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Playoff run fails to satisfy Las Vegas

In the hours leading to the Wranglers’ home opener today against the Ontario (Calif.) Reign, a banner will be quietly raised at the Orleans Arena to recognize the 2007-08 National Conference champions.

The conference trophy that Las Vegas won last season also will be on display in the arena concourse during the game — the same trophy that was left untouched by the Wranglers after they beat Utah to gain their first trip to the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals, which they lost to Cincinnati in six games.

Las Vegas coach Glen Gulutzan and his players left the trophy alone because they had their sights set on a bigger game. And they still do.

"You always have to have high expectations. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be in sports," Wranglers defenseman Sean Owens said. "With this organization being successful and getting that close last year, for the guys that were here, it makes it that much more important to try to get back."

Las Vegas (0-1-1) opened its sixth season Friday with a 4-1 loss at Alaska, followed by a 6-5 shootout loss to the Aces on Saturday.

The Wranglers also lost starting goaltender John DeCaro to a hamstring injury in their opener, and it’s unclear when he’ll return.

Emergency backup Bryan Bridges replaced DeCaro in Alaska, but newly signed goalie Martin Houle is expected to start today.

Houle, 23, was an eighth-round NHL draft pick of Philadelphia in 2004 and played in one game for the Flyers in the 2006-07 season.

Houle has played parts of the past three seasons for the Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League and also has played for the ECHL’s Trenton Titans and Wheeling Nailers.

Last season, Houle went 2-5-0 with a 2.85 goals-against average for the Phantoms and 5-13-3 with a 3.73 GAA for the Nailers. He was released Monday by the ECHL’s Charlotte Checkers.

"He has some stuff to prove," Gulutzan said.

The Wranglers should be strongest on offense this season. Led by three of their top four scorers from last season — twin brothers Peter and Chris Ferraro and Tyler Mosienko — Las Vegas also will rely on Mike Hamilton, Mick Lawrence and Matt Beaudoin to put pucks in the net.

Beaudoin, scheduled to make his season debut today, scored 38 goals and 68 points last season for the ECHL’s Dayton Bombers. He was loaned to Las Vegas from the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals.

Mosienko, who scored 59 points last season, said: "We have a lot more firepower up front than we did last year.

"In the Finals, we didn’t score as many goals as we would’ve liked to. Maybe that will help us this year."

Defense appears to be the main concern for the Wranglers, who return only three defensemen in Owens, Mike Madill and Jason Dest, who was injured in Alaska.

"Our defense is going to be young," Gulutzan said. "But they’re a smart group, and once they get a hold of what we’re trying to do, they could be good back there."

While the Wranglers are capable of contending for a crown, Gulutzan said "to put those expectations on this group of players is a little unfair.

"They’re going to find their way in time," he said. "They’re certainly not as good right now (as last season’s squad), but they have the potential to be better."

* NOTE — Tyler Sloan on Tuesday became the second former Wrangler to play in the NHL when he made his debut in the Washington Capitals’ 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. He leveled Flames forward Daymond Langkow with an open-ice check that Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau called "a major league hit." Sloan played for Las Vegas in 2005-06 alongside defenseman Adam Pardy, who this season with Calgary became the first former Wrangler to play in the NHL.

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