Recap: Phillips nets two as Wranglers nearly complete comeback against Firebirds

Photo credit:Graphic by Mike Gould
Mike Gould
1 year ago
Sunday’s Calgary Wranglers game against the Coachella Valley Firebirds had a little bit of everything.
Tons of goals? Check. A thrilling comeback attempt? Double check. Some spectacular saves? You betcha.
Above all, the atmosphere was truly fantastic. With a reported 5,663 people in attendance at the Scotiabank Saddledome and “Happy Hour” prices in effect all game long, it was a raucous and truly memorable experience.
Kudos to the home team for limiting the spectators to the Saddledome’s lower bowl. Calgary Hitmen games sometimes take on a deserted vibe with fans scattered throughout the bottom two levels, but Saturday’s game couldn’t have been any more different.
The lower bowl was packed and, as a result, the event took on a very intimate feel.
“Great experience. Good hockey. Family friendly. Will be back,” one attendee wrote on Twitter.
“It was fun! Good atmosphere and reasonable prices. I’d definitely go again,” said another.
The Wranglers looked great in their brand-new uniforms. Plenty of fans at the Saddledome wore modern and vintage Wranglers merchandise, with new replica uniforms expected to be available for purchase in early November.
But how about the actual hockey? Let’s get into it.
Dustin Wolf is a superstar goaltender, and he looked the part for much of the first period against the Thunderbirds. He allowed just one goal on 14 shots and single-handedly kept the home squad within a goal even after Kole Lind opened the scoring at the 6:59 mark.
The 2021–22 AHL goaltender of the year made his best stop of the afternoon on Andrew Poturalski, the AHL’s reigning back-to-back scoring champion, who had a sure goal taken away by the teeny tender (with a little help from Dennis Gilbert).
But Wolf didn’t get much help from the guys in front of him and he started to struggle in the second period. The Firebirds scored four more times by the 10:31 mark of the middle frame, with Jesper Froden’s 5–1 goal spelling the end of Wolf’s afternoon.
It’s hard to blame Wolf for many of those Firebirds goals, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Wranglers head coach Mitch Love go right back to the Gilroy, CA product for the rematch on Monday. Not too long ago, Wolf allowed five fluke goals on just 11 shots in his very first AHL game. He turned it around pretty quickly after that.
With Wolf still between the pipes, Jeremie Poirier scored the first-ever AHL Wranglers goal at the 7:03 mark of the second period. Cole Schwindt and Martin Pospisil picked up the helpers on the historic tally. (Poirier was fantastic in Sunday’s game).
The Wranglers went to work after Dansk relieved Wolf, scoring twice in quick succession to cut the Firebirds’ lead to 5–3 before the end of the second period.
First, veteran defenceman Nick DeSimone wired a wrister from up top past Firebirds starter Joey Daccord to make it a three-goal game with 2:21 to go in the middle frame; then, after drawing a penalty, Calgary’s own Matthew Phillips scored off a crafty backhander with just one-tenth of a second remaining.
Lind scored his second of the game to make it 6–3 Firebirds early in the third, but — even after a disallowed goal — the Wranglers remained on the attack.
Phillips scored his second power-play goal of the afternoon off a slick wraparound play to make it 6–4 with just 5:56 to go in the third period. Only 46 seconds later, Walker Duehr netted his first of the year off a long-range knuckler that completely fooled Daccord.
But the Wranglers were unable to muster as much as one shot on goal in the final four minutes of regulation, even with Dansk on the bench for the extra attacker. The Firebirds played excellent trap defence to keep it a one-goal game and they ultimately walked away with a hard-fought 6–5 win to spoil the party at the Saddledome.
Even so, it was wonderful to watch the Flames’ top prospects play in front of an energetic hometown crowd. Especially after the pandemic-shortened 2020–21 Stockton Heat season in which the only people in attendance were a couple credentialed media members and the rink staff, Sunday’s atmosphere was a breath of fresh air.
Bring on Monday’s rematch!

Highlights and comments

Wranglers lines

Jakob Pelletier – Connor Zary – Matthew Phillips
Radim Zohorna – Ben Jones – Martin Pospisil
Mitch McLain – Cole Schwindt – Adam Klapka
Brett Sutter – Clark Bishop – Walker Duehr
Dennis Gilbert – Nick DeSimone
Jeremie Poirier – Nicolas Meloche
Yan Kuznetsov – Ilya Solovyov
Dustin Wolf (starter)
Oscar Dansk

Stray thoughts

  • My apologies for the delayed publish time on this recap. I’d usually have this up in the early evening after a matinee, but I had to leave the Saddledome a little early to attend an AJHL game down in Okotoks. I’m thankful for all your interest in our Wranglers coverage here at FlamesNation — Paige and I are so excited for this season. We’ve seen your feedback about having more coverage of Wranglers skates, and we’re going to do our best. I wish there was a train out to WinSport …
  • There’s been a lot of talk about the Flames’ brass getting a better look at the team’s prospects with the AHL club in town. It’s not as though the club didn’t pay attention to the Stockton Heat — the opposite — but it certainly streamlines the whole process to have the Wranglers playing out of the ‘Dome. Among those in attendance on Sunday: Martin Gelinas, Ron Sutter, Jordan Sigalet, and Brett Sutter’s dad.
  • For my money, Jeremie Poirier might be the Wranglers’ single most talented player with the puck on his stick — and that’s saying a lot, given his teammates include Matthew Phillips, Jakob Pelletier, and Connor Zary. But his confidence with the puck is off the charts. I wasn’t sure if he’d spend the whole season with the Wranglers or if he might see some time in the ECHL, but … nope. He’s here to stay.
  • The Wranglers changed their goal song! Thankfully, it’s no longer Travis Tritt’s “T-R-O-U-B-L-E”, which the club used during its exhibition clash against the U of C Dinos. We were told the players wanted something a little more upbeat, and we ended up hearing a remix of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove” as the celebratory tune on Sunday. The verdict: it works.
  • We also received word the Wranglers moved every ticket they made available for Sunday’s game. That lower bowl was full. One common refrain heard: not enough concession lines. We’ll see how the ‘Dome staff adjust for the next Sunday game. Those sweet “Happy Hour” prices will be in effect every single Sunday for both the Hitmen and Wranglers.
  • By the way, Darryl got to watch his son rack up three assists in his Wranglers debut. Not bad for a 35-year-old who managed just 19 points in 65 games with the Ontario Reign last season. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Sutter log a ton of minutes in all situations with the Wranglers this season — and perhaps parlay his increased role into another AHL deal with the club. That’s a long way down the line, though.
  • Martin Pospisil is healthy after dealing with a minor injury during training camp, and he was an absolute nuisance for the Firebirds on Sunday. He’s one of the best bleep-disturbers in the AHL. Picked up an assist on the first-ever Wranglers goal, too!
  • Prediction time. After lacklustre season debuts, last year’s super rookies Dustin Wolf and Jakob Pelletier both exceed expectations in their next outings. They’re both too talented to keep at bay for long.
  • One more: Sandra Prusina did a fantastic job in her first game as the play-by-play voice of the Wranglers. She’s a professional in every sense of the word and it’s been a pleasure to broadcast games alongside her with the Dinos to start this season. I can’t say enough about how the Wranglers hit it out of the park by hiring her. In case you read this, Sandra — terrific work, keep it up, and thank you for being a great mentor.

Up next

The Wranglers will return to action at the Saddledome for a rematch against Coachella Valley on Monday evening at 7:00 p.m. MT. Tickets are still available at calgarywranglers.com; you can also watch the game on AHL TV.

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