Christof Stache / AP
Friday, Oct. 19, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The ripple effects of the NHL lockout are being felt in the Las Vegas Wranglers’ ECHL.
The labor dispute is prompting cancellation of regular season NHL games, sending European teams into a feeding frenzy to sign the NHL-caliber talent and pushing out players who previously made a living playing overseas.
“It’s extremely unfortunate,” said Ryan Mougenel, Wranglers coach and general manager. “There are a lot of players who deserve the right to be playing. It’s tough to sit by and watch NHL guys take journeymen’s jobs.”
Charlie Cook is one of the players cast aside, but luckily for the defenseman, he’s found a spot on the Wranglers’ roster.
The Wranglers open their home schedule at 7 p.m. Friday at the Orleans Arena against the Stockton Thunder, and Cook is finding positives in the latest stage of his hockey career.
“It was a real good opportunity given the lockout year,” said Cook, 29. “This is going to be a good league. Every league gets better in a lockout.”
Cook joined the Wranglers on Oct. 12 and suited up for the season opener in Bakersfield, Calif., on Oct. 14. The game marked the defenseman’s return to the United States in close to six years. His last stint was in the 2006-07 season, when he played for the American Hockey League’s Binghamton Senators.
From 2007-12, Cook played in Europe, including stops in the top leagues in Finland, Switzerland, Sweden and, most recently, Germany. He’s readapting to some of the subtleties of American hockey, such as smaller rinks, more physical play and less rest between games.
And, of course, the obvious: He’s playing Double-A level hockey, a step down from his previous stops.
“It’s been fun seeing different kinds of hockey,” Cook said of playing in Europe. “It’s more a skating game and a puck-control game. You see how different styles play together, and what works and doesn’t.”
Las Vegas, and its fall and winter weather, is a far cry from his previous stops, which include his four-year collegiate career at Cornell and a brief stint with the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms.
“It’s nice to see the sun shine and put on shorts instead of a hat and boots,” said Cook, who is from Port Huron, Mich. “I could get used to this for sure.”
Despite the season being one game old, Cook is already enjoying the locker-room atmosphere with the Wranglers, where the language barrier is virtually nonexistent compared with Europe.
“It’s good to be back with players speaking English and telling jokes with a good group of guys,” Cook said.
Mougenel welcomes Cook’s presence in the locker room, saying Cook provides leadership. The coach also praised Cook’s character and experience as valuable assets for a team looking to return to the Kelly Cup finals.
“It’s nice to have players who are an extension of you,” Mougenel said. “That’s what Charlie is, and I’m going to lean on him a lot for coaching and leadership.”
On the ice, Cook is paying dividends. He scored the game-winner last Saturday in the Wranglers' (1-0) 3-2 victory against the host Bakersfield Condors.
“It’s always nice to get the first one out of the way,” Cook said. “It sets everything up, and now guys know what it feels like to get two points on the road.”
The performance has strengthened Mougenel's prediction that he may receive a few calls about Cook for a potential promotion to the AHL.
“Offensive defensemen are the next call,” Mougenel said. “He’s a proven player with a ton of success. He’s a right-handed-shot defenseman, which is hard to find. He’s a high-quality person.”
Even if he doesn’t move up to the AHL, Cook is grateful for the opportunity to play when other hockey players are struggling to find work.
“I’m thankful that I got a good place to play hockey this year,” Cook said. “With a situation like this, there are a lot of guys who find themselves where they normally would be playing. But those jobs are now gone.”
The Orleans Arena, a Boyd Gaming facility located just west of the Las Vegas Strip, is one of the nation’s leading mid-sized arenas, and was recently ranked No. 1 in the United States and No. 5 internationally among venues of similar size by Venues Today Magazine.
The Arena hosts more than 200 events each year, including concerts by top names like Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Van Halen, Brooks & Dunn, Black Eyed Peas, Akon and Rihanna; family favorites like The Harlem Globetrotters and Circus Spectacular; and a wide variety of sporting events, including NCAA basketball tournaments, the West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference Basketball Championships, mixed martial arts with Superior Cage Combat, and major motorsports events.
The arena serves as home to the Las Vegas Wranglers professional ECHL hockey team, the Las Vegas Legends professional indoor soccer team, and the Lingerie Football League’s Las Vegas Sin. Stay connected to the Orleans Arena on Facebook (www.facebook.com/orleansarena) and on Twitter (@orleansarena).