Las Vegas Sun

August 13, 2022

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HOCKEY:

Wranglers rebound on the road

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ONTARIO, Calif. -- The Las Vegas Wranglers will not be invited to this homecoming party again.

Coming off one of the worst losses in franchise history, the Wranglers responded by spoiling the Ontario Reign's home opener with a 4-3 victory in front of 8,067 fans at the Citizens Business Bank Arena.

A third-period power-play goal by Ned Lukacevic and a stunning last-second save by Michael Ouzas sealed the Wranglers' first road win of the season.

"This one was huge," said Ouzas, who improved to 3-1 with 22 saves. "It's so important. Last night we would like to forget all together and coming in tonight with our first road game we definitely wanted to come out strong."

The Wranglers did their best to erase the haunting memories of Thursday's 9-2 blowout loss to the Utah Grizzlies.

An early goal by Mick Lawrence helped facilitate that process as he buried a feed from Greg Collins just 8:23 into the game for the 1-0 lead.

"(Thursday) night was (Thursday) night," said Wranglers head coach and general manager Ryan Mougenel. "I had a good long talk with a lot of people. I talked to Keith Primeau for about an hour and he said it can either be a blip on the radar screen or it can become chronic. And it's not going to be something chronic if you believe in what you're doing. I truly believe in these guys. They work extremely hard. They are dedicated to the system and they played the system tonight. What a way to respond."

That victorious response to Thursday's lopsided game was never a lock Friday night as the Reign answered goal after goal.

About five minutes after Lawrence's opening goal, Jon Rheault scored during a 5-on-3 power play to tie the game 1-1.

Just 73 seconds later, though, Josh Prudden capitalized on an Ontario turnover and netted his first shorthanded goal of the season to put the Wranglers on top 2-1 at the 14:47 mark of the first period.

Once again, the Reign answered right back less than two minutes later with another goal by Rheault to knot the game at 2-2.

The Wranglers appeared to take control of the contest when Lawrence netted his second goal of the night for the 3-2 lead just 7:24 into the second period.

But a string of questionable penalties forced the Wranglers to kill off three consecutive 5-on-3s.

"The biggest part was overcoming the adversity of being down for eight minutes straight with one 5-on-3 after another," Lawrence said.

Ontario struck on the first 5-on-3 as Jon Francisco tied the game 3-3 midway through the second period, but the Wranglers controlled the damage and did not allow any other goals.

The Wranglers killed off nine of Ontario's power plays with both of those power play goals coming during 5-on-3s.

"We're not always going to get the right calls and we have to keep our emotions in check," Mougenel said. "Tonight we found a way to win despite the calls and I'm proud of that."

Las Vegas only scored once on nine power play opportunities, but that one time was enough to make the difference as Lukacevic scored with 6:14 left in the game for the 4-3 lead.

Ontario made one last offensive surge on the power play in the final 30 seconds, but a swift kick save by Ouzas on a backdoor shot sealed the victory.

"I can't tell you how many unbelievable saves he made," Mougenel said. "Ouzas was the difference tonight and I think he is getting better and better."

Stars of the game: 1. Jon Rheault (2 goals, 1 assist); 2. Mick Lawrence (2 goals); 3. Josh Prudden (1 goal, 2 assists)

Calling Collins: Forward Greg Collins returned to the Wranglers lineup Friday night and made quite the impression on his coach. Mougenel benched Collins after a poor performance in the season opener, but he liked what he saw from the 23-year-old University of New Hampshire product against Ontario.

Collins notched an assist with two shots.

"I thought Collins was arguably the best player tonight," Mougenel said. "I'm still learning players too. I kind of made a rash decision about Collins taking him out of the lineup. But he brought a lot of energy tonight and that's what we needed."

Heavy hitter: Nick Ross takes this award as he sent Ontario forward Adam Henrich flying end over end with a vicious hit in the second period.

Next up: The Wranglers stay in Ontario to face the Reign on Sunday night at 5 p.m. from the Citizens Business Bank Arena.

Final word: "(Ouzas) is one of the most dedicated, focused guys I've ever seen," Lawrence said. "He came up with some huge saves and it's good to see him succeeding because he works hard for it."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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