Wranglers lose game, but not fans’ loyalty

The Las Vegas Wranglers fired 27 shots at Cincinnati goalie Cedrick Desjardins tonight and he snared, stopped and batted away every one in a 4-0 victory by the visiting Cyclones before a little less than 7,000 fans at Orleans Arena. The loss likely ended the Wranglers’ hopes at winning the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, with the series moving back to Cincinnati for Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7. But the Vegas team faces (pardon the gambling references) long odds and a stacked deck against a team that is a little bit quicker, a little more talented and a little more focused than the team from Las Vegas. Cincinnati has not lost consecutive games in the postseason yet, and it would take a monumental effort by the Wranglers to end that trend, on the road, after being shut out on its own ice in Game 5.

Certainly, there will be reports of a few dipsticks in the Orleans Arena crowd who tossed a few aluminum Bud bottles, soda cups at least one tiny rubber ball on the ice as the final minute melted away. But in the larger picture, the final game of the 2007-’08 Wrangler home season showed that the team has built a solid following of local fans who have solidified my long-held feeling that Vegas follows hockey more dependably than any other professional sport in town. By comparison, the docile crowds at most 51s games often seem unaware there is even a game being played, the chance to see future Major Leaguers and enjoy a couple hours in the sun being the chief attractions. But the Wranglers drew intense, capacity crowds at the Orleans Arena for all three of their games in the final round of the ECHL playoffs.

And taking note of the wide variety of hockey sweaters in the crowd, a couple stood out: old Las Vegas Thunder jerseys of former fan favorites Patrice Lefebvre and Joe Day. The Thunder -- donning teal, black and silver uniforms and boosted by a maniacal polar-bear mascot named Boom Boom – had some memorable moments during their run at the Thomas & Mack Center from 1993-1999. My favorites were when the team organization painted the ice pink for Valentine’s Day (the team wore pink jerseys adorned with hearts, a promotion duplicated by the Wranglers), and the “Mac-Arena” dance breaks, performed to the relentlessly played Spanish dance tune “Macarena.” The T&M house camera always focused on the most beautiful women in the crowd, and the rumor was these ladies were hired from Vegas adult clubs to be in attendance just so they could shake and bake for the thousands of ribald Thunder fans who deserved a little eye candy.

The Wranglers serve up a more family friendly product. Kids pepper any Vegas home game, and usually find their way onto the big screen if they act spastic enough. The mascot, the Duke, doesn’t shake his midsection quite as lustfully as Boom Boom did, but he works the crowd with Muppetlike appeal.

The final home appearance by this year’s team was mostly tedious; it seemed obvious early that the Wranglers were to be outmaneuvered by the swifter Cyclones. But as they left the ice, it was not under a hail of boos or beer bottles. Those among the announced crowd of 6,957, gave what is likely the ECHL’s second-best team a heartfelt standing ovation. They’ll be back next year, no doubt. So will the Wranglers.

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