Nobody is happier to be back home than Mike Madill, the Wranglers’ first-year coach and general manager.
The Las Vegas ECHL team has spent the past five weeks on the road, where it went 3-6 and dropped to fourth place in the five-team Pacific Division with 13 points.
But despite the rough start, the season has not been blown to smithereens. At least not in the eyes of Madill, whose Wranglers (6-11-1) will open for the Smithereens, the legendary 1980s New Jersey rock group that will perform after today’s 7:05 p.m. game at Orleans Arena against the Pacific’s last-place team, the Bakersfield Condors (5-12-0, 11 points),
“It’s good to be back,” Madill said. “But we’re not alone. Half the league is having problems. We’ve had some big injuries, and we’ve missed having some guys. But we’re getting healthy, and we’re back home, so we’re looking at it as a fresh start.”
On Tuesday, the Wranglers traded for veteran center John Armstrong, who has played in the American Hockey League. They also re-signed free-agent forward Phillip Ischi, who has had two previous tours with Las Vegas. Madill also is expecting to have forward Robert Smith and defensemen Greg Coburn and Ryan Forgaard back from injuries.
“Every team goes through it,” Madill said of injuries. “We got our bumps and lumps at the start of the season. Hopefully, we’re through that and we can have the team we envisioned at the start of the season together for a while.”
Madill said the Wranglers have improvised at times, changing the way they play to accommodate their personnel. But even if the system was different, Madill has tried to keep the same premise throughout.
“I wanted this team to be hard to play against,” he said. “The first 10 games, we weren’t hard to play against. Now, we’re starting to click. We’re creating competition from within, and you’re not only competing for ice time, you’re competing to see if you even dress.”
Two guys who don’t have to worry about ice time are defenseman Jeff May and forward Carlo Finucci. Finucci has three goals and 15 points, and May has seven goals and 14 points.
“He’s very skilled offensively,” Madill said of Finucci. “He’s learning that it doesn’t matter what you do, that it’s about winning games, and he’s working hard on his defensive responsibilities.”
May said his success has come from the work of the forwards.
“They’re doing a good job of getting the puck to the point and then creating screens in front,” he said. “We’re starting to get into our system and develop some chemistry.”
As tough as the road trip was, it gave the Wranglers a chance to bond. The team spent Thanksgiving together in Boise, Idaho, then ended the trip with a 4-3 victory over the Steelheads the following night.
Now, they’re home, and as May sees it, it’s a chance to get back into the playoff chase. The Wranglers are 11 points behind second-place Stockton in the Pacific. Ontario leads with 32 points.
“We’re looking at this in seven-game segments, like a playoff series,” May said. “You can’t make it all up at once. But we want to win each seven-game segment, and we can get right back in it.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.