Leave it to a city that never rests to start a hockey game at midnight.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL will hit the ice for a home game at 11:59 p.m. (all times PST). This time they'll play host to the Bakersfield Condors on Monday.
The organization came up with the idea as a way to reward a segment of its fan base that can't always make it out for home games at the regular start time of 7 p.m.
According to some estimates, a third of Las Vegas workers are employed by the gambling industry. Since many casinos are open all night, some hockey fans who want to attend Wranglers games often miss the 7 p.m. starts at Orleans Arena.
"Some [casino]workers don't have anything to do at midnight so they're there at the game," Wranglers president Billy Johnson said from Las Vegas.
While Johnson is into his second season as president, he's become well acquainted with a holiday tradition that began in 2003.
The game is held on the Monday before Christmas.
"It was done to coincide with Christmas, so our goal was to get out as many different people as possible," Johnson said.
The late December start is ideal as young fans are on their holiday breaks from school.
Johnson feels the game gives kids an opportunity to enjoy watching hockey at a time when they would usually be in bed.
"We've had the weirdest combinations. Grandparents, parents and kids. People in pyjamas," Johnson said.
Marketing the game hasn't required much effort, Johnson added. Since its inception, word of mouth from fans who have attended the game has helped get the news out. Yet the team still uses traditional methods.
"We'll hit the airwaves with TV spots between 12 [a.m.]and 4 a.m.," Johnson said.
ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna likes what the Wranglers are doing.
"Las Vegas is a unique sports market and the game has been quite successful," he said from the league office in Princeton, N.J.
Since the ECHL has many teams in non-traditional hockey markets, unorthodox promotions such as the Las Vegas midnight game are more common.
"Some of it's a little off the wall. But the last few years these things have worked for us," McKenna said, citing an event like the teddy bear toss that more than a few teams have employed.
Johnson said the Wranglers have also toyed with the idea of starting some future home games at 10 p.m. to further capitalize on the casino worker demographic.
The players themselves don't mind throwing their routines out of whack every once in a while.
Wranglers defenceman and captain Mike McBain is a veteran of the midnight games, having played in the first three.
What's different about playing at that hour?
"It's more of the unknown of getting out of your routine. Everything gets pushed back five hours," McBain said from Las Vegas.
The pregame skate takes place at around 3 p.m., while the pregame meal is eaten between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
After that the 29-year-old from Kimberley, B.C., plans to take a quick nap at around 7 p.m. and arrive at Orleans Arena for 10 p.m.
"[The game]is good for the casino workers who are fans who don't have normal shifts," McBain said. "We like doing it for them."
The Wranglers, the ECHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, have a 2-1 record in the previous three midnight games. They beat the same Bakersfield team in overtime in the inaugural edition, lost in a shootout to the Fresno Falcons in 2004 and last season defeated the Long Beach Ice Dogs, also in a shootout.