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The Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate has won (at least) one playoff round three seasons running

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Photo credit:Terence Leung/Calgary Wranglers
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
It’s been said before, and we’ll say it again: the goal of the Calgary Flames’ American Hockey League affiliate is not to win games. The stated goal of the Calgary Wranglers, and before them the Stockton Heat, is the development of future NHL players for the Flames. If the Wranglers lose a ton of games but their young players progress to the NHL, mission accomplished.
That said, making and succeeding in the Calder Cup playoffs can be a massive developmental opportunity. Near the end of the NHL season, Flames bench boss Ryan Huska mentioned the importance of playing in big games – and aside from the Stanley Cup playoffs, the AHL post-season can be the next-best thing in terms of providing big games.
When the Flames moved their farm team to Stockton, California in 2015, part of the premise was that the shortened, division-centric schedule would provide more practice time and better developmental outcomes for the Flames’ prospects. While several Heat players made the jump to the NHL during their run in California, they didn’t win a single playoff round until 2022.
However, the 2022 playoff year began a multi-year run for the Flames’ minor leaguers – which was extended on Friday when the Calgary Wranglers swept the Tucson Roadrunners – of their AHL affiliates winning at least one playoff round per season. While we’re not prepared to give all the credit to one player in particular, hockey’s a team game and lots of things contribute to wins, the three-year run of success has coincided with Dustin Wolf’s tenure in net.
In 2021-22, in their final season in Stockton, the Heat went on a bit of a run. They won the Pacific Division and got a first-round bye. Then they swept the Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton’s AHL team) and beat the Colorado Eagles (the Avs’ AHL team) before losing in six games in the conference finals to the Chicago Wolves (Carolina’s AHL team), the eventual Calder Cup winners. Justin Kirkland led the way offensively with seven goals (three of them game-winners) and 12 points.
In 2022-23, after relocating to Calgary to become the Wranglers, they won the Pacific Division again and got another bye. They beat the Abbotsford Canucks in the division semi-final round, but hit a roadblock in the form of the Coachella Valley Firebirds (Seattle’s AHL team) in the division final, losing in a five game series that featured four overtime periods. Jakob Pelletier led the Wranglers in goals (four) and points (10), but Jeremie Poirier was close behind him with eight points over nine playoff games. The Firebirds went on to lose in the Calder Cup Final to the Hershey Bears.
This season, the Wranglers didn’t win the division and had to battle through the first round of the playoffs as the lowest seed in the Pacific Division. They got 86 saves across two games from Wolf – obviously outstanding – but in a two-game sprint they got multi-point efforts from Adam Klapka (three points), Matt Coronato, Cole Schwindt and William Strömgren (two points each). The Wranglers trailed for a total of 52 seconds during their two games in Tucson, which indicates that the Wranglers did get saves at key moments… but they also got goals when they needed them, too.
No two seasons are exactly alike, especially in a minor league environment where AHL clubs often see their rosters turn over significant from year-to-year. Case-in-point: just four Wranglers have been a part of each of the past three playoff runs – Wolf, Pelletier, Ilya Solovyov and Colton Poolman. But if there’s been one constant for the Flames’ minor-leaguers over the past three years, aside from strong goaltending, it’s been that they’ve found different ways to win and managed to buckle down at key moments.
The Firebirds present a massive challenge in the next round, but the Wranglers have shown an ability to rise to the occasion since 2022. We’ll see if they can do it again.
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