In Mike Madill's first season with the Wranglers, in 2007-08, he helped lead the franchise to its lone appearance in the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals, which it lost to the Cincinnati Cyclones in six games.
Back with Las Vegas after playing last year in Japan, the Wranglers defenseman and team captain said this season's squad is capable of finishing the job.
"From my experience from being here a few years, I think we can go all the way in the playoffs, for sure," Madill said. "We're such a hard-working group; we have a lot of speed and a lot of talent. It will be exciting."
Las Vegas will have its eyes on the prize today in Anchorage, Alaska, where the rival Aces will raise their second ECHL championship banner to the rafters of Sullivan Arena before their 8:15 p.m. season opener against the Wranglers.
"Hopefully it's a lot of motivation," third-year Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. "Going up to Alaska is not ideal, but it will be great to get on the big pond and get a good assessment of where we are."
Las Vegas, which plays the Aces again on Saturday, will host the Ontario (Calif.) Reign on Oct. 21 in its home opener at the Orleans Arena.
Mougenel expects Alaska, which returns virtually its entire title team, to contend in the Western Conference -- along with Ontario, the Stockton Thunder and Idaho Steelheads, who dealt the Wranglers their second straight first-round playoff exit last season.
Madill anchors a defense that was second in the ECHL in goals-against average and penalty-kill percentage last season.
The skilled but undersized corps of defensemen also will feature Jeff May, Barry Goers, Jamie Fritsch, Shawn Fensel, Michael Busto and local product Eddie DelGrosso.
"We don't have too much size on the back right now, but everyone is great at making that first pass, turning up the ice and jumping in the play," Madill said. "It's an exciting group, and we've got a lot of energy back there."
Returnee Joe Fallon and former Utah Grizzlies goalie Mitch O'Keefe give Las Vegas a strong duo in net.
"They look like twins on the ice," Madill said. "They're both big, they're both good, and they both had real good (exhibition) games."
The Wranglers, entering their ninth season, went 2-1 in the preseason, beating the expansion Colorado Eagles 4-3 and splitting a pair of games with Ontario, a 4-2 win and 3-1 loss.
Former ECHL All-Star Judd Blackwater led Las Vegas in goals with three, and local product Chris Francis added a goal and three assists.
Other players expected to carry the scoring load include Ned Lukacevic, Pete MacArthur, Eric Lampe, Ryan Weston and former ECHL All-Stars Ash Goldie and Adam Miller.
"There's going to be scoring not just from one or two guys, but from all three lines this year," said Miller, who compiled a franchise-record 86 points for Las Vegas in 2009-10 before playing last season in Sweden and Finland.
MacArthur and Weston spent most of the past three seasons in the American Hockey League, and Lukacevic also has extensive AHL experience.
"You look at the team on paper, and pretty much everyone's been to the (AHL) at some point," Lukacevic said. "But it comes down to hard work and playing a team game. We're going to be a team this year. We're not going to have any individuals."
With the Wranglers lacking an enforcer, Mougenel said his biggest concern is opponents taking physical liberties against his team.
"We want to be team tough," he said. "We don't necessarily believe in one guy doing the fighting. We believe in everybody doing it. I expect the team to definitely look after each other."
Las Vegas will start the season without Goldie and Madill, who is dealing with immigration issues. Goldie, younger brother of Wes Goldie, Alaska's reigning league Most Valuable Player, is home in Canada with his pregnant wife and isn't expected to join the team for three weeks.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354.