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September 1, 2014

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Condors fly out of Las Vegas with 4-2 win

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STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Condors players Jacob Lagace, right, and Erik Burgdoerfer share a laugh near their bench after Bakersfield scored a third period goal to take a 3-2 lead over the Wranglers on Tuesday night.

Wranglers vs. Condors

With Condors forward Evan Trupp on the doorstep, goalie Joe Fallon gets some help from team captain Mike Madill in stopping a Bakersfield shot during the second period of play on Tuesday night. Launch slideshow »

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The 2012-13 Bakersfield Condors season hasn't been the most memorable when it comes to their record. The team is last in the nine-team ECHL Western Conference, and is in danger of being the only team to miss out on the league's generous playoffs — eight teams from the West advance.

The team does, however, have a nice consolation prize if it doesn't make the postseason: a viral video hit on YouTube, which has brought more attention to the team than their record.

On Feb. 8, an Andean condor named Queen Victoria got loose, creating a memorable moment for those in attendance.

Just a few feet from the condor-related chaos were the Las Vegas Wranglers, who ended up winning that game as part of a nine-game winning streak.

The teams met again Tuesday, culminating in a 4-2 victory for the Condors, inside the Orleans Arena, only this time minus the live avian hijinks.

The win is Bakersfield's fourth in a row, keeping its playoff hopes alive.

"I'm pretty happy," said Bakersfield forward Francis Verreault, who scored two goals. "We're fighting for a spot in the playoffs. That's a big one for us."

Most of the post-game chatter, however, was about the Feb. 8 outing where the condor got loose prior to the puck dropping.

The video, which lasts 2 minutes and 27 seconds, has amassed more than a million views.

According to YouTube metrics, the clip has been watched in more than 190 countries, and has been featured on ESPN, CBS and other network television shows — though nothing can match seeing the chaos live.

"Hands down the strangest thing I've seen at a hockey game," said Bakersfield radio play-by-play man Ryan Holt, who also serves as the assistant media contact for the team. "We had no idea what the bird would do."

After Queen Victoria escaped, Bakersfield forward Daniel Koger made an attempt to corral the bird toward the trainer. Koger is seen on the clip skating gently behind the bird in an effort to guide it back to its handler.

"I tried to get the condor to the guy who brought it on the ice," Koger said. "I guess the condor didn't like me behind it. ... I was afraid, but I was at the condor's back, so I was fine behind him, trying to get it back to the guy.

"You see hockey players, 6-3, 6-5, everybody was scared of the (expletive) condor."

His efforts went for naught as the bird made its way toward the bench.

Bakersfield right wing Scott Freeman said the bird had clipped a few players on its way to the bench. Freeman hopped off the bench as quickly as he could.

The bird also found its way to Bakersfield coach Matt O'Dette, who admitted he was afraid of the large animal, and the bird landed briefly on O'Dette.

"I feared for Matt O'Dette's life. He's one of my closest buddies and I didn't want to see him get mauled to death by a giant condor," Las Vegas Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. "I've seen Matt O'Dette fight some of the toughest people ever, and that was the most scared I've seen him ever."

Goofiness aside, the Condors entered Tuesday's meeting with Las Vegas riding high. Brian Stewart, who garnered ECHL Goaltender of the Week honors for his play over the weekend, was the biggest reason why the Condors have found their groove recently.

Stewart made 47 saves on 49 shots. He also got a few lucky breaks as the Wranglers had more than their fair share of chances to score.

"It's been like that for the last few games," Stewart said. "We're trying to keep more shots to the outside, and it's making my stats better."

Scott Pitt and Eric Lampe scored the goals for Las Vegas (27-21-2-3), which suffered its first regulation loss to Bakersfield this season.

"Our forwards have been awesome," Mougenel said. "I thought our D had to be way better, and that's one of our strong suits. They weren't good."

Three Stars: 1. Ryan Stewart, Bakersfield (47 saves); 2. Francis Verreault, Bakersfield (2 goals); 3. Jacob Lagrace, Bakersfield (3 assists)

Up Next: The Wranglers visit the 49th state with a trip to Alaska for a three-game set with the West-leading Alaska Aces. The series begins Friday at 8:15 p.m.

Final Word: "My jaw still hurts. I didn't even know it was him. He came down the wing, and I thought it was a forward." — Bakersfield goalie Ryan Stewart on taking a Josh Godfrey slapshot to the face midway through the third period. Godfrey has the hardest shot in the ECHL.

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

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