Stephen Sylvanie / Special to the Sun
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
On the night of Feb. 12, Jimmy Spratt sat in his Louisiana apartment, hanging out with a friend just hours after he watched from the bench as his Louisiana IceDogs teammates lost in overtime.
That same night, more than 1,500 miles away, Las Vegas Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel sat behind his desk at the Orleans Arena.
With one goalie in the AHL and another injured in that night’s game, Mougenel spoke of giving a young goaltender a big opportunity.
About midnight, Mougenel phoned the 24-year-old Spratt to have him join the team.
“I was pretty surprised,” he said. “It kind of caught me off-guard.”
Just over a month later, Spratt has been named the ECHL Goalie of the Week.
“It’s nice to get recognized,” Spratt said. “It feels good to get noticed like that, but individual successes always come from good team play.”
“It’s not possible to get recognized for this without the other 20 guys,” he said
Good team play is what the Wranglers have been bringing to the rink for the past month as they battle for a playoff spot in the tight National Conference.
Between the pipes for Las Vegas, Spratt has won six of eight games, posting a 2.59 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.
But more than that, he has given the Wranglers stability at the most important position on the ice, with Michael Ouzas on crutches and Joel Gistedt frequently flip-flopping between leagues.
“He’s relished the opportunity,” Mougneel said. “He’s a competitor and sees what he has in front of him.”
On the night of Mougenel’s phone call, Spratt had a two-hour car ride and two flights in front of him.
“At that hour of the night, it was pretty hard to find someone to drive me,” he said.
And thus began a 15-hour journey from Louisiana to Bakersfield, where the Wranglers were set to play the Condors the next night.
“I scrambled to find a ride, and luckily someone did a good deed for me,” Spratt said of his friend driving him to New Orleans International Airport.
At the airport, Spratt’s flight to Phoenix was delayed, which in turn caused him to miss his flight from Phoenix to Bakersfield.
“I was more nervous about just getting to Bakersfield than playing,” he said.
Eventually, he did get to Bakersfield, just before the team arrived, and promptly shut out the Condors in his first game. He stopped all 31 shots in his ECHL debut.
“From a hockey standpoint, the travel might have been good,” he said. “I didn’t have time to think about the game, and I was just playing off of adrenaline.”
In the seven games since, Spratt has become a key cog in the wheel of a team that once was battling just to get into the playoffs and now has aspirations of home-ice advantage.
“He didn’t have time not to gel with us,” Mougenel said. “He jumped off of a plane, had a huge win for us, and he’s played well.”
After his four-year career at Bowling Green State University ended last winter, Spratt bounced around leagues early this season, He went from the IHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks to the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, both destinations where he didn’t see any action, to the Southern Professional Hockey League, where he saw the ice for the first time with the Louisiana IceGators.
“Coming from a lower league meant absolutely nothing to me and nothing to the guys in the locker room,” said Mougenel. “And I think he has a chip on his shoulder because of that to prove that he’s a good goalie.”
When Ouzas returned from injury, Mougenel kept Spratt an arm’s length away. This past weekend, the move paid off as the goalie played an instrumental role in sweeping Bakersfield.
“My mindset has been that there’s three goalies here and you don’t know how much you’re going to play,” Spratt said. “Just keep doing the right thing and be ready for when you do get called in.”
A seventh-round pick of the Calgary Flames in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Spratt is closing in on his first professional playoff experience, but he’s not rushing to conclusions.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “It’s a huge chance, and playoffs are the most exciting time of the year. Any hockey player will tell you that. But it’s a really tight race and we need to take it 20 minutes at a time.”
And for Jimmy Spratt, taking his career one step at a time has paid off.
Double trouble: For the second time this season, the Wranglers’ Adam Miller has been named ECHL Player of the Week.
The center scored 12 points in five games to help the Wranglers win four games this past week. His 11-game point streak has tied a team record. He is fifth in the league in scoring with 74 points (29 goals, 45 assists).
Miller has tallied a point in 19 of 20 games and has tallied two in 12 of those games.