From junior hockey to the University of New Brunswick to his rookie year in the ECHL last season, Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas never had been run into three times in one game before Saturday.
Ouzas, 24, was barreled over by three different Alaska Aces players in Las Vegas’ 6-3 victory at Orleans Arena.
After getting charged into for the third time — by Scott Burt with less than three minutes left — Ouzas fought back, throwing several punches that resulted in a game misconduct, an undisclosed fine and a one-game suspension, which he’ll serve in tonight’s home game against the Utah Grizzlies.
”I was just trying to defend myself,” Ouzas said after Wednesday’s practice at Orleans Arena. ”After three times of getting hit, you kind of get sick of it a little bit.
”But I won’t back down from anybody, and I wanted to show my teammates I want to lead them.”
The actions of Ouzas and the rest of the Wranglers — who combined with Alaska for 80 infractions, 270 penalty minutes and seven game misconducts Friday and Saturday — helped bring the young team closer together.
”Absolutely, especially when guys are sticking together between the whistles,” Las Vegas defenseman Chris Frank said. ”That creates camaraderie, and guys start meshing a little bit.”
After losing its first two games of the season to Utah (1-2-0) and Alaska (4-2-0), Las Vegas (2-2-0) bounced back with two hard-fought victories over the Aces.
”I love how the guys responded. Everybody stepped up,” Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. ”That’s what you need from a team, guys that look after each other.”
While Mougenel understood Ouzas’ suspension, he was ”extremely frustrated because he wasn’t protected by the officials.”
”He got blatantly run three times,” Mougenel said. ”Once is understandable, it happens, but three times? There was definitely intent there, and he sticks up for himself and gets suspended. … But I’m glad he stood up for himself. He had to.”
Swedish goaltender Joel Gistedt will start in place of Ouzas, who said, ”The biggest thing is we were able to get two points.
”If I’ve got to take that every game to win, that’s what I’ll have to do,” he said.
Las Vegas also will be without enforcer Kyle Hagel, out with an upper body injury, and center Shay Stephenson is questionable, Mougenel said.
Stephenson was suspended for one game for his actions Friday, when he was assessed major penalties for boarding and fighting in the Wranglers’ 4-3 win over Alaska. He served the suspension Saturday, then went on bereavement leave and returned to Las Vegas on Wednesday.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.