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Recommendation pays off with new Wranglers goalie

As he journeys through his first professional hockey season, Wranglers rookie goalie Travis Fullerton will encounter plenty of new places and faces. But he’s already quite familiar with one of the faces of Las Vegas’ ECHL franchise — that of coach Mike Madill.

Madill’s twin brother, Lucas, coached Fullerton at the University of New Brunswick — a Canadian powerhouse that Fullerton helped lead to three national titles (2009, 2011, 2013) — and gave Mike a rave review of the netminder.

That’s all Mike Madill needed to hear to sign Fullerton, who went 52-9-0 with 10 shutouts and a 1.87 goals-against average for the Varsity Reds.

“I trust my brother more than anyone, and he and the coach out there both had amazing things to say (about Fullerton),” Madill said. “He’s a guy that just knows how to win games. He’s been like that his whole career.”

Following the path of UNB alumni Michael Ouzas and Bretton Stamler, who both played for the Wranglers, Fullerton (2-1-0) won his first two starts for Las Vegas (2-2-0) before faltering in Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Alaska (3-1-0) at Orleans Arena.

The Aces, who erased an early 2-0 deficit, outshot the Wranglers 46 to 13 and 93 to 28 the past two days.

Fullerton had opened the season by turning away 71 of 75 shots in a pair of victories over Utah.

“It doesn’t matter if you get 20 shots or 40 shots,” Fullerton said before Saturday’s game. “At the end of the night you just want to win the hockey game.”

Las Vegas relied on the veteran duo of Joe Fallon and Mitch O’Keefe the past two seasons, but Madill mixed it up this year, bringing in the rookie to complement O’Keefe.

“I think it will be a great combination, with an older guy and a younger guy,” Madill said before Saturday’s loss. “Both our goalies have been amazing. I’m confident with both those guys.”

After sitting out the first two games with a sore back, the 29-year-old O’Keefe turned away 42 of 45 shots in an impressive performance in Friday’s 3-2 loss to Alaska.

“It was probably the best game I’ve had to start a season,” said O’Keefe, who has become fast friends with Fullerton.

“He’s a good buddy of mine now,” he said. “We know it’s not really competition. We’re here to win, and we always back each other up. We’re a team. We’re in it together.”

O’Keefe has been impressed with Fullerton so far.

“He battles hard, he’s always structured and he’s very consistent,” he said. “So far, he’s looked great.”

Fullerton, who started playing hockey at age 3 with his father and two older brothers in his native New Brunswick, has learned the art of goaltending firsthand from NHL netminders Jonathan Bernier — his teammate in juniors — and Ilya Bryzgalov, who took part in Wranglers training camp this year.

“Me and Mitch both looked at it as a positive thing,” he said of practicing with Bryzgalov. “It was fun having a guy with his pedigree in the locker room and watching how he handled himself in practice.

“I asked him how he reads certain plays and little things like that, and he was really open about how he handled situations.”

While Fullerton has started three of the first four games, Madill said he plans to split time equally between his goalies in the regular season.

“In this league, there’s so much turnover, you have to invest in two guys together,” he said. “I told them this summer they’ll play 36 games each, if they’re both healthy and don’t get called up.

“Come playoff time, we’ll go with who’s hot.”

Facing a demanding schedule that features almost as many games (72) as he played in his entire five-year college career (78), Fullerton has no problem splitting time with O’Keefe.

“There’s so many games,” he said. “I just want to play hard for this team and give the team a chance to win every time I’m in net.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.

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