Brian Nugent’s holiday return is happenstance, but it keeps his streak alive.
The 24-year-old is 21 games into his pro hockey career with the Las Vegas Wranglers after wrapping up his NCAA career with the Northern Michigan Wildcats in May.
With the Wildcats he was able to visit during his school holiday breaks, and because of a short break in the ECHL Wranglers’ schedule, he’s here until Boxing Day. Then it’s back to Vegas, where he lives with two teammates, one of them Geoff Irwin, a fellow Victoria product who won the 2006 RBC Cup junior A championship with the Burnaby Express.
“The experience is unbelievable, Vegas is an incredible city and I’m enjoying it so much,” Nugent said. “We live about eight to 10 minutes from the rink. As soon as I’m out of the complex I can see the strip.”
The trick with living in Vegas is picking your spots, he says.
“There’s so much to do. It’s all business at the rink but on off days, or after practice, we take in a lot of shows.”
The temptation of Sin City is often too great for visiting teams. ECHL scheduling limits travel by grouping games into two or three per visit, meaning visiting players are there for days at a time.
“We usually figure in the (two- to three-game) series at least one of the games the other team should be hung over, guys have a tough time with that,” Nugent laughs.
As much fun as it is there is a desire to move up. Nugent’s not sweating the fact his offence is dry with only a goal and two assists so far.
“I’m an energy type player and I think the ECHL definitely suits my style of play more than the NCAA,” Nugent said.
Back in junior he contributed 52 points in 53 games as the Victoria Grizzlies’ captain during the RBC Cup hosting year in 2008-09. But Nugent only scored nine times in four years of Div. 1 play in the NCAA’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association conference.
He’s hoping his two-way game will be appreciated by the many American Hockey League scouts who constantly comb the ECHL for undiscovered talent beyond goal scoring.
“Obviously there’s still a system to follow in the ECHL defensive and neutral zones. But in the offensive zone the Wranglers coaches tell us to be creative. In college, anywhere on the ice you were a robot and you were doing exactly what you were told to do.”
To be fair Nugent is happy with his time on the Wildcats. He’s chasing a pro career with the comfort of having his bachelor’s degree in business and marketing.
He is following a very similar to another pro player from Victoria, Adam Cracknell of the St. Louis Blues. Cracknell and Nugent are alumni of the junior B Saanich Braves. Cracknell played for the Wranglers in 2007-08 and one of his teammates was Make Madill, the Wranglers current head coach and general manager.
“Cracknell let (Madill) know about me and that’s how it all got started. Basically I have Cracknell to thank,” Nugent said.
One of the reasons Nugent was keen on the Wranglers is because it is without an AHL affiliation.
“Any AHL team can pick up players from the Wranglers, it doesn’t limit me to one AHL team,” he said.
Nugent saw what happened to everyday Salmon Kings players when its parent affiliates, the Vancouver Canucks and Manitoba Moose (AHL), assigned players to Victoria.
“No one can get sent here from the AHL and take your job. When your’e on an affiliate team, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing better than the player assigned to your team. They’re going to get your ice time because they’re signed to an AHL or NHL team,” he said.
In the meantime, it’s a pretty good life in Las Vegas.