The Amarillo Wranglers came away with a huge split with North American Hockey League South Division leading Lone Star on Friday and Saturday at the Budweiser Bullpen.
In what’s become the normal for Amarillo, the Wranglers played two more overtime games falling in a heck of a Friday contest, 3-2, but were able to rebound with a thrilling 4-3 victory on Saturday night.
Amarillo was also able to gain three points over the two games as the Wranglers improve to 14-9-5-0 (33 points) and stay in fourth place in the division just one point behind El Paso (16-9-1-1, 34 points) for third.
It was this writers honor and privilege to drop the the ceremonial puck for this exciting NAHL South Division classic matchup.
Wranglers head coach Ryan Anderson spoke on the Drive at Five with Lance Lahnert Thursday about taking the early lead in such an important game.
“Obtaining an early lead makes the other team chase after the lead,” Anderson said.”
This game saw a scoreless first period as Amarillo net minder Conner McDonough stopped all 10 shots. NAHL journeyman and Wrangler defenseman Collen Doherty sniped one from the blue line to give the Wranglers the 1-0 lead at the 7:20 mark of the second period on the power play. This was Doherty’s second goal of the season.
Unfortunately, untimely penalties were the theme of the night as Amarillo gave up a penalty kill goal when Brahmas forward Justin Kerr hit the back of the net to tie this nailbiter up. A few short minutes after this goal, former Colorado Grit and Wrangler defenseman Drew Jeffers took a nice pass from defensive linemate Robert McHenry to blast the puck over the shoulder of Brahmas goalie Devis Rolvos to give Amarillo a 2-1 lead.
With a minute to play in the second period, Brahmas forward Jacob McDonald snuck one past McDonough to tie this game up in, yet another penalty kill goal. There was no scoring in the third period as both goalies gave a tenacious and spectacular performance. Amarillo went into its 13th overtime of the season. This is a significant statistic as the Wranglers have played almost 50 percent of their games with an overtime attachment.
Overtime hockey in the NAHL is the most exciting hockey on the planet. With three skaters against three skaters, and goalie against goalie, the crowd in the Budweiser Bullpen were treated to some magnificent hockey. With just six seconds left in the five-minute overtime period, the Brahmas executed three drop passes one after another as Ivan Zadvernyuk hit a laser pass in front of the Wranglers net to Brahmas forward McDonald, as he was able to drop the puck into the net like a goldfish into water, to give the Brahmas the overtime victory.
I have been following junior league hockey in this market for over a decade now and nothing could have prepared me for what was about to unfold this Saturday night at the Budweiser Bullpen.
In front of an estimated 3,000 electrified fans, there was no need for seats because nobody used them throughout the entirety of this game. With the Borger Bulldogs marching band playing and adding to the electric atmosphere, the Wranglers hit the ice on a mission to prove they can beat the best in the league.
The Brahmas struck first when forward Ivan Zadvernyuk scored his second goal of the weekend to give the Lone Star a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission. Rumors flew around the Budweiser Bullpen that a scout for West Point was in attendance observing the Ivey Brothers (both Army commits). To that end, at the 16:22 mark of the second period the captain Ben Ivey scored his seventh goal of the season to tie the game. Like a classic heavyweight fight, the Brahmas answered back when Brock James got one in the five hole to hit the back of the net to give the Brahmas the lead 2-1.
Just a few seconds later with the crowd worked up into a frenzy, Wrangler forward Topi Puikkonan ignited the crowd even further with an amazing shot to tie this barn burner up 2-2 going into the second intermission. Wranglers’ defenseman Henry McRoberts, who was recently featured on the Drive at Five with Lance Lahnert, spoke about his transition from tier 3 junior hockey to tier 2.
At the 18:55 mark of the third, McRoberts scored his first goal in the NAHL (unassisted) to give the Wranglers a 3-2 advantage. But the Brahmas answered when defenseman Ray Murkami scored his first goal of the season to move it into yet another overtime game. You are reading this correctly. The Wranglers have played 14 overtime games out of 28 regular season affairs. Within the first minute of overtime, I witnessed one of the most egregious and dangerous hits ever administered by an opposing team I have ever seen in 10 years of following junior hockey in Amarillo. As a result of this egregious hit to the shoulder and head area, the captain of the Amarillo Wranglers laid unconscious for what seemed like an eternity as the medical staff attended to this very serious and dangerous situation.
Upon awakening from this unnecessary hit, Ben Ivey was helped off the ice as the Amarillo fans cheered with over-the-top enthusiasm. Ukrainian native and Wrangler forward Roman Zap somehow managed to get the puck to defenseman Drew Jeffers as he took a magnificent wrist shot to win this unbelievable affair, 4-3.
During the celebration of this victory in front of the Brahma bench, an all-out brawl ensued between both teams as Amarillo said loud and proud, they did not care for the cheap shot administered to their captain, Ben Ivey. Under the direction of the head coach of the Lone Star Brahmas, players were told to get on the ice and fight after the game. With both benches cleared and Amarillo Civic Center security trying to break up this monstrous fight, a plethora of suspensions are expected by the league that should include players, coaches and referees alike. This game will go down in Amarillo hockey folklore as one of the greatest games ever to be played at the Budweiser Bullpen. Amarillo goalie Connor McDonough stopped 38-of-41 shots to earn his 12th victory of the season. As of the writing of this column, Amarillo captain and West Point commit Ben Ivey is recuperating and is in concussion protocol.
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.