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April 24, 2014

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HOCKEY:

Wranglers mount comeback to snap losing skid

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Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Las Vegas Sun

Las Vegas forward Dan Riedel celebrates after scoring a second period power play goal against the Alaska Aces at the Orleans Arena on Friday night. Riedel’s goal was the first of the night for the Wranglers as Las Vegas beat Alaska 5-3.

Wranglers pull off come-from-behind victory (3/27/09)

Wranglers forward Chris Neiszner celebrates after netting Las Vegas' fourth goal of the night against the Alaska Aces at the Orleans Arena on Friday night. Launch slideshow »

Wranglers

Alex and Steve Silver shed light on the Wranglers' short bench and playoff positioning.

The Alaska Aces have never lost a game in regulation after taking a lead into the first intermission, but the Las Vegas Wranglers changed that Friday night.

Despite falling into a two-goal hole after the first period, the Wranglers rallied to topple the Aces 5-3 in front of 5,497 fans at the Orleans Arena -- the first time the Wranglers have come back from a two-goal deficit all season.

"It's a huge win for us," said Las Vegas coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan. "To come from behind is a big thing for us and against the top team in the league is a big thing for us and we are young now. We are a young team, so we have to play hungry and strong every night."

Although both teams were still reeling from an ugly incident in their last meeting that led to two ejections and more than 75 penalty minutes, the Wranglers fell flat in the first period.

Alaska out-shot Las Vegas 10-4 as Matt Stefanishion and Scott Burt each scored to put the Aces on top 2-0 within the first nine minutes of the game.

The Wranglers continued to struggle early in the second period as they spent six of the first ten minutes shorthanded. It took Las Vegas more than 30 minutes to even register more than five shots on goal.

But the poor start did not faze the Wranglers as Dan Riedel ignited a scoring binge with a wraparound backhand shot on the power play to cut Las Vegas' deficit 2-1 with 8:33 remaining in the second period.

Less than three minutes later Mick Lawrence deflected a Brett Tyler power play shot from the point to tie the game at 2-2.

"After the first period it almost seemed like another game," Lawrence said. "It was frustrating because we got a couple weak calls and they capitalize and we are down 2-0 right off the bat again and luckily we stuck to our systems and it came through."

Just before intermission, rookie Scott McCulloch gave the Wranglers a 3-2 lead with a close range backhand shot for the third goal of his professional career.

The Wranglers continued to pull away from the Aces in the third period as Chris Neiszner put in a rebound from McCulloch's shot for a 4-2 advantage with 9:07 left in the game.

Alaska forward Brett Hemingway tried to spark a comeback when he buried a sloppy rebound with 5:21 remaining to cut Las Vegas' lead to 4-3.

Lawrence sealed the 5-3 victory, though, with an empty-netter in the final minute to snap the Wranglers' three-game losing streak.

"All week we've had our chances, but it finally came through tonight and we needed it," Lawrence said.

Las Vegas goalie Glenn Fisher made 25 saves to improve to 11-6-2 on the season.

Stars of the game: 1. Scott McCulloch (1 goal, 1 assist); 2. Mick Lawrence (2 goals, 1 assist); 3. Chris Neiszner (1 goal, 1 assist)

Young guns: With 36-year-old veterans Chris Ferraro (broken leg) and Peter Ferraro (suspension) out for the remainder of the season, the Wranglers will have to rely on their young talent including new additions Cody Lampl (Colorado College), John Schwarz (Michigan Tech) and McCulloch (Colorado College).

The average age of the Wranglers' roster Friday night was 24-years-old.

"Our young guys need to take hold of this team now and play well every night," Gulutzan said. "I think sometimes you need to remind them, but they have the ability to do it. They just showed it tonight."

Heavy hitter: The ECHL rescinded Tim Spencer's bogus match penalty for kicking he received after Tuesday night's brawl and it did not take long for Spencer to get back in the mix.

With the game in hand, Spencer (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) went toe-to-toe with Alaska forward Robin Richards (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) with three seconds remaining in the game. Both players landed some solid shots, so I'll have to check the CompuBox stats before I declare a winner.

Popcorngate: Alaska fans were still a little salty over their popcorn shower from the Duke on Tuesday night, but that didn't stop one creative fan from having a little fun at their expense. This fan held a sign advertising the law firm of "Wuss & Wimp" that claimed it could land Alaska fans a "butter settlement."

Another clever fan brought a sign asking the Duke to dump popcorn on him and naturally the Duke obliged. Also, as an added jab at the moose-jerky loving fans from Anchorage, the Duke sported popcorn buckets on his ears for most of the game.

I hope the Duke keeps this hilarious momentum rolling into the playoffs.

Diamond in the rough: Former Wranglers emergency backup goaltender and current Neil Diamond impersonator Jay White sang Friday's national anthem and it was awesome. Nice work.

Next up: The Wranglers travel to Bakersfield to face the Condors (31-31-7) Saturday at 7 p.m.

Final word: "All we are really concerned about is playing our best hockey before the playoffs," Lawrence said. "We haven't gotten all the results we wanted recently, but I think we are still playing some pretty good hockey."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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