By James E.Green
January 21, 2023-Twas the worst of times and then…well…the “first” of times…as the Las Vegas Desert Dogs pounced upon a rabid 11-2 second half run to fetch their first franchise victory, downing the Vancouver Warriors 15-14 at Michelob Ultra Arena in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip last night.
Unfortunately, they displayed all the appearance of a winless franchise early on, as Vancouver forward Mitch Jones got the scoring going early, getting the best of the Vegas goalie in the early minutes of the contest, who settled down a bit and fended off two consecutive low angle shots before surrendering a second tally from Kyle Killen. Goalie Watson was pulled before the halfway point of the first quarter in favor of Landon Kells, after his Desert Dogs had surrendered 4 unanswered goals.
Meanwhile, the daunted Vegas offense had trouble finding their stride, and were held scoreless until Charlie Bertrand found the back of the opposing team’s net. His effort put the contest at 4-1 in favor of the visiting team.
Charlie Bertrand gets the Desert Dogs on the scoreboard
The Las Vegas defense was frustrated early, giving up multiple uncontested rebounds off errant Vancouver shots, and their woes were reflected on the production side of the game, as home floor technical difficulties with both the game clock and shot clock plagued most of first quarter game play. When the final seconds of the opening frame ticked away, the Desert Dogs found themselves saddled with a 7-2 deficit.
Although end-to-end action from both teams opened the 2nd, it was Vancouver who once again started the scoring. Defenseman Travis Cornwall would answer on a far side fast break goal, making the score 8-3 in favor of the visiting team. After Keegan Bal completed his hat trick with a sweet cut across the crease, Vegas would eventually answer with five minutes left in the opening half and draw the score to 9-4. Balls 7th point came soon after on a quick dodge right hand shot that left Vegas goalie Kells scratching his head. Killen added another soon after and Logan Schuss followed in turn to bring the Vancouver lead to 12-4.
Things got scrappy as emotions ran high just before the half
The Desert Dogs successfully fended off a 5 on 3 power play to close out the 2nd, but Emerson Clark initiated a bench-clearing fight at “Beer and Nacho Time”, sending Las Vegas into the locker rooms with a lot of questions to answer.
Former professional hockey player Emerson Clark, who had initiated the fisticuffs, would hit the showers on an ejection for his abhorrent behavior, and leave the Desert Dogs a bit short handed to open the 3rd quarter. This led to Bal getting stuffed on an uncontested penalty shot, which drew significant applause from a somewhat subdued crowd. Charlie Bertrand was heroic on completing his hat trick with a commendable singular effort; tallying a short-handed goal to draw the score to 12-5. Multiple penalty carry-overs produced some unusual offensive sets, with strange 5-on-3 and even 4-on-3 looks, but Vegas goalkeeper Kells successfully weathered the storm as he faced a myriad of shots from every conceivable angle, and allowed zero goals during the Vancouver offensive onslaught. Jack Hannah’s goal would cut the Warriors lead to 12-6 and rupture a 3rd quarter scoring draught by both teams. Jacob Ruest would toss in his 100th career goal as the Warriors once-explosive offense became somewhat anemic. Ultimately, the Dogs Defense stepped up and dealt the visiting Vancouver team a physical and scoreless 3rd quarter.
Desert Dogs Goalie Landon Kells fends off a penalty shot early in the third quarter
The momentum swing was palpable as Phillips opened up the scoring for the Desert Dogs in the 4th off a masterful give-and-go play from team captain Ron Hellyer, bringing the home team to within 4. Hannah stung the corner minutes later to cut the deficit to a mere 3 goals as the Vegas rally continued, thanks to some physical play and stellar performance between the pipes by goalie Landon Kells. Hannah blew one by the Vancouver net minder just before the 10-minute mark to bring the crowd to its feet, completing a 6-0 Vegas scoring run. Zack Greer continued the scoring onslaught, flashing in front of the crease and defying the Warriors pipe minder for his first goal of the game, while Reid Reinholdt made it a brand-new game at 12-all on an 8-0 Vegas run. Adam Charlambides stopped the bleeding at 7:26 to regain the lead for the visiting team, but Hellyer crafted the first Vegas lead of the game just shy of the 4-minute mark as the momentum had clearly turned, and stuck another one in on a brilliant swim move about a minute later. A late Vancouver goal brought the visiting team to 1, but the Dogs cleared the ball and held on for their first-ever franchise victory, fittingly on their home turf.
Great resilience, mental toughness, outstanding goalie play and a storied 11-2 second half run combined to author a fairy-tale comeback.
Dickens himself couldn’t have written it any better.