BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
LAS VEGAS -- For Condors coach Matt O'Dette, these are trying times.
A team that is struggling to win games, a roster full of injured players, specifically much-needed defenseman, and a schedule that is not kind.
Sleep had to wait following a 5-1 loss in the Midnight Game to Las Vegas (which ended at 2:45 a.m. on Monday) as O'Dette had game tape to break down and phone calls to make early to the East Coast.
One game into a four-game road trip, Robby Dee was headed back to Bakersfield then eastward as O'Dette dealt the struggling forward to South Carolina for third-year pro Daniel Koger.
When O'Dette was looking for cornerstones in the building block of this season's team, Dee was one of the main bricks.
Dee, a second year pro, was instrumental in turning the Condors into a strong team at the end of last season as he put up 40 points (19 goals and 21 assists) in 51 games after being acquired in a trade last Dec. 1.
This season he missed several games early on due to an injury, but had just one goal and one assist in his last 13 games. He has six points (three goals, three assists) in 19 games this season and did not play in the Midnight Game.
The Condors (7-17-1-2) have lost three straight and nine of their last 11 and O'Dette is trying to make careful moves to turn the tables, wanting to get value for value.
"It's all about new faces," O'Dette said of trading Dee. "You bring a new face in, they want to do well, they want to impress. And when the guys see a new face they respond and want to play better. It's a step. One step."
Koger, 23, like Dee, hasn't put up the numbers expected.
The native of Hungary has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 21 games. Last season he had 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 13 games with South Carolina and played 17 combined games for four different American Hockey League teams.
Koger (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) was due to fly into Las Vegas later Monday and fly with the team to Colorado today where they have games against the Eagles on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
The Condors had the day off Monday, if one can call it a day off after starting the day (or is it night?) off by playing in a hockey game that started a bit after midnight.
The game is an annual tradition in Las Vegas, designed to give those who who work the swing shifts in the city that never sleeps an opportunity to catch a game. In past years it has drawn fairly well, but this time around just over 3,200 fans were on hand, with more than 100 of those cheering for the Condors.
Despite being weary from games at home Friday and Saturday and a trip to las Vegas that started at 10 a..m. on Sunday morning, Condor players were chipper late Sunday evening and looking forward to playing at the weird time.
And for a period they looked pretty good, only allowing a late power-play goal as the Wranglers took a 1-0 lead.
The Wranglers, who had not played since Wednesday, then blew the game open with four second-period goals.
The Condors avoided being shut out for the first time this season when Tyler Brenner redirected a shot by Francis Meilleur with just over 11 minutes left.
"You're a tired team on the end of three-in-three rolling in against a fresh team, you have four (defensemen) and three of your top (defensemen) are out, that's a tall task," O'Dette said. "I thought we had some jump and did a lot of good things in the first (period). Then we had a poor second. We've been having trouble in second periods all year. When we're tired it's gong to be more so."
As far as atmosphere, the Midnight Game had about as much as a normal Sunday afternoon or weeknight game -- not much.
Condors fans arrived early (maybe because it was cheaper to be in the arena than at the tables) and more than a dozen of them were on the glass, holding signs and cheering the Condors on during warm ups.
During the game, it was the Vegas fans doing the cheering.
There was a scout from Winnipeg Jets watching the game as was ECHL director of officiating Joe Earnst. They must be insomniacs.