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ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers to take 2014-15 season off due to homelessness

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Las Vegas Wranglers goaltender Travis Fullerton shakes hands with Alaska Aces goaltender Olivier Roy after the Aces defeated the Wranglers 4-3 on Friday night at the Orleans Arena. The Aces eliminated the Wranglers in four straight games to end their season. (Photo credit: Stephen Sylvanie)

The Las Vegas Wranglers announced Tuesday that they would be taking the 2014-15 ECHL season off, signalling the end of a mad scramble for a new venue that kicked off late last year.

In Mid-December, the Wranglers were informed by Boyd Gaming that their lease at the Orleans Arena would not be renewed. They were, in effect, homeless, and with the ECHL needing to get on with plans for next season, such as schedule-making and the like, they gave the Wranglers a short deadline to come up with some sort of plan, lest the team become leagueless.

Needing to think outside-the-box, which is, fortunately, something the Wranglers have proven very good at over the years, their first plan was an ambitious one: they would play their games on the roof of the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Unfortunately, the plan proved prohibitively expensive, and slow. Just two weeks after announcing it, the Wranglers scrapped it..

“We do have another (plan) that we’ve dual-tracked in case things didn’t work out as smoothly as we’d liked with the Plaza,” said team president Billy Johnson, giving fans hope.

But that plan didn't come together in time either, which isn't surprising, since the Wranglers' original deadline for sorting this out was January 20th. They were out of time ages ago. Finally, on Tuesday, the team gave up, and agreed to be suspended for the year. From a release:  

A unanimous vote of the ECHL Board of Governors granting the Wranglers a voluntary suspension on Monday secured the team’s place in professional hockey’s premier AA league for 2015-16 and beyond. The team’s future in Las Vegas was cast into doubt when Boyd Gaming announced they would not be renewing the team’s lease at the Orleans Arena. Monday’s vote allows the team to complete and realize plans to secure a new permanent venue to call home.

“We were given very little time to find a solution for the 2014-15 season,” said Wranglers president and COO Billy Johnson. “We were very close to having everything in order for the 2014-15 season with the little time we had. But in the end, we needed a few weeks more, and the ECHL simply had to get on with its business. We cannot thank the ECHL board enough for giving the Wranglers a chance to see through all that we have accomplished in such a short time. Obviously, they have seen what we are working on. We are all excited.”

It's a tough situation for the Wranglers. By going dormant for a year, they're essentially rebooting the franchise. 

“It’s 2003 all over again,” Johnson told the Las Vegas Sun. (2003 was the Wranglers' debut season.) “We’re like any start-up franchise, except we have a brand already established and a lot of ticket holders already in place.”

The team will be maintaining an office space and a skeleton staff, and hopes to be up and running again at full capacity just before the holidays, about a year after cast out by Boyd Gaming. 

In the end, this could turn out to be a good thing for the Wranglers. Now they'll have the time to find a home that's a good fit for their return, as opposed to scrambling and compromising in a desperate bid to stave off suspension.

And they will return.

“We are not going anywhere,” Johnson said. “We’ve accomplished a lot since 2003, and come too far since January to turn back.”

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