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December 19, 2014

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Alaska fans make noise in Aces’ shootout loss to Wranglers

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Wranglers netminder Joe Fallon drops the puck to the ice after stopping a shootout attempt by Aces forward Alex Hudson to give Las Vegas a thrilling 5-4 victory on Friday night at the Orleans Arena.

Aces vs. Wranglers

Sean Wiles gets fired up after scoring a second period goal against the Alaska Aces on Friday night. Launch slideshow »
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Alaska Aces fan Rick White proudly wears his gear that earned him the nickname "Helmet Man," Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, at the Orleans Arena. The Wranglers topped the aces 5-4.

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Armed with cowbells and a sense of team pride, a traveling band of Alaska Aces fans made plenty of noise inside the Orleans Arena on Friday night against the Las Vegas Wranglers.

At times, the ringing of cowbells and cheers drowned out the large majority of Wrangler fans. Most notably with each Alaska goal, Rick White's one-of-a-kind helmet would emit the same red light, bringing the 200-or-so fans from Alaska to their feet.

"We love it in Las Vegas. They treat us well," said White, who has a custom-made Alaska Aces jersey donning his nickname "Helmet Man."

Unfortunately, the Aces weren't treated with such hospitality on the ice. The Wranglers rallied from a two-goal deficit to walk away with a 5-4 shootout victory over the Aces, sending the 5,000-plus Wrangler fans home happy.

"We needed that win," said Eric Lampe, who scored the game-tying goal with 44 seconds to play in the game. "It was another big win for us. Hopefully we can keep it going."

It probably wasn't the ending White envisioned when the Alaska fans got onto the plane to fly down to Las Vegas, but the game is just part of the experience.

For five seasons, White has led a group of Aces fans to Las Vegas for a brief hockey-centric vacation in the lower 48.

Last season, the Aces fan base took an epic road trip visiting other ECHL towns such as Bakersfield, Calif., Ontario, Calif., Stockton, Calif., and, of course, Las Vegas.

White said the number of fans who make the trip to Las Vegas has grown over time, and that many in the Anchorage, Alaska, area support the team.

"We have a lot of support for the guys from Alaska every year," White said.

The Wranglers (20-19-2-3) were unfazed by the louder-than-usual road supporters, and plugged away as they normally would, albeit in the fashion that has, more or less, become the team's identity (fall behind early, play catch up rest of the game).

The Aces (32-11-1-3) seemed to have the game in hand with less than a minute to play and up a goal. All they needed was one more defensive stop to win the game.

But after a timeout, Andrew Sarauer won the face-off in the Aces territory. Nolan Julseth-White fired a shot toward the net, but Alaska goalie Gerald Coleman made the save.

Coleman, however, was unable to secure the puck. The puck caromed off Coleman, before bouncing off Lampe's arm into the back of the net to tie the game.

"My momentum was going forward, and it went in," Lampe said of the goal that sent the game into overtime.

The teams played a deadlocked extra period of hockey, setting up the shootout.

After Bobby Hughes scored the first goal for the Alaska, birthday boy Joe Fallon stepped up, stopping the next four shooters to give the Wranglers their fifth shootout victory in a row — their second over Alaska this week.

The Wranglers, meanwhile, converted on two of their chances to win the game.

"We battled a lot of adversity tonight," said Chris Francis, who had a goal, an assist and a goal in the shootout. "We play from behind, but it shows character in our team."

Three Stars: 1. Eric Lampe, Las Vegas (1 goal, 1 assist); 2. Chris Francis, Las Vegas (1 goal, 1 assist), 3. Nick Mazzolini, Alaska (2 goals).

Up Next: The Wranglers continue their home stand with another matchup with the Alaska Aces 7 p.m. Saturday. Las Vegas will then take Sunday off before returning to the ice Monday for a game against Colorado in the "Over-18 Night."

Final Word: "It's going to be different. We've never seen anything like that before. We're all pretty happy to experience it. It'll be fun for all of us." — Las Vegas' Chris Francis said about wearing "topless" jerseys on Monday against the Colorado Eagles.

Paul Delos Santos can be reached at 990-2416 or [email protected]. Follow Paul on Twitter at twitter.com/pauliedelos.

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