Amarillo Wranglers finish regular season on high note heading into postseason

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The 2023-2024 Amarillo Wranglers are headed to the North American Hockey League Playoffs. [Lauren Correa/ Press Pass Sports]
The Amarillo Wranglers were able to close out the regular season of the North American Hockey League taking two out of three games against the Colorado Grit this weekend at the Budweiser Bullpen.

Friday night’s game was a comeback thriller, ending in a 4-3 victory. The Wranglers lost Saturday night at 4-2, however, bounced back strong Sunday afternoon in an overtime thriller with a 3-2 win.

Playoff bound 

Amarillo finished the regular season 32-20-6-2 with a total of 72 points. The Wranglers finished in fifth place in the NAHL South Division just one point behind the New Mexico Ice Wolves.

The Amarillo Wranglers travel to Albuquerque, N.M., to take on the Ice Wolves in the first round of the NAHL Robinson Cup championship playoffs. This will best of three first round series with all games being played at The Outpost Arena in Albuquerque.

Friday Night

The Wranglers went into this weekend‘s games against the Ice Wolves fighting for home advantage in a must-sweep situation.

Within the first three minutes of the first period, the Wranglers gave up two uncharacteristic quick goals. The Wranglers found themselves with a two-point deficit going into the second period.

At the 18:22 mark of the second period, forward Jack McDonald got an unassisted goal, making the score 2-1 going into the second intermission. The fireworks for Amarillo began at the 17:34 mark of the third period when Magnus Gadowsky scored his fifth goal of the season tying this thrilling game up 2-2.

Later in the third period, Westpoint commit Jack Ivey took a beautiful feed from his fraternal twin brother and captain Ben Ivey, who also will be attending Westpoint next season, giving Amarillo a 3-2 lead. Under the watchful eyes of thousands of passionate Amarillo Wrangler fans, Grit forward Sheldon Rioux was able to quiet the crowd and tie this game up 3-3, with just five minutes left in the game.

With less than three minutes to play in the game and on a power-play, it was déjà vu all over again when Jack Ivey passed the puck to his twin brother Ben Ivey who slapped the puck in the back of the net, locking up the victory 4-3 for the Wranglers.

Amarillo goalie Connor McDonough was extremely busy between the pipes, saving 23-of-26 shots, giving McDonough his 26 victory of the season.

Saturday Night

In front of the season’s largest crowd of an estimated 5,000 fans, the Amarillo Wranglers looked to continue their two-game winning streak in their efforts to obtain home ice advantage in the first round of the NAHL playoffs.

The Wranglers made great strides in eliminating unnecessary penalty minutes coming into this weekend, but that would not be the case in this game with a total of 32 penalty minutes assessed against the Wranglers.

In the first period, the Colorado Grit took advantage of the excessive penalty minutes and scored 2 power-play goals within the first 10 minutes of the game. The Grit took a 3-0 lead going into the first intermission.

At the 6:39 mark of the second period, fan favorite defenseman TJ Richie took a drop pass from Roman Zap, scoring his first NAHL goal and making things a little interesting. However, Colorado went on to win this game 4-2, thus eliminating any home ice advantage for the Amarillo Wranglers.

Sunday

On this last day of the regular season and with the seeding in place for the NAHL South Division playoff, this game had a feel of old school pond hockey.

Roughing, high sticking and crosschecking were the absolute themes of the afternoon, as both teams put caution to the wind and played as if it was the last game of the regular season.

There was no scoring in the first period as the Grit came in off the first intermission to score at the 15:13 mark of the second period, taking a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal.

Just a few short minutes later, the Grit scored again, taking a 2-0 lead. Not to be outdone, Amarillo scored on a power-play goal at the 4:04 mark of the second period when defenseman Nick Troutwine hit a bottle rocket to score his second goal of the season.

The Grit held a 2-1 lead going into the second intermission. At the 9:22 mark of the third period, Jack Ivey scored his team leading 32nd goal of the season, making him only the second player in Wrangler history score over 30 goals in a season.

This game went into overtime, and within the first 45 seconds of OT, the infamous “international line” took matters into their own hands when defenseman Nolan Gagnon passed the puck to Roman Zap who in turn drop passed the puck to Topi Puikkonen, where he hit the back of the net, ending this thrilling extravaganza.

Wrangler backup goalie Andrew Peterson was magnificent between the pipes, stopping 27- of-29 shots, giving him a perfect 4-0 record  on the year.

One point 

Unfortunately, the Amarillo Wranglers did not have control over their destiny relative to home ice advantage in the first round of the NAHL Robertson Cup championship tournament.

Amarillo needed a little help from reigning Robertson Cup Champion Oklahoma Warriors. The Warriors were able to sweep the New Mexico Ice Wolves this past weekend and as a result of one overtime game in the series, the Ice Wolves were able to obtain that one point that gave them home ice advantage in the first round of the NAHL playoffs.

This means Amarillo must now take the four-hour bus ride and play in a very hostile and elevated (almost 8,000-foot above sea level) environment.

Conversely, last season, one single point kept the New Mexico Ice Wolves out of the playoffs last season as the Amarillo Wranglers were able to grab that one single point in the last game of the season to make it in the playoffs in their second year of existence.

Every point matters. Incidentally, Amarillo finished the regular season with 72 points – exactly one point more than they finished with last season at 71 points.

Editor’s 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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