Las Vegas Sun

February 23, 2019

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Wranglers finished in Las Vegas as options, time run out

Wranglers vs. Idaho

STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Wrangler forward Matt Tassone (16) attempts to settle a bouncing puck in front of Idaho Steelheads goaltender Pat Nagle during the first period of play on Feb. 28, 2014.

Regrettable Tattoo night @ the Wranglers

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World Pasta Day with the Wranglers

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In the end, the Las Vegas Wranglers skated full circle. Vanquished from their home ice at Orleans Arena in December 2013, the team crisscrossed the Las Vegas Valley in search of a new home.

With a deal at the Plaza having melted away and talks with Silverton Casino Lodge moving at a too-sluggish pace, team owner Gary Jacobs was left with a single, last-gasp option: Orleans Arena.

And when officials with the Wranglers and the arena reached their second dead end this month, so did the team.

The Wranglers are finished in Las Vegas after an 11-year run in which the team grew into a locals favorite and drew an average of 4,300 to 4,700 fans a game.

Jacobs informed ECHL officials during the league’s winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., last week that he was unable to secure a home venue in Las Vegas for the 2015-2016 season and withdrew his team’s league membership.

“At the end of the day, after exploring several opportunities in Las Vegas, it just didn’t work out for the team or for the league,” Jacobs said today in a phone conversation shortly after issuing a statement on the team’s Facebook page that “the Wranglers’ reign in Las Vegas comes to an end.”

It was not without a concerted effort. After canvassing the Las Vegas Valley in search of a suitable venue to resume operations, Jacobs and consultant Justin Kemp contacted hotel officials at the Orleans.

“The fact is, none of the other places we’d pursued were going to work out, and we went back to the Orleans and submitted a proposal,” Jacobs said. “Their management decided not to pursue it.”

Which is not a massive shock.

The relationship between the Wranglers and Boyd Gaming, owners of the Orleans and its arena, had chilled by the fall of 2013.

Team President and COO Billy Johnson — who on Jan. 11 announced that he had taken a position as director of the UMC Foundation — had long complained of what he deemed the arena’s substandard customer-service operations at the concessions, sometimes putting a stopwatch on those waiting in line for food and drinks between periods.

He believed that the financial agreement was tilted toward the hotel, which in turn cut the team loose by telling Johnson the team was no longer financially viable.

In December 2013, Johnson and Jacobs were formally informed via e-mail that the hotel would not renew its lease with the team.

Orleans Arena has since filled the dates left open by the Wranglers’ departure with a mix of public and corporate events — a recent State Farm Insurance convention was reportedly a financial boon to the hotel.

Johnson and Jacobs spent much of the early weeks of 2014 searching for a new home and announced in February that they had reached an agreement to build a facility on the pool deck of the Plaza. But in May, Jacobs said the deal unraveled when the engineering costs proved more expensive than originally envisioned.

Talks resumed with the Silverton, where a venue would have been constructed for the team’s home games. But Jacobs said the discussions “were not moving forward fast enough” to satisfy his or the league’s timeline for a resolution to the team’s home-ice conundrum.

The team’s formal demise was met with sadness from the men who tried to keep it afloat.

“It’s a sad day, one I didn’t think I’d see coming when I made the move to UMC,” Johnson said in a text message. “I was really looking forward to being a Wranglers fan — going to games this fall and hanging out with my friends.”

During an appearance on the latest episode of “Kats With the Dish,” Johnson said he was growing weary of running the hockey franchise 18 months ago and considered leaving the team then, but he stayed with Jacobs as the hunt for a new arena became an emergency-level task.

“If it weren’t for that, I probably would have left then,” Johnson said.

He certainly made his mark in 11 years with the Wranglers.

With Johnson operating the joystick, the Wranglers treated the community to such madcap promotions as “Regrettable Tattoo Night,” “Dump Your Ex’s Stuff Night” and the infamous “Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night.”

Johnson also staged post-hockey games by such personal faves as smarmy lounge performer Tony Clifton, blues/folk artist Todd Snider and 1990s hit-makers The Smithereens.

Jacobs had become a fan of the scene at Wranglers games, frequently in attendance in the team’s VIP box, sharing space and swapping stories with such Las Vegas dignitaries as Carrot Top, Vinnie Paul and members of Blue Man Group.

“I’m sad, yes,” Jacobs said. “We had a lot of fun, and I met some great people and some great hockey fans. We tried, we really did, and I would love to have heard the fans cheer for the Wranglers once again, but it didn’t work out.”

It is indeed a somber end to a great ride. As Tony Clifton would say, “Dat’s life.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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