A key player for the Wranglers in last season’s run to the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals, left wing Robbie Smith recently rejoined the team and has quickly made his presence known.
Making his home debut for Las Vegas after playing three road games, Smith scored the decisive, tiebreaking goal with 2:30 remaining in the Wranglers’ 4-2 comeback victory over Bakersfield on Wednesday night at Orleans Arena.
“Robbie Smith, last year, was probably my favorite player,” Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. “He plays the game the way it should be played. He doesn’t have a ton of skill, but what he doesn’t have in skill he works his tail off.”
The 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound Smith didn’t start the season with the Wranglers because of a financial constraint. The 25-year-old Dartmouth product had a child in the offseason and the team couldn’t afford to pay for housing for his family.
“At this level, sometimes housing is an issue,” Mougenel said. “It was a financial thing.
“There wasn’t a game this year I didn’t miss Robbie Smith.”
The Wranglers (19-19-5) rallied for four unanswered goals, including three in the third period, to erase a 2-0 deficit against the Condors (13-20-4), who have the worst record in the ECHL.
“Our starts have been really concerning. We can’t be spotting teams two or three goals and be battling back,” Mougenel said. “It’s getting old. It’s almost like part of our identity now and that’s not a good thing to have as your identity.”
Peter Boyd put Bakersfield in front midway through the first period with a power-play goal and Brett Perlini made it 2-0 with 2:17 left in the first, beating Joe Fallon (23 saves) on a wraparound.
Jamie Fritsch started Las Vegas’ comeback in the second period, when he scored from the top of the left circle.
Charlie Cook assisted on the score and then tied the game with 7:25 left on a blast from the point.
Smith put the Wranglers ahead from point-blank range, jamming the puck past Brian Stewart, who then skated out of the net and angrily slammed his stick on the ice.
“Their goaltender stood on his head,” Mougenel said of Stewart, who stopped 37 of 40 shots. “He had four or five unbelievable saves.”
Defenseman Mike Madill, the team captain, sealed the win with a shorthanded, empty-net goal he fired from behind his own net with 1:03 left in the game.
“I got lucky it hit the net,” Madill said. “We talked about if before that if you had a chance to clear, you might as well throw it on net.
“It was an exciting finish. That was a big goal by Robbie Smith on his homecoming. His style of play is so important to the team and it’s great to have him back. He plays simple and he plays hard.”
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Wranglers, who had dropped five of their last six.
“We’ve got to get that sense of urgency back in our game and hopefully go on a little tear here,” Mougenel said. “We’ve got to get a lot better down the stretch.”
■ NOTE – Defenseman Cameron Cooper and forward Matt Carter were traded to Elmira for defenseman Matt Campanale, a University of New Hampshire product who appeared in one game for the New York Islanders in the 2010-11 season.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.LAS VEGAS — 4
BAKERSFIELD — 2
KEY: Robbie Smith scored the decisive, tiebreaking goal with 2:30 remaining for the Wranglers, who erased a 2-0 first-period deficit.
NEXT: Alaska at Wranglers, 7:05 p.m. Friday