Calgary Wranglers eliminated by Coachella Valley Firebirds in AHL Pacific Division Final
Photo credit:Candice Ward/Calgary Wranglers
By Mike Gould6 months ago
The Calgary Wranglers’ inaugural season is over.
The Wranglers fell 6-5 in overtime on Friday to drop their Pacific Division Final series against the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the maximum five games. The Firebirds will take on either the Texas Stars or the Milwaukee Admirals in the best-of-seven AHL Western Conference Final.
After going blow-for-blow with the Coachella Valley Firebirds through 60 minutes in regulation, the Wranglers surrendered the series-winning overtime goal to Andrew Poturalski at the 7:00 mark of the first overtime period of Game 5 of their series at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, California.
Despite finishing the 2022-23 regular season as Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy champions with the American Hockey League’s top record, the Wranglers ultimately bowed out in the Final Eight after their predecessors, the Stockton Heat, advanced all the way to the Western Conference Final in 2022.
The Wranglers never led the Pacific Division Final against the Firebirds, winning Games 2 and 4 after falling behind 1-0 and 2-1 in the series. Friday’s game followed a similar script, with the Wranglers falling behind 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3 before taking a 5-4 lead late in the third period.
Former Heat forward Jeremy McKenna tied the game with just 5:47 remaining in regulation time, just 71 seconds after Cole Schwindt struck to finally give Calgary its first lead of the hockey game. All in all, the Wranglers gave up five go-ahead goals on Friday night, including three Firebirds goals scored less than 90 seconds after a Calgary tally.
The Wranglers struggled enormously with their puck management on Friday, with costly turnovers from Kevin Rooney and Ilya Solovyov immediately ending up in their net. But their goaltender wasn’t on his game, either. Wolf could’ve locked things down with the Wranglers up 5-4 late. Instead, he allowed a goal on the very next shot he faced.
Walker Duehr did not score a single goal in the playoffs. Nor did Rooney, who is both the Wranglers’ highest-paid player and their least effective. Connor Zary, Matthew Phillips, and Ben Jones were limited to one, each. One of these players needed to step up and give the Wranglers a boost in Game 5 (or in their triple OT loss on Monday). None of them did.
In somewhat unusual fashion, the Wranglers elected to start their best-of-five series against the Firebirds with two games on home ice before playing three on the road against Coachella Valley — the AHL’s best home team during the regular season.
The Wranglers ultimately lost twice in overtime in their three games at Acrisure Arena to end their season. It’s worth considering how the series might’ve otherwise played out had the Wranglers been able to play a potential Game 5 at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Kristians Rubins, Clark Bishop, Nick DeSimone, Jeremie Poirier, and Schwindt scored for the Wranglers in the Game 5 loss. League MVP Dustin Wolf allowed six goals on 41 shots in the season-ending defeat.
The Wranglers will likely look very different next season. Back-to-back reigning AHL coach of the year Mitch Love could be in the running for an NHL gig, while leading scorer Matthew Phillips is a pending unrestricted free agent. Jakob Pelletier, Dustin Wolf, and Walker Duehr might wind up in the NHL come the fall.
This might’ve been the Wranglers’ year to go all the way. Now, it feels like it’s over before it really even started.
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