Monday, Jan. 17, 2005 | 8:41 a.m.
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - If he wants it, Billy Tibbetts will get another chance to prove his hockey ability in his quest to get back to the NHL.
It just won't be in Las Vegas.
The Wranglers cut Tibbetts last Friday, a night after he assaulted San Diego forward Scott Borders at the Orleans Arena, earning his fourth ejection this year in the process.
Wranglers coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan said with the extra salary space and veteran's spot on the roster, he is in preliminary talks to sign an NHL player.
Team co-owner Charles Davenport said the decision to release Tibbetts was made after last Thursday's game.
"He took a couple of bad penalties, and put us into a hole. That was probably the straw that broke the camel's back," Davenport said. "I liked Billy personally, but he was here to score goals. He wasn't doing the job he was here to do, and we let him go."
The Wranglers would not release contact information for Tibbetts, and attempts to locate him were unsuccessful.
Releasing Tibbetts left the Wranglers with just 12 position players for their Friday night home date against Victoria, but playing with a short bench was worth eliminating Tibbetts' penalty minutes, Gulutzan said.
"It was some concern," he said. "We couldn't keep taking penalties all game. We did it with him, and now I guess we're doing it without him."
In 13 games with Las Vegas, Tibbetts had one goal, four assists, a minus-4 plus-minus rating and 132 penalty minutes. Overall this season, Tibbetts led the ECHL with 188 penalty minutes in 20 games. Despite playing in just a third of the team's games, he alone accounted for 16 percent of the team's PIM.
Victoria's Blue Bennefield was second in penalty minutes, with 172 penalty minutes - in 32 games.
Las Vegas was 4-6-2 in the 12 games Tibbetts played in his nearly two-month tenure as a Wrangler. In the 14 games he missed due to suspension or injury, the Wranglers were 8-5-1.
"I'm not going to blame Billy Tibbetts for that," Gulutzan said. "I think it was just a coincidence."
The talented but troubled forward joined Las Vegas on November 18, days after being cut by the San Diego Gulls.
At age 30, he had played for 12 professional teams, including three NHL franchises. He was ineffective at that level, scoring just 10 points in 83 games. He compiled 269 penalty minutes in that stretch.
He had a criminal record dating back to a rape conviction in 1994. He received a suspended sentence, but served 39 months in prison beginning in 1996 for violating his probation - he shot a friend with a BB gun.
The ECHL's Toledo Storm claimed Tibbetts off waivers, but it was unclear whether he would join his 13th team. Davenport said other professional leagues would honor Toledo's waiver claim.
In his first game with the Wranglers, Nov. 18 in Bakersfield, Tibbetts delivered a violent cross-check to Condors forward Todd Alexander, striking him under the chin with his stick. The hit left Alexander concussed and prompted the ECHL to suspend Tibbetts for 10 games.
Still, Gulutzan said he planned on sticking with Tibbetts, who he at the time called "arguably the best player in the league."
Wranglers captain Jason McBain expressed mixed feelings about the volatile forward's release.
"He was a character," McBain said. "I really think he's a good person, but he's got some things he needs to work on, and I think he knows that. The guy really loves to play the game. He really sincerely wanted to help us, but for whatever reason it wasn't a right fit."
Condors fan Scott Hacker, who said he was always a fan of Gulutzan's from the Wranglers coach's playing days in Fresno, said he was surprised Las Vegas took Tibbetts in to begin with.
"He's probably the best player in the league, but he didn't control himself on the ice," Hacker said.
Wearing a bright orange Todd Alexander jersey and describing himself as a friend of the Condors forward who Tibbetts cross-checked, Hacker said he was let down by the length of the suspension.
"It was just a blatant cross-check to the face," he said. "I was disappointed by the 10-game suspension, especially when a guy back east got 12 games for dropping his pants in a game."
Alexander himself said that he was always impressed by Tibbetts' hockey skills.
"It's the same old story with Billy Tibbetts. He's got million dollar talent with a 10-cent mind," Alexander said. "It's too bad. A lot of guys out here would kill for the talent he has."