The Amarillo Wranglers have made the North American Hockey League playoffs for the first time in their short history.
The Wranglers, who were eight points out of the playoffs with eight games left a few weeks ago, made the improbable happen by closing out the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the league winning their final nine games to clinch that coveted fourth and final playoff berth.The Wranglers controlled their own destiny going into last two game against the Odessa Jackalopes, in which the Wranglers (34-23-2-1, 71 points) outscored the Jackalopes for the weekend 11-2, thus clenching the final playoff spot in the South Division.
The first two rounds are interdivisional play before each of the four divisional winners make the track to Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minn., for the opportunity to play for the NAHL Robertson Cup. The Wranglers will now take on the South Division No. 1-seed, Oklahoma Warriors in a best-of-five matchup of the playoffs starting with the first two games on Friday and Saturday in Oklahoma City. The series then returns to Amarillo on April 28th for game three.
The Match Up
No one in the NAHL wants to play the Amarillo Wranglers at this point. However, the Wranglers season record against the Warriors is 2-6. Offensively the Wranglers are led by captain Chase Davis and the scoring might of the Ivey twins. In the nine-game winning streak, Amarillo has outscored their opponents 43-11. With one of the best defensive cores in all of junior league hockey led by West Point commit and league leading defenseman scorer Pierce Patterson (13 goals, 57 Points) will have to stop the powerful offensive onslaught, led by Oklahoma Warriors Joey Del Greco (22 Goals, 69 points). Both teams are known for their physical play with a touch of finesse match up quite well. For Amarillo to win this series, all cylinders must be firing, and I believe defensive play for the Wranglers will make the difference in this series. The Warriors are 44-14-1-1 with 90 points and are the NAHL regular season champions.
In early February of this year, a young journeyman goalie by the name of Connor McDonough came to Amarillo to visit the organization and the city. McDonough at the time was playing 18U AAA hockey in Nashville for the Predators program. He had played with the El Paso Rhinos and the Danbury Hat Tricks, both NAHL teams. While playing with those organizations, wins were a challenge and opportunities were limited. However, opportunity knocked on his door when he was invited to visit the Amarillo Wranglers organization. Within just a few short weeks, McDonough was added as an “affiliate player.” McDonough’s eligibility for this season with the Amarillo Wranglers was limited to 10 dressed games. Under NAHL rules, “affiliated players” cannot participate in any playoff games. Unfortunately, McDonough’s time with the Amarillo Wranglers for this season is over. The good news is he is a tender for next season and should return as one of the hottest goalies in all of the NAHL. The Wranglers’ amazing run of nine wins in a row and four shut outs in a row will certainly go down in Amarillo hockey folklore. One amazing stat about this incredible run is that McDonough saved all 98 shots in his last four consecutive shutout games. The Wranglers go into the playoffs with two very healthy and very good goalies in Air Force commit Carter Clafton, and Luca Ganz. Both are eager for the opportunity to play for the Robertson cup.
Please watch for Tommy Tee’s weekly Wranglers update and also catch Tommy at 5 p.m. Thursday evenings on the “Drive at Five” with Lance Lahnert on the Panhandle Sports Star (102.9-F.M.)