Friday, Feb. 11, 2005 | 10:09 a.m.
Just in case anyone thought Billy Tibbetts left Las Vegas under unpleasant circumstances, the former Wrangler and now Idaho Steelhead wants to make it clear.
"Glen Gulutzan is a class act and an extremely good coach. I only wish that I was in a better frame of mind when I got to Vegas," a relaxed-sounding Tibbetts said Thursday. "I let my teammates down and let my coaching staff down and it's something I'll carry with me and learn from. Hopefully I'll get the chance to play for Glen in the future."
Tibbetts was back in Las Vegas on Thursday for the first time since being released by the Wranglers on Jan. 14, the conclusion of a tumultuous three-month start to the 2004-05 season.
But since being cut by Las Vegas, life for Tibbetts seems to be getting a little more ordinary. In the five games he played with Idaho before being put on the injured list earlier this week, he had two goals, three assists and 45 penalty minutes. It's early and one of those goals was an empty-netter, but consider that in 13 games with Las Vegas, Tibbetts had just one goal and four assists with 132 penalty minutes, and it's clear that Idaho is a better fit.
"Things are going great," he said. "A lot's happened since then. I'm finally back to being focused, happy."
When he was let go by the Wranglers, he was claimed off waivers by Toledo before being traded to Idaho. In that two-week stretch, Tibbetts moved in with Steelheads coach John Olver, a move Tibbetts said set "J.O." apart from other coaches.
"Basically, hockey's a business and when people treat it like a business and treat you like a piece of meat, they don't care about you personally, you sense that about them," he said. "I just needed a change of pace, a fresh start with a coach who took an interest in me personally. He's old-school... he knew how to handle me and things have been going great so far."
According to the Idaho Statesman, Olver conducted a background check on Tibbetts before trading future considerations to Toledo for the 31-year-old forward.
"I just wanted to get to know Billy, and I wanted him to get to know me," Olver told the Statesman. "A lot of times in this world people have a reputation and you don't even get to know the person. I wanted to form my own opinion based on my own experiences, not on what I heard."
Tibbetts pleaded guilty to rape in 1994, and served a 39-month prison sentence later that decade for violating his parole. He played parts of three seasons in the NHL but has spent the last three years in the minor leagues.
Last week, Tibbetts told the Statesman of his rape conviction, "I received oral sex. That's all that happened ... I take full responsibility for it. I was 17 and she was three months short of 16. In the state of Massachusetts, that is considered a crime."
What had recently dogged Tibbetts and what ultimately led to his Las Vegas release were consistent on-ice problems that led to penalties and suspensions.
"I've never run from any problems in my past," he said Thursday. "I've faced everything like a man, just like I play hockey. My on-ice focus, my erratic behavior, it led to my demise. It all worked out for the best and hopefully we both get the chance to make the playoffs. I'm really pulling for Vegas."
Tibbetts wasn't ready to deal with his problems in his time with Vegas, and his talent never materialized into wins as Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan had hoped when he acquired Tibbetts off waivers on Nov. 18.
That was shortly after Tibbetts was let go by his 2003-04 team, San Diego. That night at Bakersfield, he delivered a vicious cross-check to the Condors' Todd Alexander that landed Tibbetts a 10-game suspension.
He said that his behavior in Las Vegas was in part because of his frustration with his release from San Diego.
"I still had some anger issues that needed to be dealt with, and I've dealt with them now and I've put it behind me," he said.
"I wasn't ready to receive help from my teammates in Vegas. In order to help someone, they've got to help themselves and I wasn't ready for that."
Wranglers captain Jason McBain said it was frustrating trying to get through to his then-teammate.
"We'd try and talk to him and he'd kind of shut us out and not let us into his world and help him out," he said. "If somebody is at a point in their life they don't want to be helped, all you can do is offer words of encouragement and try to be positive. I hope for his sake things do work out, he's certainly not a bad person and I wish him well wherever he goes."
That's why Tibbetts made the unusual move of traveling with the team despite being on the injured list. Due to travel restrictions he was unable to travel with the team to Victoria, British Columbia, last week and spent time with family in Seattle. This week, he's here to see his former teammates.
"Hopefully, it's a real close game and hopefully we win because we both really need these points," he said.
Idaho and Las Vegas are in sixth and seventh place in the ECHL West, respectively. Even with wins Friday and Saturday, neither team will move up in the standings but will inch closer to a top-four pack that seems to be distancing itself.