Wranglers see chance for great skate on big Alaska ice surface

When it comes to winning on the road, the "Great White North" has been the great white albatross for the Wranglers.

Las Vegas, which opens a key three-game series at league-leading Alaska on Thursday, has lost 17 of its last 21 regular-season meetings (4-10-7) against the Aces at spacious Sullivan Arena.

A perennial ECHL power backed by a passionate fan base, defending Kelly Cup champion Alaska benefits from playing on the only Olympic-size rink in the league. At 200 feet long and 100 feet wide, the Aces have much more room to roam at home than the rest of the league, which plays on NHL-size rinks measuring 200 feet by 85 feet.

"It's definitely an advantage," Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. "I'm sure they'll say it's not, but if you ask any other coach in our league, they don't like going up there and playing on the big ice.

"It's a lot of ice. For a young team to go up there, it's a little bit overwhelming at times."

Pacific Division-leading Las Vegas (33-18-5, 71 points) trails Mountain Division-leading Alaska (35-14-6, 76) by five points in the battle for the top seed and first-round bye in the playoffs.

Despite the larger dimensions, Mougenel is confident his team can succeed in Anchorage.

"I like our team on the big ice," he said. "We're a great skating team, and we're fun to watch offensively. It's going to be a battle up there. We're excited."

The Wranglers lost their first two games of the season in Alaska -- 2-1 in a shootout Oct. 14 and 5-1 on Oct. 15 -- where the Aces are 26-5-0 this season and 228-65-26 since joining the league in 2003.

Las Vegas left wing Josh Lunden, who played his home games at Sullivan Arena for four years while at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, said the size of the ice surface shouldn't matter much.

"I don't know if it's an advantage. Both teams are playing on it," he said. "They're more used to it, but I think it's good for us. We've got a team full of speed and it's only going to benefit us.

"It's one of those road trips that's more mental than anything. It's not too bad."

Las Vegas is 2-2-1 against Alaska this season after winning two of three meetings this month at Orleans Arena, where the Wranglers have a 21-6-2 record.

The Wranglers are 12-12-3 on the road, where they'll play their next nine games before closing the season with seven straight at home.

The Aces will play 12 of their last 14 games on the road, where they're 9-9-6.

Las Vegas edged Utah 4-3 early Monday in the team's second midnight game of the season.

Adam Miller, who leads the ECHL in scoring with 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists), had a goal and two assists, and Lunden scored his seventh goal in five games for the Wranglers, who led 4-1 after two periods and hung on for their second straight win after losing five of six.

Las Vegas treated the crowd of 4,102 to three fights in less than four minutes of the first period, with the Wranglers arguably winning all three. Robbie Smith scuffled with Matt Sorteberg, Adam Huxley fought Jordan Foreman, and Ryan Weston went toe-to-toe with 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound Nick Tuzzolino.

"You just get a little aggravated out there, and they're a physical team," the 6-2, 205-pound Weston said. "My fight, I was simply standing up for one of our guys."

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


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