The Amarillo Wranglers were able to stay hot by beating the reigning North American Hockey League Robertson Cup Champion Oklahoma Warriors, taking two out of three games at the Blazers Ice Centre in Oklahoma City on Friday through Sunday.
Last weekend’s games were extraordinary, with two overtime clashes that were classic junior league hockey battles.
Amarillo won Friday night’s game, 3-2 in overtime. The Wranglers fell on Saturday night with a 5-2 loss, then battled back for a 3-2 shootout victory on Sunday to take the series.
After the grueling three games, they’ll be no rest for the weary as the Amarillo Wranglers (9-5-1-0, 19 points) have a short week as Amarillo plays host to the Shreveport Mudbugs on Thursday and Friday night at the Budweiser Bullpen.
The Amarillo Wranglers rode into the Blazers Ice Centre in Oklahoma City, Okla., on a three-game winning streak.
The Warriors were on a mission to avenge a sweep the previous weekend at the hands of the Wranglers.
Both teams got off to a sloppy start with a scoreless first period. As the sloppiness continued at the 14:52 mark, Warriors’ forward Drew Sutton took a shot from the point, and somehow found the back of the net as it flew by the shoulder of Wranglers netminder Connor McDonough. Within two minutes the Wranglers answered back with a magnificent breakaway shot from Roman Zap as he faked right, faked left, shot right, and got the left sided back hand into the net to tie the game up. Topi Puikkonan’s hot stick got hotter when he scored his eighth goal of the season to give Amarillo the lead halfway through the second period. Both teams seemed to be in the zone as this classic ice battle moved late into the third period.
Warriors forward Nathan Rickey scored unassisted at the 8:10 mark of the third period, to tie this game up yet again. Both goaltenders for the remainder of regulation stood on their heads. This night represented everything that is good about junior league hockey. The Wranglers have had their disproportionate shares of overtime games, and this was no exception. One team on a mission to continue a winning streak, and one team on a mission to stop one. Overtime hockey in the NAHL is over-the-top exciting with 3-on-3 hockey for five minutes.
Both teams played well and with just 46 seconds left in overtime, Puikkonan took a pass in front of the net from line mate Alex Papaspryopoulios (Paps) giving Amarillo the win.
Puikkonan has a total of nine goals with eight assists, for a total of 17 points. Amarillo has played six overtime games this season, winning five, well above the league average. Wranglers’ goalie Connor McDonough saved 23-of-25 shots to notch his sixth victory of the season.
In front of a loud and enthusiastic crowd, the Wranglers took their four-game winning streak into Saturday night’s bash with the hopes of taking four straight from the Oklahoma Warriors.
This game was cumbersome from the start when Warriors forward Sebastian Speck scored almost in an unintentional manner to give the Warriors 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Amarillo tied it up when Jack Mcdonald hit a nice pass from linemate Papaspryopoulios to score his second goal of the season.
Recent acquisition from the Colorado Grit and Michigan native Drew Jeffers sniped one from the point to score his first goal for the Wranglers, however, this was not enough as the Warriors scored three unanswered goals to take this Saturday night affair 5-2.
In yet another scheduling challenge from the NAHL, Amarillo and Oklahoma had to play a Sunday night game.
Both teams were beaten and exhausted but put on a classic junior league hockey game.
With both teams having huge chips on their shoulders, Amarillo’s four-game winning streak came to an end the night before, and the Warriors looked to rebound after losing three out of four games to the Wranglers.
Emotion was high, and physicality was even higher when Warriors forward Bryce Howard tapped one in to start off the scoring at the 12:30 mark at the first period. The Warriors went into the second period with a 1-0 lead when Ukrainian native and hot stick handler Wranglers Roman Zap received a magnificent pass from Connor McNaughton to tie it up, 1-1.
Zap is becoming a consistent scorer and was able to score two goals this weekend to give him a total of five goals with eight assist for 13 points thus far this season.
At the 18:20 mark of the second period, Oklahoma’s Landon Fleming went top shelf on Wranglers goalie Connor McDonough to give the Warriors a 2-1 lead going into the third period. With 10 game warn out hockey players on the ice at the 9:49 mark in the third, exhausted and beaten-up, Wranglers forward Alex Papaspryopoulios scored his most important goal of the season, and fifth on the year, to tie this game at 2-2.
For the seventh time in this short season, the Amarillo Wranglers went into overtime. The five minutes of three-on-three hockey in overtime was extreme with only two shots on goal. Neither team scored during the overtime period and this epic battle moved into a shootout.
With both goalies visibly shaken and both teams sucking a lot of air, Wrangler Nolan Gagnon was able to score first in the shoot-out when a Drew Shotton of the Warriors tried to get cute, Wranglers goalie McDonough had none of it and was able to dig deep inside to pull off a stunning stop. Next up for the Wranglers was Topi Puikkonen hit his shot and gave the Amarillo Wranglers the stunning overtime shootout victory 3-2.
This weekend saw Wranglers assistant captain and defensemen, Kyle DeMarco, take a stick to the cheek, piercing it, receiving numerous stitches, replacing his cage with a bubble, and went back on the ice to continue this epic weekend of hockey. McDonough stopped 29-of-31 shots to gather his sixth victory of this young season.
Overtime and shootouts
The Amarillo Wranglers have played 15 regular season games thus far this season with seven of those games going into overtime. This incredible statistic only goes to show how close the NAHL South Division is relative to talent and depth.
The Wranglers have had extreme success in the overtime and shootout protocol by winning six-of-seven games. The Wranglers have more overtime contests in the NAHL than any other team followed closely by the Oklahoma Warriors with six overtime affairs.
A lot of hockey prognosticators at all levels say the overtime protocol in the NAHL is the best in all of junior league hockey. As a fan it’s also very exhausting.
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.