Amarillo Wranglers close out 2023 splitting series with the New Mexico Ice Wolves

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The Amarillo Wranglers celebrate after scoring a goal against the New Mexico Ice Wolves during a weekend series at the Amarillo Civic Center. [Lauren Correa/ Press Pass Sports]
Over two nights that saw tremendous crowds inside the Amarillo Civic Center, the Amarillo Wranglers entertained their fans with old fashioned, smash mouth, blue-collar hockey to close out 2023 on Friday and Saturday.

Amarillo fell Saturday night in a classic North American Hockey League South Division clash 3-2 before rallying for a 5-3 New Year’s Eve win on Sunday that put a stop to the Ice Wolves three-game win streak.

The Wranglers currently stands at 17-10-5-1 (40 points) sitting in fourth place in the South Division. Amarillo now goes back on the road for a first-time meeting with expansion Colorado Grit this weekend.

Saturday Night

Fresh off the holiday break, the Amarillo Wranglers skated into the Budweiser Bullpen looking to take out some holiday travel frustration on the New Mexico Ice Wolves.

New Mexico was riding high and still celebrating their pre-holiday break sweep of the Oklahoma Warriors.

New Mexico struck first at the 14:27 mark of the first period on a powerplay goal, giving them the early lead of 1-0. The Ice Wolves extended that lead with another score going up 2-0 in the first period. The Wranglers remained scoreless throughout the duration of the first two periods as New Mexico added another goal to take a commanding 3-0 lead into the final intermission.

Amarillo battled back with a short-handed goal at the 17:22 mark of the third period when captain Ben Ivy found the back of the net for his ninth of the season. Less than three minutes later, newly acquired Nick Troutwine scored his first NAHL goal that cut the deficit, 3-2. However, that’s as close as Amarillo came to a win.

Amarillo goalie Connor McDonough stopped 21 shots in Sunday’s win over New Mexico. [Lauren Correa/ Press Pass Sports]

Sunday night 

In a holiday tradition, the Amarillo Wranglers hosted this special New Year’s Eve Sunday night edition of NAHL hockey at the Budweiser Bullpen. With a great audience in attendance, the party goers were treated some magnificent hockey on this very special night.

At the 11:58 mark of the second period, the twin brother tandem of Jack and Ben Ivey – both Army commits – were able to team up as Ben laser shot the puck to his twin brother Jack as he hit the back of the net, to start the scoring off for the Wranglers. The Ice Wolves answered back at the 6:14 mark of the second period, tying this game 1-1 going into the second intermission.

The second period saw a lot of skating back-and-forth when at the 15:26 mark of the second period and with a keen sense of situational awareness, Amarillo winger and fan favorite Luke Morris took it up a notch and dropped the gloves in what can only be described as a classic beat down, not unlike what Georgia did to Florida State University in the Orange Bowl.

The third period of this classic South Division battle saw a lot of firsts.

Wrangler forward Alex Stepanek scored his first career NAHL goal giving Amarillo the 2-1 lead. Amarillo added to their lead when, at the 7:33 mark, Trace Day also scored his first NAHL goal. The Ice Wolves scored with three minutes left in the game to make things very interesting. In an act of desperation and with three minutes left in the game, New Mexico head coach Phil Fox pulled his goalie. That allowed Ben Ivey to hit the empty net to take the score to 4-2. With 47 seconds left in the game and New Mexico in a power-play situation with its goalie pulled, the Ice Wolves with a two-skater advantage were able to get the puck by goalie Connor McDonough to tighten up this nailbiter 4-3.

With 22 seconds left in the game, the ultimate grinder and forward Jack McDonald hit the empty net to close out this exciting and exhilarating game as the Amarillo Wranglers took the victory 5-3. Amarillo goalie Connor McDonough saved 21-of-24 shots to grab his 15th victory of the season.

Tommy Chunchukov

Fan favorite and a member of the original NAHL Amarillo Wranglers team has moved on to explore other hockey opportunities. Tommy arrived in Amarillo in the fall of 2021 from Nashville, Tenn. Upon Tommy’s arrival to Amarillo, everyone knew he was not just a special hockey player but an outstanding individual.

Tommy immersed himself into the community, working with youth hockey players, volunteering in the schools and having an impactful and important role within the Amarillo Wranglers program. His blue-collar approach to the game of hockey resonated with fans. Tommy’s after game prayer circle only enhanced his popularity within our community. With a gift of situational awareness and smash mouth hockey style, Tommy’s approach to hockey added to his popularity. We at Press Pass Sports wish the best for Tommy. He will be missed.

Editors Note

Please listen for Tommy Tee‘s weekly recap of the Amarillo Wranglers hockey on the “Drive at Five” with Lance Lahnert every Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m. exclusively on 102.9 FM the Panhandle Sports Star.

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