the ECHL overall standings. They meet six more times this season.

Following the All-Star break, the Wranglers once again head out on the road for three games each at Idaho and Utah.

All-star update: Center Adam Miller, who was a late-addition to the National Conference roster, will be participating in the Reebok fastest skater competition during Tuesday night's skills competition.

The 2010 ECHL All-Star Game is hosted by the Ontario Reign and the city of Ontario, Calif. Events will take place Tuesday and Wednesday at Citizens Business Bank Arena.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wranglers struggle on road with 3-1 loss to Alaska

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010 | 12:31 a.m.

The Las Vegas Wranglers are just three games into their longest time away from the Orleans Arena this season, and they already appear to be homesick.

They dropped their third consecutive game Friday with a 3-1 loss to the Alaska Aces at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.

"We weren't ready to play tonight," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "Guys aren't competing and guys aren't working. Right now, we have too many passengers."

"Guys are thinking they can just put their sticks in there and it's going to get done," he said. "But there's a certain kind of work ethic and culture that comes with it."

A two-goal, first-period deficit was too much to overcome. Center Josh Prudden's secod-period goal, his fifth score of the season, was Las Vegas' only tally of the night on 25 shots.

For the first time in eight games, left-winger Ned Lukacevic was held scoreless and for the fourth straight game the Wranglers allowed the first goal of the game.

Just past the midway point of the first period, Alaska struck for two quick goals in just 1:53.

Alexandre Imbeault scored his 14th goal of the year followed by Matt Stefanishion scoring his 12th not even two minutes later, putting Las Vegas in an early hole.

"Playing catch-up is a tough thing to do in this league," Mougenel said.

Prudden cut the Aces lead to just one goal 22 seconds into the first half with a goal assisted by Andrew Orpik and Shay Stephenson.

The game was iced with just more than three minutes remaining, when Alaska's Scott Burt connected on a goal from Stefanishion and defenseman T.J. Fast.

Las Vegas now has a 3-14 record on the road this season versus a 13-7 mark at home.

"We're just not getting it done on the road and it's not acceptable," Mougenel said. "We need to rectify this and find out what our problem is playing on the road."

The loss puts the team on the wrong side of .500 for the first time since Jan. 2, though Las Vegas still is in second place in the ECHL Pacific Division.

Alaska remains in the basement of the West Division, one point ahead of the Wranglers in the overall standings.

The Wranglers wrap up their four-game road trip with an 8:15 p.m. game against the Aces on Saturday before heading into the All-Star break early next week.

"The beauty of it is we have an opportunity to rebound tomorrow," Mougenel said. "I'm not happy with coasting into the break and just getting there. We're paid professionals. This is our job to get ourselves out of the situation that we're in."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Commission tables request by Mayweather's camp for March 13 fight

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Jan. 15, 2010 | 1:30 p.m.

A license for Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s proposed March 13 boxing match at the MGM Grand Garden Arena still hasn't been approved by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

During a Friday meeting at the Grant Sawyer State Building in Las Vegas, the commmission tabled a request from Mayweather's promotion team, Golden Boy Promotions, until the commission's February meeting because Mayweather's opponent has yet to be determined.

"It's not that we're rejecting this," said Pat Lundvall, the commission's chairman said. "We're just simply tabling it until we know who the contestants are, and how television and the rest of it lines up."

The date initially was conceived for the anticipated showdown between Mayweather (40-0, 25 KOs) and Manny Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 KO), but talks broke down over methods of drug testing.

Pacquiao signed on two weeks ago to fight Joshua Clottey on March 13 in Dallas, leaving Mayweather without an opponent.

"This is obviously a unique experience with the main event falling out very recently," said Keith Kizer, the commission's executive director. "Usually we wouldn't have this on the agenda without the main event set, the television rights set, in addition to the date."

And while Kizer said Golden Boy Promotions had assured him that Mayweather would be fighting on that date, the commission still tabled the request.

Dave Itskowitz of Golden Boy Promotions said via telephone that they are still in the process of finalizing an opponent for Mayweather. Reported opponents in consideration include former junior welterweight champions Paulie Malignaggi and Kermit Cintron or lightweight Nate Campbell, who also is promoted by Golden Boy.

"From my perspective, I don't see us not approving this at our next meeting," Lundvall said.

UFC fighters licensed

The commission granted mixed-martial-arts licenses to four fighters scheduled to compete in UFC 109 on Feb. 6 at Mandalay Bay.

Because they each are age 35 or older, Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Matt Serra and Frank Trigg had to apply through the commission.

Couture will fight Coleman, while Serra will oppose Trigg night.

"If we want to fight at this age, this is what we have to do," said the 37-year-old Trigg, who attended the meeting. "There's a lot more stuff to check up on now and it goes a long way. It's great to see how smart and safe we have become."

Couture, 46, said via telephone that his training was going fantastic and that he's feeling very good.

Judges selected

Officials and judges were selected for the WBA/WBC welterweight boxing championship fight between Shane Mosley and Andre Bertoon on Jan. 30 at Mandalay Bay.

Veteran Joe Cortez was tabbed as the referee, and the judges selected were Adalaide Byrd, Robert Hoyle and Ed Kugler. Byrd and Hoyle are from Nevada and Kugler is from Colorado.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wranglers' skid continues with 6-4 loss to Victoria

By Anthony Fenech

Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 | 11:53 p.m.

The Victoria Salmon Kings pushed past the Las Vegas Wranglers in the third period Wednesday for a 6-4 victory, making it four losses — two in the standings and two on the roster — in two days for the Wranglers.

"It's unfortunate that we really couldn't control the outcome in this one," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "We really lost our focus, and I take full responsibility for that."

The loss concludes a tumultuous two-game road trip to British Columbia, where the team hasn't won in its past five tries. The Wranglers also return to Las Vegas down two players.

Center Justin Bernhardt tore his MCL on the second shift of Tuesday's game, and Robbie Bina informed the club Wednesday that he would pursue hockey overseas.

"We're all professionals," Mougenel said. "We're coming to the rink, doing a job we love and I don't think it should play any factor. I love this group. I'll go to war with this group, and I think our guys will respond."

Two late power-play goals on two-man advantages by the Salmon Kings proved to be the difference Wednesday.

The Salmon Kings scored on Wranglers goalie Joel Gistedt six times on 46 shots, the most the Wranglers have allowed this season.

"They're an extremely offensive team," Mougenel said. "When you give a team eight power plays, there will be trouble. I thought Joel was phenomenal."

For the second consecutive game, Olivier Latendresse scored the game-winning goal with assists from Wes Goldie and Jimmy Sharrow.

The goal came with 11:57 remaining in the third period, after the Wranglers had killed the first six Victoria power plays.

Chad Painchaud then set a new club record with a power-play goal just 3:27 later, becoming the first Salmon Kings player to record a point in 12 consecutive games.

"Two-man advantages are tough to defend," Mougenel said. "It's a tough way to lose a game. Were those deserved? That's up to the league to review."

"I'm obviously not happy with the outcome or how it was handled from my side, my players' side and the officials' side," he said. "There has to be accountability on all sides."

Down one goal heading into the third period, Las Vegas defenseman Greg Collins tied the score 3:15 in.

Just 16 seconds later, Victoria responded with a goal from left-winger Scott Howes to reclaim the lead.

Howes' tally was followed 21 seconds later by Ned Lukacevic scoring his 15th goal of the year.

"I did think the guys did a good job of responding, coming back and playing hard," Mougenel said.

Lukacevic's goal gave him a seven-game point streak, and Shay Stephenson and Craig Switzer each recorded a goal and assist on the game.

The loss drops the Wranglers to .500 on the year, with 16 wins and 16 losses.

They travel next to Alaska for two games against the Aces, the fourth and fifth games of their 10-game road trip.

Bina update: The defenseman has signed with a team from Norway, Mougenel said, although no specific team was named.

Mougenel said he was informed of the news by Bina after last night's game and that, "it hit me like a sucker punch to the solar plexus."

"I was 100 percent surprised," he said. "I had no idea and neither did any of his teammates."

"I voiced my concerns, and I wish him all the best. I still think he's a special kid and a special player."

Robbie Bina leaves Las Vegas Wranglers

By Anthony Fenech

Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 | 5:49 p.m.

Just a week before his first scheduled All-Star appearance, Las Vegas Wranglers defenseman Robbie Bina has left the team.

Bina, who was named to the 2010 ECHL All-Star team just before the new year, has decided to pursue hockey opportunities in Europe.

"He went to Europe," Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said in a text message Wednesday. "That's my comment."

Bina, a 27-year-old graduate of North Dakota, was unable to be reached for comment.

He will be replaced on the All-Star Game's National Conference roster by Sasha Pokulok of the Bakersfield Condors.

A league-wide e-mail sent out Wednesday stated, "Bina has chosen to leave the Wranglers to sign with a team overseas."

He recorded two shots and two penalty minutes in last night's loss at Victoria and tallied 22 points in 27 games with Las Vegas this season.

With Bina's departure, center Adam Miller will represent the Wranglers at the All-Star Game next Wednesday at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif.

Miller's 31 points — 10 goals and 21 assists — rank second on the Wranglers, one behind Ned Lukacevic.

The Livonia, Mich., native will be replacing Ontario's Jon Rheault, who currently is in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs.

"Robbie Bina is a really good defenseman," said Miller just a week ago. "You can see that in his numbers and he's just a really solid defenseman out there. To be an all-star is a big accomplishment."

Wranglers lose to Victoria, 5-3

By Anthony Fenech

Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.

The second shift wasn't a good one for the Wranglers on Tuesday night.

Just 36 seconds into his Las Vegas return, center Justin Bernhardt suffered a serious knee injury and left the game.

The injury served as an underlying theme in the team's 5-3 loss to Victoria, a game that head coach Ryan Mougenel summed up by saying, "We lost our legs."

Holding onto a one-goal lead entering the third period, the Salmon Kings scored three unanswered goals in the final frame to take the opener of a two-game set in British Columbia.

"I thought we dictated the play for the majority of the game," Mougenel said. "Our legs caught up to us in the third. and we didn't play sure. When you're not sure against that team, you pay for it."

Olivier Latendresse's 14th goal of the season with 3:47 left in the third period was the controversial game-winner, assisted by Randall Gelech and Chad Painchaud.

As the puck was loose in front of the Wranglers net with goaltender Michael Ouzas tied up by an opposing stick, the puck went off of Latendresse's skate and past the line.

"It's one of those bounces," Mougenel said. "But it's how you respond. You're not always going to get the calls that you want, but the true testament to the character is how you respond.

"I didn't like our character there because we didn't respond well."

Bernhardt, recently reassigned from AHL San Antonio, injured his MCL and, according to Mougenel, is out indefinitely.

"I don't want to speculate," Mougenel said when asked how long Bernhardt would be out. "It all depends on what kind of grade the tear is."

The center tallied two points in 12 games with the Rampage after playing in nine games to begin the year with the Wranglers.

"It's tough when you lose a guy that early in the game," captain Chris Neiszner said. "It affects lines but, more importantly, it affects everyone else because you don't want to see that."

After falling behind 2-1 after the first period, Mike Madill and Greg Collins both netted second-period goals as the Wranglers took a lead into the third.

But the lead was short-lived, as Victoria's Andy Brandt scored just six minutes into the period.

Shortly after Latendresse's goal, Adam Miller was whistled for interference and from there the Salmon Kings put the game away with a power-play goal by Gelech.

The goal came with 1:24 left on the clock and only two minutes after Latendresse's game winner.

"From the first shift of the third period, they were a step ahead of us," Neiszner said. "I think we played well in the second but not enough in the third and first. When you only win 20 minutes, your chances aren't very good."

Miller scored his 10th goal of the season late in the first period, assisted by recently named ECHL Player of the Week Ned Lukacevic and Jeff Hazelwood.

Lukacevic's two assists prolonged his points-streak to six games.

It was the Salmon Kings fourth consecutive victory over Las Vegas, all coming at home, after the Wranglers were swept away last month.

In his first game with the club since early this season, Andrew Orpik recorded an assist on Madill's second-period goal.

"He looked good," Mougenel said. "He needs to get some minutes under his belt, but he's really going to help our hockey club."

With the loss, Las Vegas falls to 16-15-3-1. They remain in second place in the Pacific division and play in Victoria again Wednesday night.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wranglers forward earns ECHL award

By Anthony Fenech

Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 | 8:59 p.m.

Judging by the way Las Vegas Wranglers forward Ned Lukacevic has played lately, you wouldn't know he been battling a cold.

Still, despite not feeling 100 percent, he has scored in five straight games, tallying seven goals and four assists, and Tuesday he was named Sher-wood Hockey's ECHL Player of the Week.

"I've been sick for the past few days, but honestly, I can't feel it right now," Lukacevic said after scoring two goals in Saturday night's win over Ontario. "It will probably kick in when I get home and the adrenaline wears off, but right now I'm feeling great."

Lukacevic, who has 14 goals and 16 assists this season, said the streak is the product of a different mindset heading into the new year.

"I told myself to stay positive," he said. "I did that, and now I have my confidence. I feel like everything's going well. I'm shooting more and when that's the case, it's easier to play."

The tear began with a first-period goal Jan. 2 against Utah, a goal that would ultimately prove to be the game-winner in the Wranglers fourth-consecutive win.

Since then, he has scored in every Wranglers game of 2010, including back-to-back games of two goals against Ontario last weekend.

His five-game streak ties center Dustin Johner for most consecutive games with a goal for the Wranglers. Johner accomplished the feat in the 2004-05 season.

"He's been playing great," Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. "We're getting to see how talented that kid is."

This is Lukacevic's first season in Las Vegas after a three-year stint with the ECHL's Reading Royals. The 23-year-old was the 110th pick of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings in the fourth round.

"He was in a funk," Mougenel said, "And when I say that, I mean he was doing all the right things but wasn't scoring. He's an extremely talented guy and while he's here with us, we're going to enjoy him, because he's a special player."

With the departures of Francis Lemieux and Ryan Weston to the AHL, Lukacevic's emergence has coincided with new line mates in Adam Miller and Jeff Hazelwood.

"It's a great line," Lukacevic said. "We compliment each other well because we're all quick skaters and have good skill. I feel like we're working hard to get the breaks and earn everything we're getting."

Hazelwood, who plays opposite Lukacevic on the right wing, has also increased his production with six points since Mougenel started using that line.

"They have been good offensively," Mougenel said. "But the other lines have done an amazing job of contributing as well."

Speaking like his coach, Lukacevic talks of his individual award by first crediting his teammates.

"I wouldn't be able to score unless the other four guys are working hard," he said. "When I score a goal, the other guys are scoring a goal, too."

While Lukacevic's cold might keep his teammates away from him, his hot play is having the opposite effect.

"Everyone's really confident right now," he said. "It's contagious."

Roster report: Forwards Andrew Orpik and Justin Bernhardt were reassigned to Las Vegas from AHL San Antonio on Tuesday.

Mougenel said both practiced with the team in the morning and will be active for tonight's game against Victoria.

"Obviously, this is a boost for our lineup," Mougenel said. "We've been playing shorthanded and extremely banged up as of late."

He said the move was made to give the pair more of an opportunity to contribute, but injuries throughout the Phoenix Coyotes organization also played a part.

"They're first-year professionals that need to develop and get some more experience down here," he said. "Hopefully they can contribute both physically and statistically."

Hockey Talk podcast with Wranglers center Adam Miller

Tue, Jan. 12, 2010 (6:19 p.m.)

Wranglers beat writer Anthony Fenech sits down with center Adam Miller to discuss, among other things, the team's recent surge, the Detroit Red Wings, favorite colors and how many days he goes without washing his jeans.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Third-period flurry gives Wranglers 5-1 win over Ontario

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010 | 11:04 p.m.

The Las Vegas Wranglers wanted the third period.

One night after watching a third-period lead evaporate into an Ontario Reign overtime win, the Wranglers needed the third period.

And just four minutes into the final frame, they had it.

Mick Lawrence’s goal at the 3:46 mark capped Las Vegas’ furious three-goal run to begin the period. The shorthanded tally put the Reign away for good as the Wranglers split a two-game weekend set at Orleans Arena with a 5-1 victory.

“We have a great transition game right now,” Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “Fortunately we got a couple lucky bounces, but we’re creating offensive gaps and working harder without the puck.”

Just a handful of games after being paired up, linemates Ned Lukacevic and Jeff Hazelwood each struck for a pair of goals, combining for seven points on the game.

“We’re just trying to stay positive,” Lukacevic said. “We have our confidence, and everyone’s playing well. When it’s like this, it’s easy to play and contagious.”

Lukacevic has now scored in five consecutive games, tying a franchise record set by Dustin Johner in 2004-05.

In those five games, he has scored seven goals and recorded four assists.

“This is probably the biggest streak of my career,” he said. “I’ve never been this hot before.”

In addition to the steady offensive play of center Adam Miller, the recent play by Lukacevic and Hazelwood has given the Wranglers a scoring line to lean on.

“Hazelwood has played awesome for us and I think right now you’re seeing how talented Lukacevic is,” Mougenel said.

“There’s a lot of speed on our line,” Hazelwood said. “It feels good to move the puck and get through the neutral zone fast to get as many offensive opportunities as we can.”

The forward’s goal at the 8:17 mark opened the scoring as the Wranglers continued a recent trend of scoring first, doing so for the 13th time in the past 14 games.

Holding a one-goal lead into the third period, Lukacevic scored on the first shift of the third period — just eight seconds in and assisted by Hazelwood — to get the puck rolling for the Wranglers, who scored three goals in the first 3:39 of the period.

Lukacevic then returned the favor two shifts later as he fed Hazelwood a one-timer left-to-right in front of Ontario goalie Curtis Darling for his second of the game.

“They’ve done great offensively,” Mougenel said. “But we’ve had three other lines that have worked hard and are balanced. Right now, we’re just working well together.”

If the Reign weren’t down and out from the first two goals, then Lawrence’s shorthanded goal a minute and a half after Hazelwood’s definitely floored them.

What started as two-on-two action in the neutral zone quickly turned into a Wranglers three-on-two as Lawrence, who trailed the play, deked around Darling from the right.

The goal was set up when defenseman Jason Krischuk faked a slap shot from the right circle and found Lawrence trailing in the slot. He evaded both defender and goalie for his 12th goal of the season.

Lukacevic added his second goal of the night just past the halfway point of the third period, giving the Wranglers four unanswered goals in the contest.

The only offense Ontario could muster was a late goal by center Jon Francisco, who ruined Michael Ouzas’ shutout with his fifth goal against Las Vegas this season.

“I owed the boys one, so I came out and did it,” he said.

Ouzas was a wall Saturday night, facing the second-most shots he has all season, including a first period in which he was perfect on 17 shots, the most he has seen in the opening period all year.

“He really kept us in it in the third period,” Mougenel said. “And he gave us a chance to win.”

Three stars: 1. Ned Lukacevic (two goals, two assists); 2. Michael Ouzas (41 saves); 3. Jeff Hazelwood (two goals, assist)

Relay For Life: The American Cancer Society fundraiser received a small portion of the ticket revenue from Saturday’s game. People throughout the Orleans Arena wore purple shirts to show their support for the cause.

Attendance report: Las Vegas saw its third largest crowd of the season, with 6,019 fans. It was the third time attendance has passed the 6,000-mark this season.

Heavy hitter: Josh Prudden, for introducing an Ontario forward to the glass, exposing the player’s face the crowd just in front of the camera. Prudden was penalized for boarding on the play.

Up next: Two days off before traveling to Victoria, B.C., for a two-game set with the Salmon Kings.

Final word: “We’re just getting the breaks right now,” Lukacevic said. “But they’re breaks we’re working hard for.”

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wranglers winning streak ends with 3-2 loss to Ontario

By Anthony Fenech

Friday, Jan. 8, 2010 | 11:11 p.m.

The old adage says that nothing good lasts forever. The Las Vegas Wranglers found out the hard way Friday.

Just one win from tying a franchise record of nine in a row at home, the Wranglers allowed two late goals and lost to the Ontario Reign, 3-2, at the Orleans Arena.

"This one falls on me" Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas said. "I have to be better, plain and simple."

Ouzas allowed the game-tying goal to Ontario defenseman David Walker with just 1:08 remaining in the third period. It came on a wrist shot from just inside the right circle that beat the goaltender high on his glove side.

"It wasn't a good goal, and it cost us the game," he said.

Playing from behind for much of the game, the Reign finalized their comeback on captain Jon Francisco's seeing-eye, game-winning deflection with 35 seconds left in the extra period.

"I didn't see a thing in front of me," Ouzas said of the overtime goal that began as a slap shot from the point off the stick of Andrew Martens and, after Francisco's deflection, trickled into the net.

The victory put a halt to the Wranglers' six-game winning streak, but the one point earned for an overtime loss prolongs their points streak to eight games.

"Did we deserve the victory? No," Mougenel said. "But I thought we played real well, outplayed them for the most part and they just found a way to win.

"I don't like giving teams two points when we have them down, but the guys have played extremely hard. I like how we're playing, and I don't have any complaints."

For the first time in 12 games, Las Vegas failed to score the game's first goal, falling behind on a score by Ontario's Tim Kraus with 8:34 left to play in the first period.

The Wranglers responded with two goals by Ned Lukacevic, both of which were assisted by center Josh Prudden and defenseman Shay Stephenson, and held the lead heading into the third period.

"It's always a heartbreaker when you lose like this," Lukacevic said. "We've been battling hard, though, and you can't win them all."

Barraged with a flurry of Reign shots and scoring chances late in the game, Ouzas' armor finally was chinked as 4,932 Wranglers fans were on their feet trying to will the team to a historic win.

A victory would have given the team nine straight home victories. That would have tied the 2006-07 Wranglers, who accomplished that feat from March 10 to April 7, 2007.

Only two Wranglers remain from that team, captain and center Chris Neiszner and defenseman Jason Krischuk.

"Tonight there was a big crowd, and it was nice to see," Neiszner said. "Obviously winning promotes that."

Lukacevic continued his recent offensive tear, and his two goals pushed him into the team lead with 12. He has scored in four consecutive games and has seven points in that span.

"I feel good," he said. "I give credit to all my teammates. I can't do this without their hard work."

Las Vegas remains one point ahead of Ontario in the ECHL Pacific Division.

"We'll take a win any way we can," Reign head coach Karl Taylor said. "It's very important to get some confidence back in our room."

The victory was the first for the Reign over their division rivals this season.

"I thought we played really well," Taylor said. "We needed a win and we got one."

Three stars: 1. Ned Lukacevic (two goals); 2. Ontario's Jon Francisco (game-winning goal); 3. Josh Prudden.

Alternate ending: On display for the first time this regular season was the Wranglers' third jersey — black with dice graphics lining the front, back and arms of the sweater.

Injury report: Stephenson returned from a lower-body injury that kept him out of action the past two games. He recorded two assists, but admitted to erring during the game's deciding moments. "It was a bad turnover by myself," he said. "I should have just cleared the puck in the first place."

Up next: Ontario on Saturday at the Orleans Arena. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m..

Final word: "We'll be better tomorrow," Mougenel said. "We will keep motoring on."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wranglers defeat Ontario, climb out of last place

By Anthony Fenech

Thursday, Jan. 7, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.

ONTARIO, Calif. — These aren't last year's Las Vegas Wranglers, even if it is little more than a week into the new year.

Just ask the Ontario Reign.

The last time these two teams met Dec. 18 at Citizens Business Bank Arena, the Wranglers were in last place nursing a three-game losing streak and the Reign were in second place, winners of four of their last five games. Las Vegas fell, 3-2, in a shootout in that game.

But Wednesday night was a different story.

Propelled by two power-play goals just 90 seconds apart, the Wranglers defeated the Reign, 2-1, and finally relinquished their spot at the bottom of the ECHL National Conference's Pacific Division.

"We got ourselves out of the dead," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "Now we need to get where we want to go."

Yes, the Wranglers are a winning team once again, eclipsing the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 6 when they defeated the Bakersfield Condors and pushed their record to 5-4.

"I thought it was a good, hard-fought road victory," Mougenel said. "We kept it simple, played a good detailed game, and I liked how we found a way to win."

The victory was the team's sixth straight.

After a sluggish first period from both sides, Las Vegas wasted no time in making the most of their opportunities early in the second period.

For the 12th consecutive game, they struck first, with Ned Lukacevic's power-play goal at the 8:07 mark of the second period.

Leading an odd-man rush into the Ontario zone, Lukacevic skated in from the right of Reign goaltender Curtis Darling and saw linemate Mick Lawrence posted up just to the left of Darling's crease.

"I was really trying to pass it to Mick," Lukacevic said. "But the goalie got a stick on it and it slid in there.

"I'll take those for sure."

But the Wranglers weren't finished with their power-play prowess.

During Lukacevic's goal, which was assisted by defenseman Craig Switzer, Ontario's David Walker was whistled for hooking, leaving Las Vegas with another man-advantage.

And take advantage they did.

With just over a minute remaining on Walker's penalty, center Chris Neiszner deflected a Jason Krischuk slap shot from the point into the back of the goal for a 2-0 lead, the team's second goal in a span of 1 minute and 30 seconds.

"It was just a matter of trying to get my stick on the puck," said Neiszner, the Wranglers captain. "To be honest, I didn't even know it went in."

While Ontario responded with a goal from Robert Pearce later in the period, the damage was done.

"It's a game of ups and downs," Mougenel said. "When you have the momentum, you have to capitalize on the momentum, and the guys did an excellent job of recognizing that and executing."

Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas turned in another stellar performance, stopping 26 of 27 shots and improving his record to 12-11 on the season.

"I think he was the difference," Mougenel said. "We gave them a lot of opportunities late and he was there to make the saves."

Ouzas has allowed only one goal in four of his past six games.

"Winning is contagious just like losing is," he said. "We were able to hold on tonight, and that's the sign of a good team."

With the loss, Ontario now falls into last place in the Pacific division and is winless in six tries against the Wranglers this season.

"I've always liked Vegas' team," Ontario head coach Karl Taylor said. "Even when their record was struggling, I thought they worked hard and competed hard.

"They have our number right now."

Three stars: 1. Chris Neiszner (game-winning goal); 2. Ontario's Robert Pearce (goal); 3. Ned Lukacevic (goal, assist)

Movin' on up: The victory puts the 15-14-2-1 Wranglers in second place in the Pacific Division, two points ahead of both Ontario the Stockton Thunder. Their six-game winning streak leads the ECHL.

Nasty Ned: Lukacevic has scored in each of the past three games to go along with two assists.

Oozing wins: With the victory, Ouzas now has a 5-0-1 record to go along with a 1.66 goals-against average against Ontario.

Up next: A two-game home series against Ontario on Friday and Saturday at the Orleans Arena.

Final word: "The confidence isn't because of the winning streak," said Mougenel. "It's because we're playing our system and it's working."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Wranglers stay on track with sweep of Utah

By Anthony Fenech

Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010 | 6:17 p.m.

Mick Lawrence and Josh Prudden agreed.

Midway through the third period of Sunday's game against the Utah Grizzlies, Lawrence looked Prudden's way as they sat on the Wranglers' bench.

"Are we really doing anything different than we were doing at the start of the year?" Lawrence asked. "Because it doesn't really feel like it."

Winning, of course, is what the Wranglers are doing differently, and, more specifically this past weekend, they were beating the Grizzlies.

The Wranglers completed a two-game sweep Sunday at the Orleans Arena with a 5-3 victory over Utah and now stands at 14-14-1 thanks to a third-period comeback.

"This was a big win," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "We played extremely hard for each other and we're not only playing hard, we're working hard. That's been the main thing for us, our work ethic."

Chris Neizner's deflection off a Craig Switzer slap shot at the 3:36 mark of the third period proved to be the game winner for the Wranglers, who have won five consecutive games and eight of their last 12.

The win draws them even with the Ontario Reign for third place in the ECHL Pacific Division.

"This is the rise of the dead," Mougenel said. "That's what we've done, we've risen from the dead, but we still have a long way to go with where we want to be."

Facing a one-goal deficit late in the second period, Las Vegas' fortunes turned from an unlikely source — the power play.

With six mintues left in the second period, Matt Kang scored his third goal of the season, this time on a deflection off a Robbie Bina slap shot that also was assisted by Lawrence.

The power-play goal tied the game at 2-all but Utah responded two minutes later with a goal from forward Jadren Beljo.

Beljo's goal marked the second time in the game the Grizzlies rapidly responded to a Las Vegas score.

The first came in the opening frame, when Utah's Tom May scored on the next shift, answering Ned Lukacevic's game-opening goal in just 20 seconds.

"I didn't particularly like how we were giving up goals after we scored," Mougenel said. "But the bottom line is that we found a way and that's the most important thing."

Down a goal heading into the third period, the Utah lead quickly was erased when Wranglers forward Jeff Hazelwood punched home a puck from the doorstep of the crease.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Lukacevic said. "It's a nice feeling, especially after struggling the first couple of months. We feel like we're back on track now."

Neizner netted the game-winning goal just moments after Hazelwood's equalizer, and Prudden tallied an insurance goal midway through the third for the final margin.

Prudden's goal was the Wranglers' third power-play score of the game, marking the second time this season they have scored three goals with the advantage. The first came Oct. 24 against the Alaska Aces.

"We talked a lot about getting inside the dots and getting into tough areas to score," Mougenel said of the power play. "That's what we did tonight. Simplicity works best sometimes."

Michael Ouzas recorded his fifth straight victory, stopping 28 of 31 Utah shots.

"Every win is a big win," Ouzas said. "But these are the games we have to win, down a goal going into the third. It will give us confidence and hopefully we'll keep rolling."

Utah drops to 15-13-3 with the loss.

"It's very frustrating," Grizzlies head coach Kevin Colley said. "We're not playing as a team and there are a lot of individuals that aren't doing too much for us and are hurting us."

Three stars: 1. Ned Lukacevic (goal, assist); 2. Robbie Bina (3 assists); 3. Craig Switzer (assist)

Home Cookin': The Wranglers have now won eight straight games at Orleans Arena, dating back to Dec. 1.

Opening Eleven: Lukacevic's first-period goal marked the 11th consecutive game the Wranglers have scored first. They are 7-3-0-1 in that span.

O'Fer No More: Grizzlies goaltender O'Keefe had a spell cast over the Wranglers heading into Sunday's game, with a perfect 7-0-0 record against Las Vegas. The five goals allowed were the most in his career against the Wranglers.

Leading the way: Bina's three assists were his seventh, eighth and ninth of the year in eight games against the Grizzlies, along with three goals. Those 12 points lead the team versus Utah.

Up next: Three games against the Ontario Reign. Las Vegas travels Wednesday to Ontario, then returns to the Orleans Arena next weekend.

Final word: "This team has been one of our nemesis," Mougenel said of Utah. "These two games should bode well for us as we move along."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Wranglers jump to early lead, beat Grizzlies 4-1

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Jan. 2, 2010 | 11:35 p.m.

Ryan Mougenel doesn’t always make New Year’s resolutions.

If he did this year, the Las Vegas Wranglers head coach said, “it would probably involve scoring more goals — and on the power play obviously.”

Saturday night, the Wranglers did just that, scoring three times in the opening period en route to a 4-1 victory over the Utah Grizzlies.

“I thought the guys played collectively well tonight,” Mougenel said. “That’s a really good team over there, and we battled hard for the win.”

The three goals were the most Las Vegas had scored in any first period this season, continuing into the new calendar year a streak of 10 consecutive games scoring the first goal.

“When you work hard, you create your own opportunities, and that’s what we did in that first period,” Mougenel said.

Mick Lawrence opened the scoring three minutes in while the Wranglers were on the power play. The goal by Lawrence, assisted by Adam Miller and Craig Switzer, was on a slap shot from the right of Utah goalie Beau Erickson.

“We definitely owed these guys,” Lawrence said. “It feels good, but it’s only one game.”

“When you do things right, your luck starts to change a little bit,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction. We just need to keep sticking with it and working at it.”

The Wranglers scored again just five minutes later, when Ned Lukacevic found an open net after beating Erickson to the puck just in front of the Utah goal.

Before the goal, Jeff Hazelwood, who tallied two assists in the game, skated through the neutral zone and floated the puck into the Utah zone.

As the puck lost steam, dying just inside of the left circle, Lukacevic gained steam, retrieving the puck before a charging Erickson could poke it away. With Erickson out of the goal, Lukacevic netted his eighth goal of the season.

Las Vegas wouldn’t stop there, however, as Kyle Hagel scored the team’s third goal with three minutes and change left in the period.

Captain Chris Neizner assisted on the play, connecting with Hagel to the left of Erickson. After receiving the puck, Hagel, with his back to the goaltender, spun around and lifted a backhand past Erickson’s blocker and into the top shelf.

The goal was Hagel’s second in as many games, and the assist was Neizner’s tenth this season.

“I thought Neizner was especially great tonight,” Mougenel said. “That whole line really made the difference.”

The center was flanked by Hagel and Lawrence, both in the starting lineup and throughout the game.

Utah goalie Erickson was pulled after the first period in favor of Mitch O’Keefe, who, along with his teammates, has had the Wranglers’ number.

Entering the game, O’Keefe was 6-0 with a 1.85 career goals-against average when matched up with Las Vegas.

Saturday night, O’Keefe turned in two solid periods, but the Grizzlies offense didn’t have enough life to get back into the game.

Recently-awarded ECHL All-Star Robbie Bina scored his fifth goal of the season against O’Keefe with 6:57 left in the third period to ice the game.

Countering the Utah pair was Michael Ouzas, who stopped 28 of 29 Utah shots in his fourth consecutive victory.

“This one doesn’t mean anything unless we come back tomorrow,” Ouzas said. “It feels good but we play them again tomorrow. They’re going to come back better and we need to come back better as well.”

Las Vegas now owns a four-game winning streak and has vaulted eight points in the standings over the past two weeks.

Saturday’s win leaves the Wranglers with a record of 13-14-3 and just one point behind the Ontario Reign in the ECHL Pacific Division.

“This raises the bar for us,” left-winger Matt Kang said. “It’s a new year and we have new goals.”

Three stars: 1. Michael Ouzas (28 saves); 2. Jeff Hazelwood (2 assists); 3. Robbie Bina (goal)

Heavy hitter(s): Utah’s Lance Galbraith and A.J. Perry for colliding with one another late in the first period. As the play left their offensive zone, the two crossed and collided, each needing a stoppage in play to skate off the ice.

Mick of time: Mick Lawrence’s game-opening tally was his fourth in the past three games and 11th of the season, leading the team. “I think he’s made more of a commitment to play at both ends of the ice,” Mougenel said. “I have a ton of respect for the way he plays, and it was only a matter of time he started scoring goals like this.”

Injury update: Left-winger Shay Stephenson was scratched with a lower body injury. There is no timetable for his return.

Up next: Utah at 2:05 p.m. Sunday at the Orleans Arena.

Final word: “Everyone’s doing all of the little things that we need to do to win consistently,” Lawrence said. “We need to come out and shut them down again tomorrow.”