Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2019

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Ice Ice Billy

The Death Star has a five-hole

The Las Vegas Wranglers clinched an ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs spot on Thursday with a shootout win in Alaska, which is particularly gratifying when we all know the Alaska Aces are evil - pure evil - and it's about time good-doers arise and acknowledge the evil elephant in the room.

One may say my disdain for the Alaska team comes from a desire to create drama that fuels publicity. I once caught a one-man play during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games entitled "Ali." In it, Muhammad Ali is attributed as saying that to sweeten the pot you have to sour the people. I don't know if Ali said that, but I do know my dislike for the Aces is not for publicity's sake.

I feel revulsion.

Those few who follow me on Twitter know that I usually spell "Alaska" with an extra s in the middle, because that is how it sounds when it's pronounced. But let's face it; it's a cheap shot of which I'm not above and it's as clever as it is not.

It seems that as anything becomes more evil the language to taunt it grows more sophomoric. The Alaska Aces fall into "na-na-na-na-poo-poo, stick your head in doo-doo" territory. They're that evil.

So it's always nice when the Wranglers - the good guys wearing black - fire into the Death Star's exhaust port to steal the occasional road point, as we did this past weekend with two exciting shootout wins in Anchorage.

Shortly after the Wranglers rivalry with Alaska sparked in 2003, my e-mail inbox filled with dozens of complaints after each home game against Alaska from those Alaskans that ran to the daylight. Their grievances showcased their superior knowledge of hockey's rules and fan etiquette in walls of text that, in a mechanism of comparison, preached of the lack of knowledge and etiquette of Las Vegas Wranglers fans.

Hold on there, Imperial Stormtroopers. You're talking about our Jedi Knights.

Ultimately, Stormtrooper complaints included some form of a tale in which our Han Solo parked the Millennium Falcon because the Stormtrooper in the back wouldn't stop kicking his seat, or was licking his fingers then touching Chewbacca, or was blowing through a squeaky noise maker because, well, he was too self-entertained to notice that while on a vehicle commissioned by the Rebel Alliance, its pilot was about to crash it into a planet far, far away just to end it all.

Many European soccer stadiums feature a safety-net-enclosed section for the visiting team's fans, as if Jake and Elwood Blues would have to cover a Tammy Wynette ditty to survive. But this is Las Vegas. How much effort should we make to protect visiting fans from themselves?

But try we did. The Wranglers later that season banned cowbells from the Orleans Arena to protect the very fans that could not turn on the safety button to keep them from accidentally, or constantly, going off and causing any form of intergalactic frontier justice.

The bell ban caused my e-mail box to fill with more irate messages from a place on the other side of Canada. Soon, on a subsequent trip to Alaska, Wranglers team personnel were given messages to bring back to Las Vegas, and they usually involved an aggressive cowbell ringing just an inch from an ear or a nose, a pointed finger to the face, or another finger pointed to the sky.

The ban on cowbells resulted in an Alaskans' threat to boycott Las Vegas, and have Aces fans follow their beloved team to games in California, instead.

You're welcome, Fresno.

But through this cautionary cowbell tale, one admires how Aces fans love their Aces. Their dedication is staggering. The legend of the cowbell serves only as a small piece of the Las Vegas-Alaska rivalry that all who watch these teams play have seen firsthand. My dislike for the Alaska Aces is in no way caused by their loyal and fervent fans. Sport is passion, and passion is fun.

Nor is my dislike for the Alaska team caused by their two ECHL Kelly Cups to the Wranglers none since 2003, or that they wear Carolina Blue which is highly toxic to this University of Kentucky alum.

It's not because they can see Russia from their rink. Or that there ain't no sunshine when it's January. Or that it would be easier and cheaper to ship the Wranglers to Maine twice a season in place of Anchorage. Honolulu is closer and it has sun. Why can't we go there?

It's not that the Wranglers and Aces' organizations rarely see eye-to-eye on much or share the same priorities behind the scenes. In that their on-ice enforcers have had fewer redeeming qualities than our on-ice enforcers has little to do with it as well.

There is no professional jealousy or insecurity. And it's not that Alaska fans lack any sense of humor, as revealed in the Great Popcorn Incident of 2009.

The scorn is not because at times the Wranglers lose to Alaska, because at times they lose to us. Respect for a win far outweighs the fear of a loss, no matter from whom the loss is dealt.

Rather, the contempt is a sum of its parts.

When it comes to Alaska we prefer being the perennial underdogs, rather than be the organization that wakes up on third base thinking they hit a triple. Everybody rooted for Luke Skywalker because Darth Vader always stacked the odds.

And in case Ali did say that whole thing about sweetening the pot, Alaska returns to Las Vegas March 27 in a preview of a potential starfighter combat in the ECHL Kelly Cup Western Conference Finals.

Operators, and Yoda, are standing by.

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