Friday, March 19, 2004 | 9:40 a.m.
Conflict rocked trade week for the Las Vegas Wranglers as center Kevin O'Flaherty refused to report to the Charlotte Checkers after being traded, nullifying the deal. Wranglers coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan suspended O'Flaherty for the remainder of the season.
The show of defiance by O'Flaherty represents an immediate zero-sum for the Wranglers - defenseman Nic Bilotto, who O'Flaherty was traded for, was expected to be at Triple-A Springfield until April. But Las Vegas will still be short a defenseman, after Kayle Short was traded in a series of three trades Tuesday that resulted in the acquisition of Toledo center Morten Ask.
To cap it all off, the Wranglers waived forward Darren Partch. When asked why, Gulutzan said simply, "I felt like I needed to waive him."
Partch said Thursday night he had been claimed off waivers by Charlotte, and was surprised to be let go by Las Vegas.
"I feel I could have been a piece of the puzzle to help the Wranglers go far in playoffs," Partch said. "I was successful while I was here, it's quite a bit of a shock."
Attempts to reach O'Flaherty were unsuccessful. Gulutzan said O'Flaherty was upset with the trade, and decided to go home for the season rather than report to Charlotte.
"It is surprising, especially for a young guy, that he wouldn't want to continue his hockey career," Gulutzan said. "Everyone has their own reasons for playing hockey."
Gulutzan said he anticipated no problems with the other two trades - Short for Peoria defenseman Craig Olynick, then Olynick and Wrangler forward Blaine Bablitz for Ask.
Ask practiced with the Wranglers yesterday and will play in tonight's game against the Idaho Steelheads.
"We've got a guy in Morten Ask who's tickled pink to be here," Gulutzan said. "Hopefully he can justify some of the moves we made and play well for us."
Tonight's is the first of two games with the Steelheads, followed by a Sunday afternoon game at Long Beach. The Wranglers sit in second place in the ECHL's Pacific Division, and Idaho is one point behind in third. The two are likely to meet in the first round of the playoffs, and whoever wins this weekend will go a long way towards securing home ice for that series.
The Wranglers are 3-3-1 against Idaho this year.
Either team could also make a run at first place in the Pacific Division, after San Diego coach Steve Martinson was suspended for five games by the ECHL for salary cap violations.
"This weekend is what we've worked for all year," said Wrangler forward Eric Schneider at Wednesday's practice. "To have home ice, for us to have that in the first round would be huge."
Schneider also said he expects the team's morale to rebound following a tough couple days.
"Today and yesterday were down days," he said Wednesday. "When new guys show up, everyone's a little more excited to see what they bring to the table."
For Schneider, brought to the table is Ask, who played alongside him at low Double-A Laredo last season. Schneider said he had good chemistry with Ask last season, and hopes the chemistry continues.