Las Vegas Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel
liked the looks of goalie Jimmy Spratt right from the very beginning.
That's because it wasn't long after Spratt got there in February that people started commenting how much the coach and player looked alike.
The Wranglers were on a road trip to Alaska, and the two showed up to a team dinner dressed virtually identical in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt, dress shoes and a long black overcoat. It was as good as done. Ever since, the rest of the Wranglers tagged Spratt with the nickname, "mini-Mougs."
"I guess I can see it, a little bit," Spratt said of the resemblance.
"He's taken a lot of heat from the guys for it," Mougenel said. "I think he's a great-looking kid."
Similarity or not, Spratt has been a real beauty in net.
The rookie joined goalie-short Las Vegas a month ago and has since bailed out his new team with a 6-2-1 record, 2.91 goals-against and .916 save percentage. Those totals include four wins over Pacific Division-pacesetter Bakersfield. He earned honors as the league's goalie of the week for March 8-14 after going 4-0, 2.75, .923. Spratt, 24, posted at least 30 saves in three of the four games.
"'He's a competitor. I think he's real thankful for the opportunity to play,"' Mougenel said. "He's making the most of it. He's a great example for our guys that it's a real privilege to play this game. Guys sometimes take our league for granted."
That's not an issue for Spratt. His journey to the ECHL was too taxing, both in the overall and immediate senses. Las Vegas needed Spratt when Michael Ouzas
went out with a concussion and Joel Gistedt
was recalled to Phoenix. At the time, Spratt was playing for Louisiana of the SPHL.
Spratt got word of his callup at around midnight. He had a friend drive him two hours to New Orleans for a 6 a.m. flight. The flight was delayed, meaning he missed his connection in Phoenix. Spratt waited around for another flight to take him to Bakersfield, where Las Vegas was playing. He made it to the arena with a couple hours to spare.
"There was a lot of anxiety," Mougenel said. "I was like, we'll see how it goes."
Here's how it went: On virtually an empty stomach and little sleep, Spratt made 31 stops to blank the Condors 4-0.
"I guess it was kind of good," he said. "Instead of thinking about the game, I was more worried about getting to the rink on time. It wasn't the typical pre-game routine, but sometimes mixing it up helps."
A long day? Absolutely. Long odds? Probably. A longshot? Not in Spratt's eyes.
"I guess people would have that impression," he said. "I've played with and against players who have done great things. I don't consider myself a longshot."
Fair enough, although it took anyone with any say in the pro game a long time to give Spratt a chance to back up that confidence.
Spratt was a seventh-round pick of Calgary in the 2004 draft, but instead chose to play four years at Bowling Green. It was a peaks-and-valleys type of ride, with way more of the latter. He alternated between starter and backup for a Falcons squad that wasn't very good, and he never came close to turning in a .500 record for a season.
"On paper, it didn't look like the most successful time," Spratt said. "From the first day on campus to the day I left, I grew as a goalie and a person. I know from a personal standpoint I improved quite a bit. Although I didn't get the recognition a lot of people hope for, I improved. You can go through anything if you can go through that."
Spratt's hard shell came in handy at the start of the season. After failing to stick in camp with Johnstown, he returned home to Chesterfield Township, Mich. He perused the transactions every day, seeing which teams anywhere might be in need of a goalie. He took day trips to back up for Muskegon of the IHL and Toledo of the ECHL.
"It's definitely kind of nerve-wracking," he said. "Not only am I a player, I'm a huge fan. You see a lot of movement. That's offers a sliver of a chance."
The sliver grew to a decent-sized chunk with the IceGators, where he got in 12 games.
"It got me back into the swing of things, just to get back on the ice, shake the rust off," he said.
"He's a competitor. I think he's real thankful for the opportunity to play. He's making the most of it. He's a great example for our guys that it's a real privilege to play this game. Guys sometimes take our league for granted."
-- Ryan Mougenel
Whatever specks were left when he joined Las Vegas have been flicked off by the high volume of shots he's faced backstopping the Wranglers.
"He came from a program that struggles, Bowling Green," Mougenel said. "He's used to seeing a lot of shots. I'd like to see him hold onto his rebounds more. But he's a blocker. He finds a way to win games, and that's the most important thing as a goaltender."
Spratt keeps those victories in mind just long enough to enjoy before attempting the more important process of purging them.
"Once you get ahead of yourself, you start to lose focus. I've really seen how quickly things can change. One bad game can propel you to the bench and you (don't) see the ice again," he said. "I think you need to experience lows to enjoy some success. Once it does happen, you have to take it in stride and prepare for what's next."