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Canadian Press
Dec 13, 2006, 2:44 PM EST

(CP) - 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. This time they'll host the Bakersfield Condors on Monday, Dec. 18.

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 regular home games. According to some estimates, a third of Las Vegas workers are employed by the gaming 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 2003-04. 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 normally be in bed.

"We've had the weirdest combinations. Grandparents, parents and kids. People in pyjamas," said Johnson.

Marketing the game hasn't required much effort, Johnson says. 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 12-4 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 like 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 contests, having played in the first three.

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