Amarillo Wranglers split series road series with New Mexico Ice Wolves


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The Amarillo Wranglers Topi Puikkonen (17), Alexander Papaspyropoulos, and Roman Zap celebrate goal from a game earlier this season. [Lauren Correa/ Press Pass Sports]
The Amarillo Wranglers loaded their bus and took the four-hour drive west on I-40 to the new look Outpost Arena, nestled at the base of Sandia Peak in Albuquerque, N.M., to take on the Ice Wolves in a two-game weekend series.

The Wranglers were able to win Friday’s game 3-2 in what’s becoming a common occurrence relative to high intensity, high physicality junior league hockey. Saturday game saw yet another overtime thriller with Amarillo falling 2-1 in a very controversial overtime hockey game. The Wranglers were able to obtain three out of the four important points this weekend.

That puts the Wranglers at 11-6-2-0 overall on the year with 24 points, currently third place in the North American Hockey League South Division. Amarillo plays host to the division leading Lone Star Brahmas in two very important games at the Budweiser Bullpen Friday and Saturday night with puck drop at 7:15 p.m.

Friday Night

Friday night’s affair saw a typical NAHL South Division hockey filled with high energy and extreme excitement. The excited crowd certainly got their money’s worth this Friday night.

Connor McNaughton took a beautiful pass from recently acquired the Colorado Grit on defensemen Drew Jeffers to start the scoring off, getting his seventh goal of the season, giving Amarillo a 1-0 lead early in the first period.

The Ice Wolves answered with a cumbersome goal that somehow managed to sneak by Wrangler goalie Connor McDonough to tie this game up. Army commit Jack Ivey scored quickly in the third period to give the Wranglersa 2-1 lead at the 15:31 mark of the third. The infamous important line struck again when Alex Papaspyropoulos placed the puck perfectly in front of the net as Ukrainian native Roman Zap got a one-timer to give the Amarillo Wranglers a 3-1 lead in the third period.

This was Zap’s sixth goal of the season. New Mexico tried to make it interesting with a couple of minutes left in the game, scoring a power-play goal to tighten the score at 3-2, but Amarillo held on. McDonough stopped 22-of-24 shots to win his ninth game of the season.

Saturday Night

Right off the bat both teams had the physical volume turned up to 11. At the 11:44 mark of the first period, Ice Wolves forward Bryce Johnson sniped one past goalie Luca Ganz to take a 1-0 lead.  The second period saw a defensive struggle as both defenses were able to stop offensive rushes time and time again. Wrangler goalie and German native Luca Ganz stopped 10-of-10 shots attempted in the second period. Going into the third, the Wranglers had their back against the wall down 1-0 when Army commit Jack Ivey took a magnificent pass from “the grinder” Jack McDonald, which found the back of the net to tie up this over-the-top-with-intensity game.

Like the baseball legend Yogi Berra use to say “it’s déjà vu all over again”. The Wranglers went into their eighth overtime game of this short season. Amarillo leads the North American Hockey League in overtime and shoot out games. Unfortunately, in this overtime, a very questionable and controversial call was made against the Wranglers, putting them at a severe disadvantage in the overtime period. With the Wranglers a man down in overtime, New Mexico took the victory 2-1. The Amarillo Wranglers have won six-of-eight overtime/shoot-out games and lead the league in this category.

Amarillo Wrangler writer Tom Tortoreo, Amarillo Wrangler head coach, Ryan Anderson, radio host Lance Lahnert and Wrangler forward Connor McNaughton were all on Lahnert’s Drive at Five radio show this past week. [Provided photo]

The Ryan Anderson Era

New head coach Ryan Anderson had the unenviable position of taking over the head coaching position from a junior league legend and iconic head coach Harry Mahood. With over four decades of coaching experience, and working with incredible hockey organizations, both at the Junior League and professional level, coach Mahood’s shoes are very tough to fill. Hoody (as he’s affectionately called) was recently promoted to President of Hockey Operations for the Amarillo Wranglers.

Anderson, a Navy veteran and hockey aficionado, as a new head coach has certainly made a bold statement in his short tenure as Wranglers head coach. As one of the hottest and most successful Tier 3 junior league head coaches, Anderson was a hot commodity in the junior hockey space and was quite the get for Austin Sutter and the ownership group for the Amarillo Wranglers.

Anderson’s win-loss record was nothing short of amazing at the Tier 3 level and was the obvious choice of the Amarillo Wranglers to present him an opportunity for his first head coaching job in the NAHL.

I have observed numerous practices, and from this writer’s observation, I believe Anderson to be a firm but fair head coach with a strong belief in player development and working the process. His coaching philosophy and the product he puts on the ice weekly complements the Amarillo demographic with a blue-collar style of play. Player accountability and responsibility also play key factors in his coaching methodology.

Approaching the end of the third of the season, it is apparent that the ownership group made an excellent choice in obtaining the services of head coach in Ryan Anderson.

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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