Wranglers ride steady lineup to another win

When other ECHL teams signed NHL players during the lockout, the Wranglers didn’t, holding firm to their philosophy of developing players.

That strategy has paid dividends for Las Vegas since the lockout ended a month ago. While other ECHL squads have struggled to replace key players, the Wranglers have reeled off a season-high nine-game win streak, their longest since 2007.

Judd Blackwater had a goal and two assists, Eric Lampe and Nolan Julseth-White each had a goal and an assist and goalie Joe Fallon won his seventh straight start Friday for Las Vegas, which never trailed in a 4-2 victory over Idaho before a crowd of 4,954 at Orleans Arena.

“The NHL lockout obviously had an effect on the competition. It’s probably not as strong,” Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. “We were going to stick with the guys we had. If the lockout didn’t end, we still wouldn’t have added NHLers, even if we lost. That’s not my philosophy.

“Even when we struggled, I wanted guys to play the right way because it’s so important, and that’s what we’re getting now.”

After the ECHL All-Star break, the Wranglers (27-19-5, 59 points) went 0-2-1 at Trenton and Reading, but they haven’t lost since.

The streak has coincided with the return of Lampe and Julseth-White from the American Hockey League and the addition of forward Robbie Smith through free agency and defenseman Matt Campanale and goalie Jody O’Neill (2-0-0, 0.90 goals-against average) through trades.

“We made trades out of necessity, but we’ve stayed true to our model: get guys better, have a great team concept and play the right way,” Mougenel said. “The last month and a half, I really like the way we’ve competed and looked after each other.”

Sean Wiles scored a power-play goal 46 seconds into the second period to snap a 1-1 tie and Lampe made it 3-1 with his team-leading 22nd goal at the 4:44 mark.

The Steelheads (32-15-5, 69) closed to 3-2 when David de Kastrozza buried a rebound at 8:04 of the third period, but Blackwater sealed the win with four minutes left.

“Bounces are going our way, we’re all playing the right system and we’re all playing with more confidence,” Blackwater said. “It’s just clicking right now.”

The Wranglers are on their longest run since they won 11 straight early in the 2007-08 season to start a 20-game point streak. But they’re still only halfway toward matching the 2006-07 team’s franchise-record 18-game win streak. That squad, guided by Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan, won its final 13 regular-season games and its first five playoff games before losing four of five to Idaho in the conference semifinals.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.