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Everything you need to know about the Calgary Wranglers before the AHL playoffs

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Photo credit:Terence Leung/Calgary Wranglers
Mike Gould
9 months ago
It’s just about time for the Calgary Wranglers to hit the ice for their first game of the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs.
As the top-ranked team in the American Hockey League during the 2022–23 regular season, the Wranglers earned a bye past the best-of-three first round of the postseason. They’ll take on the Abbotsford Canucks in the Pacific Division Semifinals, which are slated to begin tonight.
If you haven’t watched much (or any) of the Wranglers already this season, you’re in luck. It’s our job here at FlamesNation to prepare you for what should be an exciting — and hopefully long — playoff run at the Saddledome and in various barns around the AHL.
We’re going to structure this article in a sort of “frequently asked questions” format, beginning with the one that’s undoubtedly on everyone’s minds …

Where can I watch/listen to the games?

Well, before we can answer that, you probably want to know when the games will take place. Here’s the answer to that question, straight from the AHL’s communications department:
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 26 – Abbotsford at Calgary, 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 28 – Abbotsford at Calgary, 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 3 – Wed., May 3 – Calgary at Abbotsford, 8:00 p.m. MT
*Game 4 – Fri., May 5 – Calgary at Abbotsford, 8:00 p.m. MT
*Game 5 – Sun., May 7 – Calgary at Abbotsford, 8:00 p.m. MT
Naturally, Games 4 and 5 will only take place if necessary. And yes, you’re reading that right: Calgary will only play two out of five games at home despite technically having home-ice advantage for the series. The Wranglers earned the right to choose whether they wanted to play the first two or final three games at home. As the Stockton Heat (more on them later), they made the exact same choice for their Pacific Division Final series against the Colorado Eagles in 2022 and ended up winning in four games. Most of the personnel from last year’s Heat team are still with the Wranglers today. They know what they’re doing.
If you’re wondering why the AHL wouldn’t just schedule Game 5 to take place in Calgary, well, that would go against the league’s own regulations. Abbotsford and Calgary are too far apart for the teams to travel back and forth on buses (yes, there’s a distance threshold) and the AHL simply doesn’t have the cash for all of its teams to take an extra flight in every series. It’s an imperfect solution, but this Wranglers team is certainly good enough to win on the road.
As for how you can watch or listen to the games, well, the easiest way is by purchasing a ticket, which you can do here. It shouldn’t run you too much, although the Saddledome’s lower bowl is starting to get pretty full for Games 1 and 2. Beyond that, you can purchase a pass to watch the playoffs on AHL TV, the league’s genuinely excellent streaming service, which is available both on the web and through a Roku TV app.
While things may change, there are currently no plans to offer Wranglers games on any cable TV channel in Calgary or on Sportsnet 960 The Fan. There is also no longer an option to listen to a stream of the game on the AHL website. So, your options for following the Wranglers’ playoff run live are pretty much to buy game tickets or subscribe to AHL TV. We’ll let you know if more choices become available.
UPDATE
Great news! Every Wranglers playoff game will be available to stream on Sportsnet 960 The Fan.

Who’s on the team — and are they any good?

The Wranglers finished first in the entire American Hockey League — essentially, the NHL’s development league — with a 51–17–4 record in 72 games during the 2022–23 regular season. In doing so, they captured the Pacific Division title and the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy as the league’s top regular-season team. Expect to possibly see a new banner or two at the Saddledome next year.
Here’s an estimation as to what the Wranglers’ lineup might look like in Game 1 against the Canucks on Wednesday (keeping in mind that enforcer Alex Gallant still has one game remaining on his suspension):
Forwards
Jakob Pelletier – Ben Jones – Matthew Phillips
Emilio Pettersen – Connor Zary – Dryden Hunt
Brett Sutter – Kevin Rooney – Walker Duehr
Clark Bishop – Cole Schwindt – Adam Klapka
Extras: Mitch McLain, Rory Kerins, Parker Bell, Alex Gallant (susp.)
Injured: Martin Pospisil
Defence
Ilya Solovyov – Nick DeSimone
Jeremie Poirier – Colton Poolman
Yan Kuznetsov – Nic Meloche
Extras: Josh Brook, Kristians Rubins
Goaltenders
Dustin Wolf
Oscar Dansk
Extras: Daniil Chechelev, Matt Radomsky
It’s just a really strong team from top to bottom, featuring the AHL MVP (Wolf), the AHL’s top goaltender (also Wolf), two First Team AHL All-Stars (Phillips and Wolf), and a member of the AHL All-Rookie Team (Poirier). Phillips, a Calgary-born fan favourite, finished second in the league with 36 goals in 66 games this season; Wolf led the league with 42 wins and a .932 save percentage.
Leading the charge from the bench is head coach Mitch Love, who represented the Pacific Division alongside Wolf and Phillips at the 2023 AHL All-Star Classic. Love is also the back-to-back reigning winner of the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s most outstanding coach. The 38-year-old typically sports an extremely thick moustache and has been a pleasure to deal with all season long, always sharing great insight while preaching the importance of balancing individual player development with overall team success.
But on the ice, the guys who stand out the most on a consistent basis are Phillips (No. 11), Pelletier (49), Zary (47), DeSimone (27), Poirier (25), and especially Wolf (32). Of those guys, Pelletier and Zary are both recent Flames first-round draft picks. Wolf was selected in the seventh round but would probably go around 200 spots higher in a 2019 re-draft. Poirier is an extremely skilled puck-moving defenceman who might have some of the best hands in the organization. Phillips and DeSimone are both closer to being minor-league journeymen at this point, but they’re extremely talented and fun to watch — certainly among the best at their respective positions at the AHL level.
Keep an eye on that third line, too. Those three players have spent a lot of time together this season and have collectively been a lot for their opponents to handle. As many Flames fans witnessed first-hand, Duehr (No. 34) showed a lot of jam in his NHL audition this year. Rooney (21) and Sutter (7) have been a formidable duo on the PK for much of the year. Of course, Sutter also wears the “C” for the Wranglers, and this may very well be his last go-round in the pro circuit: Calgary drafted him way back in 2005 and he’s set to turn 36 this summer.

What about the Canucks?

Abbotsford is a pretty solid team. They didn’t have much trouble dispatching Bakersfield — Edmonton’s farm club — in the first round, with top NHL prospects Nils Höglander, Arturs Silovs, and Jack Rathbone leading the way in the two-game series sweep.
The Wranglers and Canucks met up 12 times during the 2022–23 regular season, with Calgary winning eight times. But in their three-game series at the very end of the season, Abbotsford won the first two by a combined 6–1 score before dropping the final one 3–2. It may just be that the Canucks are heating up at the right time.
The only recent Vancouver first-round pick available to Abbotsford is Vasily Podkolzin, who is currently recovering from an injury he suffered late in the NHL season. If Podkolzin is cleared to play during this series, Abbotsford could stand to massively benefit from his presence. Other Canucks prospects of note on the AHL club include Danila Klimovich, Linus Karlsson, and former Calgary Hitmen defender Jett Woo.
Abbotsford’s main veteran presence this season has been Christian Wolanin, who also appeared in 16 NHL games with Vancouver along the way. Wolanin was recently named the AHL’s top defenceman and offers a ton of value in both zones, and the Canucks recently rewarded him for his stellar play with a two-year contract extension.

Hey, hey, wait a second. Didn’t the Flames’ farm team play in Abbotsford years ago?

You better believe it. Barnburner’s own Ryan Pinder did play-by-play for the Abbotsford Heat once upon a time. As ironic as it may seem for a Flames farm team to exist in a Vancouver suburb, the Heat played out of the Abbotsford Centre for five seasons between 2009 and 2014.
Among the most notable Abbotsford Heat alumni: Mikael Backlund, TJ Brodie, Lance Bouma, Paul Byron, Sven Baertschi, Josh Jooris, Micheal Ferland, and Henrik “The Calgary Tower” Karlsson. Aside from those guys, it was pretty much a hodgepodge of minor-league journeymen, less successful draft picks, and hit-and-miss goalies — AKA, your typical AHL franchise. Speaking of which, they also had a guy named Kane LaFranchise for a bit.
The Abbotsford iteration of the Heat enjoyed limited playoff success, qualifying in 2010, 2012, and 2014, but they never made it past the second round. They also had a mascot named “Hawkey,” which apparently also had its own Twitter account …
Terrifying. Blasty the Bronco is much better.
Anywho, the Heat relocated to Glens Falls, New York in 2014 to become the Adirondack Flames. But after just one non-playoff season (in which the most notable event had to be the birth of Scorch), the franchise moved to Stockton, California in 2015 and resurrected the “Heat” moniker.

What happened in Stockton?

The Stockton Heat existed for seven seasons, making the playoffs twice. Although their first six seasons were largely pedestrian, the 2021–22 Heat made it all the way to the Western Conference Final before bowing out to the eventual champion Chicago Wolves in six games. And in an odd twist, right before that WCF series, the Flames announced that the Heat would move to Calgary and play out of the Saddledome in time for the 2022–23 season — essentially making the Heat a dead team walking.
That’s right: Stockton, a team essentially on its last legs before relocating, was going head-to-head up against the Wolves, one of the AHL’s most storied franchises. Owing to the light-on-travel nature of the AHL schedule, that series marked the first time those two teams had ever played against each other — and it was also guaranteed to be the last.
It ended up being an outstanding series. Dustin Wolf (heard of him?) stood on his head. After losing back-to-back one-goal games in Chicago to kick things off, the Heat dropped a 3–0 decision at home in Game 3 to fall behind by the same count in the series. But they gave their fans in Stockton two more thrilling overtime wins in Games 4 and 5 to shift the series back to Chicago.
After battling to a 0–0 tie through two periods in Game 6, the Heat were ultimately overpowered by the eventual Calder Cup champion Wolves in the third and fell by a 3–0 score in their final game as a California-based team. The Wolves subsequently defeated James Neal and the Springfield Thunderbirds in five games in the championship final; over the summer of 2022, CSEC announced that the Flames’ new AHL affiliate would be called the Calgary Wranglers.
It was a ton of fun to follow Stockton’s 2022 playoff run, even if the writing was on the wall. Only 2,103 fans showed up to Stockton Arena to watch Connor Mackey’s series-extending OT winner in Game 5. Although the facility in Stockton is wonderful for a minor-league hockey team, the club just had trouble getting fans out to games; as a former team executive once explained to me, the average sports fan in the area identified far more with the blue-collar ECHL team that preceded the Heat. Stockton Arena isn’t completely empty these days, though: the Stockton Kings of the NBA G League seem to be a relatively stable and successful tenant for the building.

Answering reader questions

He could’ve if he signed an amateur tryout deal instead of burning a year off his NHL entry-level contract. It was a “one or the other”-type deal. But as Pat Steinberg reports, Coronato might end up playing for Team USA at the upcoming World Championship, so he’ll still have a shot at playing meaningful games deep into the spring.
I wish I could tell you. Frankly, it’s haunting. But I guess it’s distinctive?
There are a few. I could see any of Cole Schwindt, Emilio Pettersen, Walker Duehr, Adam Klapka, and Mitch McLain having really hot spells. Out of that group, I’ll go out on a limb and pick Schwindt, who is really due for a breakthrough at some point. It’s all about consistency with him — but I’m not entirely sure where he’ll end up slotting in. I have him as the 4C in my projection above, but he might end up as the 2RW if he plays well.
Really interesting question … I’m gonna say Brett Sutter and Colton Poolman, but Ilya Solovyov has made an excellent case to be that defenceman. I actually think Solovyov is one of the most underrated prospects in the Flames’ system. He’s taken enormous strides this season and I can see him turning into an effective second or third-pair guy at the NHL level — maybe similar to Nick Jensen or Jake McCabe. Smooth but not flashy.
The Wranglers are one of the youngest true contenders I can remember. You typically see veteran top lines on these top AHL clubs with the prospects mostly populating the middle six. Not in Calgary. Matthew Phillips (25) and Dryden Hunt (27) are the elder statesmen of the top six, with Nick DeSimone (28) and Colton Poolman (27) the lone defencemen in their late 20s. Brett Sutter (35) and Kevin Rooney (29) have plenty of experience, as does backup goaltender Oscar Dansk (29), but that’s pretty much it.
Compare that with Coachella Valley, the second-ranked team behind Calgary in both the Pacific Division and the American Hockey League. The Firebirds are the seventh-oldest team in the league (Calgary ranks 19th) and have relied heavily upon veterans to carry most of the weight all season long. Part of that is because Seattle hasn’t been around long enough to build a huge prospect pool, but still. That being said, the Firebirds roster might end up being slightly depleted because of Seattle’s current playoff run — the longer that goes on, the better chance we see guys like Andrew Poturalski, Max McCormick, Cam Hughes, and Brogan Rafferty recalled to Seattle. With the Flames out of the playoffs, that’s not part of the equation for the Wranglers.
I worry a little bit about the defence, which has been pretty solid all year but, for my money, still lacks a true No. 1 guy. That’s not at all a shot at Nick DeSimone, who has been excellent on the top pair. Jeremie Poirier isn’t a No. 1 yet, nor is Ilya Solovyov, but they’re both very promising. I almost wonder whether the Wranglers should’ve been in on veteran defender Steven Kampfer, who went from Grand Rapids to Tucson ahead of the trade deadline.
Either way, it’s hard to fret too much about preventing goals when Dustin Wolf is back there. But beyond limiting scoring chances, you also want to minimize zone time for the opposition. Guys like Solovyov, Colton Poolman, and Yan Kuznetsov have proven themselves more than capable of disrupting zone entries at this level.
The first round, which just wrapped up, was a best-of-three. The second and third rounds, both of which the Heat advanced past last year, are best-of-five. The Conference Finals and Calder Cup Final are best-of-seven.
As the AHL’s top team in the regular season, the Wranglers have clinched home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. I know a few people have asked about the rationale for why the Wranglers will only play twice at home during this series against Abbotsford, and here’s the explanation I received from the league:
“Generally, teams more than 300 highway miles apart will play a 2-3 format, and teams under 300 miles apart will play 2-2-1. (Ultimately, building availability plays a factor also.) In the 2-3 format, the higher seed has the option of playing the first two or the last three at home.”
I think a lot of them could (and that’s not including Kevin Rooney and Dryden Hunt, who already have).
Matthew Phillips could if he latches on with a team that gives him a legit NHL opportunity. I think Dustin Wolf, Jakob Pelletier, Connor Zary, and Walker Duehr all easily eclipse that mark in Calgary, as will Jeremie Poirier. Ben Jones is somewhat similar to Phillips in that regard, with natural advantages due to his position and height.
Other guys with chances to do it: Ilya Solovyov, Yan Kuznetsov, Nic Meloche, Adam Klapka, Emilio Pettersen, Cole Schwindt, and Rory Kerins. Maaaaybe Nick DeSimone, but he’s getting up there in years.
Alright, last one.
Ben Jones. Great player with a great attitude. I honestly might slot him in as the Flames’ fourth-line centre next year. He’s versatile, productive, and a good skater. I don’t see any reason why he can’t be an NHL player in the future.
Considering he’s someone I had legitimately never heard of before this season, Jones definitely qualifies as underrated to me. I would go as far as to say, behind Wolf and Phillips, he’s been one of the Wranglers’ most valuable players all year long. A good comparable for him might be Derek Ryan.
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