Wednesday, April 18, 2007 | 7:13 a.m.
Round One: Las Vegas Wranglers sweep Phoenix RoadRunners
Game 1: Las Vegas 5, Phoenix 1
Game 2: Las Vegas 3, Phoenix 2
Game 3: Las Vegas 5, Phoenix 4, OT
Game 4: Las Vegas 3, Phoenix 2
Round Two: Las Vegas vs. Idaho Steelheads, Stockton Thunder or Fresno Falcons
Arpad Mihaly had committed to the Las Vegas Wranglers early in the summer, then his plans changed when his fiancee, Nicole Gera, was diagnosed with a small tumor.
Mihaly stayed in Pennsylvania, where he played for Reading and the couple lived in Wilkes-Barre, to support his future wife. He said he even signed a contract for Wranglers coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan.
"But, as I said, there were family problems," Mihaly says. Gulutzan "was good about it. He said family comes first."
Months later, tests have revealed that Gera's tumor is not cancerous and is not growing. Mihaly, the first Romanian-born hockey player to sign and play in the United States, has been thriving with the Wranglers since he was acquired in a Jan. 29 trade.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound left winger scored one goal and dished out an assist in the team's sweep of Phoenix in the National Conference quarterfinals, which stretched the Las Vegas winning streak to an ECHL-record 17.
Mihaly, 27, was with Milwaukee in the AHL when he was informed that Gulutzan had obtained him.
"I was happy. I wanted to come here and do well," Mihaly says. "It's a team effort. No individual sticks out. Everyone plays for the team. That's what creates this kind of success."
The Brabham Cup, awarded to the ECHL team with the most regular-season points, arrived in Las Vegas on Friday. The Wranglers won the first trophy in their four-year history with a record of 46-12-14 (106 points), beating Alaska (49-16-7) by a point.
The punchbowl-like trophy, though, remains in its box, unopened, in a corner of the team's administrative offices.
"We're happy we won it," forward Nick Anderson says. "Last season, Alaska beat us by a point for that cup, so it's a pretty good feeling. But we have to put that behind us. The Kelly Cup lasts a little bit longer."
The Brabham Cup is named after Henry Brabham, who founded the ECHL with Bill Coffey in summer 1988.
The winner of the ECHL playoffs gets the Patrick J. Kelly Cup.
"They'll look at it a little later," Gulutzan says of the Brabham Cup.
Between the pipes
Mike McKenna won the first two games of the Phoenix series, then Kevin Nastiuk played goaltender for the Wranglers in their next two victories.
Neither McKenna nor Gulutzan specified what "illness" kept McKenna from playing the third and fourth games, but Gulutzan said it would be healed by the end of this week.
"It's really minor, but it's something we don't want to nag later," Gulutzan says. "We felt it was in the best interest, long-term, to see if 'Mac' can get a little bit of rest."
The Wranglers don't know whom they'll play in the National Conference semifinals, probably the winner of the Idaho-Stockton series. Idaho defeated Stockton in overtime Monday night and leads the series, 3-2. The teams head to Idaho for Game 6 tonight and Game 7, if necessary.
Gulutzan was so relaxed late Friday , after the Wranglers had taken a 3-0 edge on the RoadRunners with a 4-3 victory in overtime at the Orleans Arena, he got in some goalie practice.
His son, Landon, took some shots at the old man with a little stick and puck in the hallway outside Gulutzan's office.
Landon easily slipped his first shot, a roller on its side, between his dad's legs. Gulutzan laughed .
"He's got a good shot," the coach said, "unlike his dad."
Not quite. Gulutzan had his jersey retired in Fresno.