After coming off a split weekend with North American Hockey League South Division leaders Lonestar, the Amarillo Wranglers played three games in three days with a lot of bus travel over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Amarillo traveled to El Paso to take on the Rhinos for Friday and Saturday night games in El Paso. The Wranglers came up short in a thrilling overtime 2-1 affair on Friday. Saturday night saw yet another overtime game that ended with a spectacular 3-2 victory the Wranglers. The Sunday afternoon matinee game in Odessa against the Jackalopes unfortunately did not go Amarillo’s way as they fell 6-3.
The Wranglers are 13-8-3-0 with 29 points, currently sitting in fourth place in the NAHL South Division. Amarillo continues its roadways with two games at Lone Star this weekend.
After sharing Thanksgiving celebrations with their billet families on Wednesday evening, the Amarillo Wranglers made the seven-hour bus ride to El Paso on Thanksgiving Day.
Black Friday shopping wasn’t the only event going on in El Paso, as the Rhinos hosted Amarillo for the first time in the 2023-24 season. This game saw the same level of excitement as a Walmart opening at 6 a.m. on Black Friday selling $99 Vizio 85-inch big screens.
In front of a sold-out crowd at the newly renovated El Paso County Event Center, this game would be yet another edge-of-your-seat classic matchup. El Paso put up the first goal when Rhinos defenseman Tim Mathys sniped a one-timer to get the puck by Wranglers netminder Connor McDonough.
The Rhinos took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. The second period saw a lot of shopping, but not a lot of purchasing as this game had no scoring in the second period. The Wranglers started the third period down 1-0. With Rhinos announcer constantly referring to Wranglers head coach, Ryan Anderson as Harry Mahood, it was as if newly acquired Toronto native Corson McQuire heard the disrespect and took a beautiful pass from newly announced associate captain Nolan “Gags” Gagson to score his first NAHL goal. As the shopping frenzy continued on the ice, this game was all knotted up at the end of regulation. The Wranglers entered into yet another overtime game, their 10th of the season, on this Black Friday. The overtime period lasted as long as those Walmart-sale 85-inch big screens when Rhinos forward got one past McDonough to end this shopping frenzied game within the first minute of overtime 2-1.
In front of another hyper electric crowd at the El Paso County Event Center, Junior League hockey fans saw yet another epic NAHL Southern Division matchup.
With over 10 fighting penalties handed out throughout this Muhammad Ali type of game, the scoring began in this fight fest at the 8:47 mark of the first period when newly acquired forward Grayson Gerhard scored his very first NAHL goal by receiving a lightning pass from Connor McNaughton to give the Wranglers a 1-0 lead in the first period.
The Wranglers took that lead to the first intermission. Rhinos forward A.J.Reed tied it up at the 15:01 mark of the second period. Shortly thereafter the fighting floodgates opened and the chippiness along with the frenzied over-the-top crowd made a perfect storm for this fight fest. With over 10 fighting penalties alone in the second period, this game looked more like a UFC match that Dana White couldn’t manage.
At the 5:07 mark of the second period, Rhino forward Troy Lund hit the back of the net, giving the Rhinos a 2-1 lead at the second intermission. Starting the third period, the hostility between the two teams was palpable, however calmer heads prevailed. With 22.7 seconds left in regulation, Roman Zap poked the puck past goalie Michael Manzi as a result of a magnificent shot taken by defenseman Nolan “Gags” Gagnon that bounced off the pads of the Rhino goalie. Zap took the opportunity to take this game into overtime.
In overtime at the 3:34 mark, Zap took a sweet unassisted shot to score his eighth goal of the season and to end this epic showdown, giving Amarillo its 13th victory of the season. Wranglers’ goalie Connor McDonough saved 25-of-27 shots to garner his 10th win of the season. McDonough ranks 12th among all 52 goalies in the NAHL with a 0.951 save percentage. Amarillo has participated in 11 overtime games, out of 23 games so far, an NAHL record for this point in the season. In my many years of covering junior league hockey in our community, I have never seen this before.
After departing El Paso for the five hour drive to Odessa, the Amarillo Wranglers immediately exited their bus to begin an odd Sunday afternoon game against the Jackalopes at Ector County Coliseum.
The Jackalope were able to score first when forward Brendan Pietila placed the puck through the five hole against German native and Amarillo goalie Luca Ganz, to give the Jackalopes a 1-0 lead. The remainder of the first period ended without a Wranglers goal as the Jackalope took their 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Jack’s forward James Richman was able to score twice in the second period, one of which was a shorthanded goal, giving Odessa a 3-0 lead.
At the 3:04 mark in the second period, Wranglers goalie Luca Ganz was able to clear the puck to Wranglers forward, Jack McDonald, who in turn passed a rocket on a shift change for Odessa to one of the hottest scorers in the NAHL, Zap sniped his ninth goal of the season to make the score 3-1 going into the second intermission. Amarillo goalie Ganz was credited with an assist, a very rare feet for a goalie.
At the 14:53 mark of the third period, Wranglers Army commit Jack Ivey buried the puck in the back of the net to cut the lead to one goal. The Jackalopes answered back within two minutes to make the score 4-2. With four minutes left in the game, Wranglers head coach Ryan Anderson made the decision to pull Ganz and put six of the Wranglers most prolific scorers on the ice. Unfortunately, this strategy was not effective as the Rhinos hit an empty netter and went on to win 6-3.
Travel and Scheduling
In yet another cumbersome and challenging scheduling weekend, the Wranglers took the long bus ride to El Paso to take on the Rhinos for two games. Then at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, back in the bus for a five-hour bus ride for a Sunday matinee game in Odessa against the Jackalopes. The Wranglers traveled over 1,000 miles this weekend via bus and played 3 games in three days.
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.