Setting the tone for a team that prides itself on its toughness, Wranglers enforcer Adam Huxley dropped his gloves four seconds into Las Vegas’ 11th ECHL season opener Saturday night at Orleans Arena.
One of the league’s career leaders in penalty minutes, a grinning Huxley urged on the crowd of 5,809 after trading punches with Utah Grizzlies defenseman Norm Ezekiel.
The crowd didn’t need any prompting after that, as the rest of the new-look Wranglers gave them plenty to cheer about in a 4-1 victory in former team captain Mike Madill’s coaching debut.
Three newcomers scored, including defenseman Greg Coburn midway through the first, and the Wranglers exploded for three goals in a 2:24 span of the second period to take complete control.
“We took probably a few too many penalties, but that’s the team we were thinking about this summer, hard to play against with a lot of jam,” Madill said. “We’ve got a couple guys with some amazing chemistry, guys who make plays and work hard.
“We’re excited, but I don’t want to say I’m surprised.”
Utah forward Jamie MacQueen beat Travis Fullerton on the power play in the third period to spoil the rookie’s shutout bid. Fullerton, who led the University of New Brunswick to three national titles in Canada, stopped 40 shots in his professional debut. He earned the starting nod over veteran Mitch O’Keefe, who is nursing a sore back.
“Travis is feeling good, and he’s a young guy with a lot of energy,” Madill said. “He’s a gamer. He knows how to win games.”
Geoff Irwin sat out last season, but the former Ontario Reign forward looked sharp Saturday, beating Igor Bobkov in front moments after the Wranglers killed a four-minute disadvantage for a 2-0 lead 13:08 into the second.
Irwin also set up returnee Carlo Finucci for a goal with a quick pass in front on a two-on-one at 16:02.
“It’s a great start for the guys,” Irwin said. “We got some momentum going in the second, and it’s nice to get that first win out of the way for the coach and the boys.”
Local product Chris Francis led Matt Tassone with a perfect pass in front at 14:45, and the newcomer tapped it in.
Finucci also assisted on Coburn’s power-play goal. Las Vegas has struggled with the man advantage for years, but converted its first chance of this season, finishing 1-for-4 on the power play for the night.
Utah (1-1-0) beat Idaho 4-2 in its season opener at home Friday behind four goals by MacQueen, who got into a skirmish with Chad Nehring late in the first.
Irwin, Finucci, Charlie Cook and Jeff May (two assists) quickly entered the fray in support of Nehring, with each of them grabbing a Grizzly in a game that featured 66 penalty minutes.
Local product Eddie DelGrosso, a defenseman who is one of 11 former Wranglers on the roster, added an assist and helped Las Vegas kill eight of nine man disadvantages.
The teams will meet again at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday at Utah’s Maverik Center.
The Wranglers, who shook off an 0-4 preseason, will play eight of their first nine games at home. They’ll return to Orleans Arena on Friday for a three-game set against the perennial ECHL power Alaska Aces.
“I’ve played against these guys or with them,” Madill said of his squad. “You put them together and they know how to win games.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.