Steve Silver / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008 | 12:42 a.m.
The Las Vegas Wranglers would like to take a mulligan on their season-opening road trip.
After dropping their first game of the year to the Alaska Aces 4-1 on Friday, the Wranglers blew a third period lead on Saturday and eventually fell to the Aces, 6-5, in a shootout.
The Wranglers did earn one point for their overtime effort, however, and they gained a bit of confidence from their trip to Anchorage.
"There are definitely positives to take out of both games," said center Chris Neiszner, who is in his third season with the Wranglers. "The way we lost it’s always emotionally draining when you are up two goals going into the last 10 minutes and lose in a shootout. But at the same time we know we were right there and probably should have won that one."
But head coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan knows there are no moral victories in hockey, especially for a team trying to make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season and defend a National Conference title.
He hopes that those first two road games will help his rather young team gel as the Wranglers prepare for their home opener on Thursday night against the Ontario Reign.
"We need to get a better at playing a full 60 minutes, but we are almost there," Gulutzan said at the Wranglers' media day on Monday. "Looking at these young guys we have here, they are good skilled players and they work hard. It will be a lot of fun to coach these guys."
Gulutzan's squad has seven rookies and only eight returning Wranglers from last season.
With 15 newcomers to Las Vegas, Gulutzan is confident his veteran players, like assistant captain Sean Owens, will keep the first time Sin City residents under control.
"As an older guy and a guy who was here last year you want to be a good role model on and off the ice," Owens said. "There are obviously a lot of temptations in this town. I just try to give guys a guiding hand and help them stay away from the off ice problems. We want to keep up the winning tradition here and work hard on the ice."
One rookie who already seems poised to turn into a high roller on the ice is rookie forward Mick Lawrence.
Lawrence, who recently graduated from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, notched two goals in his first two professional games. The British Columbia native joined the Wranglers after participating in training camp with the NHL's Ottawa Senators and the AHL's Binghamton Senators.
"I was in a small upstate New York town, so yeah, Vegas is quite the city," said Lawrence, who led Nebraska-Omaha with 21 goals in 38 games last season. "I'm obviously here to play hockey and I think it will be an exciting atmosphere to play in. (Orleans Arena) is a little different than the old worn down barn that I was in for the last month and half. The facilities are unbelievable here."
Ailing net minder
Two-time Central Hockey League Most Outstanding Goaltender John Decaro left the Wranglers' first game against the Aces due to a leg injury.
The Wranglers would not specify the type or significance of his injury, but team officials said Decaro will be examined by doctors in Las Vegas today.
In two seasons with the CHL's Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs, Decaro posted a 1.91 goals-against-average and a .936 save percentage.
While Decaro is out, 22-year-old Bryan Bridges will man the pipes. Bridges appeared in 16 games for the CHL's Colorado Eagles last year, notching an 8-5-2 record with a .893 save percentage.
Attendance on the rise
The ECHL's opening weekend drew an average of 4.972 fans per game, up from last year's season average of 4,174 fans per game.
The first weekend's numbers were bolstered by the fact that five teams drew more than 7,000 fans to their games.
The Wranglers averaged 4,970 fans per game last season, placing it ninth in the 25-team league.
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.