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September 1, 2014

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Ice Ice Billy

A plea for Monday’s game three

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STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Defenseman Marc Cantin, left, guards Kyle DeLurelli as players battle for control of the puck in the corner on Friday night at the Orleans Arena.

Assuming the Louisville Cardinals move past the ninth-seeded Wichita State Shockers in Saturday's NCAA Final Four semi-final round, the sports world will hurl its attention Monday night towards one of the biggest events of the year; Louisville's Kevin Ware sitting on the sidelines.

The biggest and perhaps only universally recognizable player of the NCAA tournament won't even be playing on Monday night, and people will tune in to see CBS cut to shots of Ware providing inspiration all night long. (Sources I don't really have tell me the over/under on Ware cameos on CBS is 14½, while the number of times commentators refer to him as "this brave young man" is 5½.)

For those fans whose teams were eliminated from the NCAA tournament early and have moved onto baseball season, Ware was made an involuntary hero by suffering a freakishly nauseating injury that brought Louisville coach Rick Pitino to tears for the first time since Pitino realized he wasn't the highest paid guy on the Boston Celtics' bench.

Hockey buckets off to Ware for — as he lay exposed on coast-to-coast television crushed with a slicing sword of pain and the deafening din of possible shock — coagulating his team by telling them to go out and win that thing. A selfless awareness and action, it was admirable beyond imagination.

In contrast, I'm sure I would have screamed something rather nasty about somebody's mother, told Pitino that his wardrobe was excessive for the Derby City, and insisted that everyone in Las Vegas not forget the Wranglers play Game 3 of the first round of the ECHL Kelly Cup Championship Playoffs at the Orleans Arena on, of all nights, the night the NCAA hoops crown is awarded – and all while sounding exactly like Howard Dean on the campaign trail.

But that just would have been me.

Because back in Las Vegas, the Wranglers — plagued most days with their own number of inspirational and grotesque injuries — begin anew the trek to win 16 more games in a quest for the Kelly Cup. Step one is the best-of-seven opening round against the Stockton Thunder. Games 1 and 2 are in Stockton, this Friday and Saturday.

Hosting an ECHL professional hockey first round, game 3 in a sports betting town on NCAA Monday is like your pregnant wife planning her husbands-must-attend baby shower for 5:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday.

So, perhaps, here is a humble beginning to raising awareness for Monday night's contest against Stockton: "Psst... there is a Wranglers Round One playoff contest against Stockton on Monday."

Wranglers fans have helped the organization mitigate to some extent such challenges before. Capping off a banner season in attendance, last Friday night's crowd of 6,769 braved the jam caused by a double booking of parking lots around the Orleans Arena. Las Vegas locals were rewarded with a dramatic Wranglers season finale shootout win. The charged, playoff-caliber crowd blew the roof off the place, landing it somewhere on a bunch of classic cars, tatted up hipsters and some BBQ tents.

Fan emotion converts to electricity which transfers to those playing the game. Ask any player or coach. And it's in this where Las Vegas's inability to secure workable home playoff dates give the Stockton Thunder a distinct competitive advantage.

Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 in Stockton all fall on two Fridays, a Saturday and a Sunday.

Does Ware's injury amp up Louisville's already charged odds of winning it all? Magic 8-Ball says, "Outlook good." That's a lot of fan emotion, and a lot of electricity.

Louisville fans have, with genuine hearts on sleeves, jumped on the feel-good theme. They have all but retired No. 5 on social media, placed their figurative Rudy high upon their shoulders, and encouraged all to Ware red all week. But for those who have grown Warey of a regional rallying cry gone quasi-national, the local professional hockey team is just beginning a championship quest, and it begins with a radar-eluding schedule.

To get to a second round, a team has to navigate the first round. For the Wranglers, it all begins at home on Monday night. For Wranglers fans and locals, here is a humble suggestion that the Wareabouts of the NCAA Basketball Finals are unknown.



Billy Johnson is the president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Wranglers.

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