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August 1, 2014

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HOCKEY:

Wranglers snag first victory of the year

J.D. Watt doesn't know much about the ECHL, the Wranglers or Las Vegas.

But he discovered enough over the past couple of days to pay attention to the veteran Ferraro twins, Chris and Peter, which helped him net his first professional goal Friday night.

That was the first score of the game, and it ignited Las Vegas (1-2-1) to a 4-1 victory over the expansion Ontario Reign (2-1) at the Orleans Arena.

Watt redirected a shot from defenseman Michael Beynon, whom Peter Ferraro had fed, and slipped it past Ontario goalie John Murray almost halfway through the first period.

"I'm not sure whether it was Peter or Chris who threw it up against the wall," Watt said. "I'm still trying to tell the difference between the two."

So are the rest of the Wranglers, or anyone who has ever played with the Ferraros. The identical twins both wear beards, but Peter has an inch and about 10 pounds on his 5-foot-9, 185-pound brother.

"It was a good shot by our defenseman," Watt said. "I got lucky to tip it."

Watt, 21, is a 6-2, 196-pound right wing who woke up Wednesday as part of the Calgary Flames' American Hockey League team in Quad City.

He had played in that team's first five games, but he registered no points on its fourth line. By the end of Wednesday, he was on his way to Las Vegas for more playing time.

A fourth-round draft selection by Calgary in 2005, Watt found himself playing with one or both of the 35-year-old Ferraros an abundance of Friday's game.

"I watch them in practice and listen to them in the dressing room," Watt said. "They're both really good teachers. They've been around the game a long time. A guy in my position just needs to sit there and listen and take it in.

"They know a lot of things, when it comes to the ice. You just do those little things well, like going to the front of the net, and you'll get chances."

Watt averaged about 200 penalty minutes a season during his junior career with Vancouver in the Western Hockey League.

"He's a little bit of a mustang," said Wranglers coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan. "He knows it. He has to be tamed somewhat. You don't want to take that youthful exuberance from him.

"If he can manage his game, so to speak, and bring that exuberance to the table, that's a pretty good thing."

Watt isn't shy about the physical aspect of his game, but he centered several scintillating passes -– no teammates were around to capitalize -– in front of the Ontario net.

"I won't make the NHL as a skill player," he said. "So I have to know my role, which is hard-nosed and gritty. I'll chip it in, play the body as much as I can and drive the puck at the net. Hopefully, that's what will take me to the NHL."

Heavy hitter: With 17.5 seconds remaining in a sluggish, feisty game, Wranglers left wing Tim Spencer and Ontario's Ryan Bowness dropped the gloves.

Spencer patiently waited as Bowness threw the first punch, a left. But before it could land, Spencer bopped Bowness with a straight left between the eyes.

Although Spencer sported cotton swabs up both nostrils, and a cut on the end of his nose, after the game, the victory clearly was his.

"I saw him coming at me and threw that left jab," Spencer said. "I really knocked him around a bit. That put it in my favor. We showed we won't be pushed around."

Go to the corner: Referee Jason Nissen had a busy evening, calling 29 penalties for a total of 86 minutes.

"Chippy stuff happened in front of the net early, and no penalties were called," Spencer said. "So everyone started doing it. It dictated the game. By the end there were a lot more penalties than were needed because (Nissen) let too much go."

Star of the game: After a shaky Las Vegas debut Thursday night, Wranglers goalie Martin Houle stopped 15 of 16 goals Friday for his first victory with his new team.

The one goal that slipped by him was on a power play, by Jon Francisco, with less than four minutes left.

"Not really," Houle said, when asked how badly he wanted a shutout. "As long as we got the win, that's fine with me."

Attendance: 4,802

Up next: at Ontario, Saturday at 7 p.m.

The final word: "We have to play more disciplined and keep our mouths shut," Gulutzan said. "We have some young guys with some tempers. They have to learn to keep their mouth shut."

Rob Miech can be reached at 948-7847 or [email protected].

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