It took almost three years for the Wranglers to get 3,000 likes on their Facebook page, but it took only three days for a fan’s “Save The Wranglers” page to generate that many.
Fans have rallied around Las Vegas’ 11-year-old ECHL franchise since the recent news that Boyd Gaming won’t renew the team’s lease at Orleans Arena beyond this season and that the Wranglers need to find a new home by Jan. 20 or won’t be back here at all next season.
Team president Billy Johnson, who has spearheaded such promotions as the midnight game and Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night, said the response from the community has overwhelmed him.
“This is the greatest promotion I never thought of,” he said, jokingly. “We lost our lease night.”
Seriously, Johnson said he became emotional reading some of the fan comments online, and the imminent eviction from The Orleans also has invoked a wide range of emotions in the team’s players.
“It caught most of the guys by surprise,” Wranglers captain Geoff Paukovich said. “It’s sad. This is my fourth year here now, and this is my favorite rink to play in.
“It’s a little sobering to wonder ‘what if?’ for next year. It would leave a big hole if the worst-case scenario ends up happening, but I trust Billy. He always comes through when he needs to, and I’m sure he’ll get something done.”
Defenseman Eddie DelGrosso, a Las Vegas native, is offended that Boyd Gaming didn’t negotiate with the Wranglers before severing ties with the team.
“It’s pretty tough news to get, during the year especially,” DelGrosso said. “Everyone likes it here. It’s sad. Some people are pissed off.
“You kind of have to treat it as a business, but it seems like kind of a personal slap, especially with no negotiation at all. Who knows what would’ve happened if there was a negotiation. That part, guys take personal. Not so much not getting renewed, just that they flat out told us they don’t want us here.”
While Johnson said there’s no chance for the team to return to The Orleans, Wranglers tough guy Adam Huxley still is holding out hope.
“I hope cooler heads prevail,” said Huxley, one of the ECHL’s career leaders in penalty minutes. “We bring a lot of people to The Orleans, and I think The Orleans is crazy if they don’t want our passionate fans coming through here.
“I’m sure it’ll get sorted out even if we do not come back here.”
First-year coach and general manager Mike Madill, who played for Las Vegas in five of the past six seasons, said the Wranglers and their landlord long have been at odds.
“Since my first year playing here, I’ve known for some reason they don’t get along, and I knew as a player things could change at any time,” he said. “But that’s not for us to worry about. Our team’s obviously not going anywhere this year, and that’s what we’re focused on — this year and getting things turned around.”
Las Vegas (8-20-3, 19 points) is mired in a franchise-worst 10-game losing skid after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Western Conference-leading Ontario Reign (23-5-4, 50 points) before 5,800 at Orleans Arena. The Reign, who outshot the Wranglers 42-16, scored three goals in the final 2:48.
“If our record goes on like this, guys aren’t gonna have jobs here anyway,” Huxley said.
Despite the team’s disappointing start, attendance is up a tad from last season at 4,578 per game.
“Our fans are unbelievable,” DelGrosso said. “To see the team go, that would be terrible.”
Johnson apprised the team of its lease situation in late December, when he assured the players he and owner Gary Jacobs would find a new home for next season.
“We were basically told not to worry too much,” defenseman Charlie Cook said. “It sounds like they found a solution. I’d be shocked if they didn’t find a solution.”
Johnson said Friday morning the team is closing in on a stopgap solution for next season.
“We have a worst-case scenario,” he said. “We’re still trying to price it out, but we can probably pull the trigger on it pretty quickly. I feel we’ve got all the ingredients for a cake. We’re just not sure what kind of cake we’re gonna end up with.”
After Friday night’s 6-5 loss to Ontario, Jacobs said the team still is exploring several options but that he was confident the Wranglers will return to Las Vegas next season.
“We’ll be here. Absolutely,” he said. “We’ll find something. We’ll make something happen that’ll be fun, the way we like to do hockey.
“Fans don’t need to worry. We’ll be playing Wrangler hockey in Vegas someplace next year.”
Meanwhile, the Save The Wranglers page — not to be confused with Save Ferris — was up to 4,407 likes and counting Saturday night.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.