In front of an electric atmosphere at the Budweiser Bullpen over the weekend, the Amarillo Wranglers stayed red hot pushing their winning streak to eight straight games and finally putting destiny in their own hands for a postseason berth after weeks and weeks of chasing. Thanks to a Friday and Saturday sweep of Lone Star, 3-0, on Friday, followed by a 1-0 blanking on Saturday, the Wranglers have now moved into the fourth and final playoff spot of the North American Hockey League South Division with two games remaining in the regular season. Amarillo sits at 32-23-2-1 (67 points), while New Mexico is 31-23-3-1 (66 points) is right behind the Wranglers by one point.
Amarillo travels to Odessa for its final two games of the year on Friday and Saturday. The Ice Wolves will have a tough task ahead hosting division leading Oklahoma City. The scenario for the Wranglers is very simple. If Amarillo wins both games and they’re in the playoffs. If the Wranglers split with Odessa and New Mexico gets swept or splits, Amarillo is still in.
McDonough earns high praise
Amarillo goalie Connor McDonough is considered a journeyman of the NAHL with stops in El Paso and Danbury. But has the 19-year-old now found a home in Amarillo thanks to his stellar play between the pipes. Not since former Wrangler and current University of New Hampshire forward Kristaps Skrastin has a player had such an impact this hockey franchise. As fate would have it, both Wrangler goalies Carter Clafton and Luca Ganz came down with the flu. After being a late edition to the roster, McDonough got his first start as a Wrangler against the best team in the NAHL, the OKC Warriors, in a must win situation. He’s shined ever since.
With eight victories in a row including three shutouts, McDonough has put the league on notice. Every game McDonough has played in his short time with the Wranglers have all must win situation’s. For his latest outing where he kept Lone Star scoreless on Friday and Saturday making total of 49 stops, he was awarded with the NAHL South Division Star of the Week. He is humble as the day is long and takes very little credit in these last eight victories. At the last home game of the season there was an auction for the jerseys, McDonough’s jersey sold for $2450 a record for this season.
Friday’s recap and Saturday’s recap
Friday night festivities at the Budweiser Bullpen started off with a presentation of all the Amarillo Wranglers Billet families. Billit families that take in the Wranglers players from all over the world live in our community for the hockey season. Players become part of the billet family. The Amarillo Wranglers are entrenched in our community whether it’s in the schools, hospitals or any other volunteer work they do for nonprofits. The Wranglers took their six-game winning streak into yet another must win situation to keep pace in the very tight NAHL South Division. The first period of this hotly contested game had no penalties and no scoring. At the start of the second period, Bentley University commit Chase Davis took a nice feed from Pierce Patterson to get the biscuit in the basket to score is 17th goal of the season. The Wranglers took a 1-0 lead into the second intermission. At the 17:30 mark of the third period fan favorite Ben Ivey hit the back of the net to give the Wranglers a 2-0 lead. With 2 minutes left in the game, the Brahmas pulled their goalie and Chase Davis put the icing on the cake with an empty netter. McDonough scored his second shutout in a row stopping all 19 shots.
Saturday’s game was a little tighter for fans. Lone Stars goalie Arthur Smith (17-6-1-3 with a league leading GAA of 1.57) is recognized by many as the best goalie in the NAHL. On this night, Smith went toe-to-toe with the hottest goalie in McDonough. This was a defensive battle with both sides blue liners taking charge. Wranglers forward Ronin Walsh a mid-season acquisition scored one of the most important goals of his career. At the 4:46 mark of the first period Walsh scored the game’s only goal in this classic defensive battle. That was more than enough for McDonough who shutout the Brahmas with 30 stops for an eighth straight win.
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 a Lance Lahnert on the Panhandle Sports Star (102.9-F.M.).