Where the Calgary Wranglers stand one month from the season opener

Photo credit:Angela Burger/Calgary Wranglers
Paige Siewert
10 months ago
It is nearly mid-September and you know what that means? We’re almost there folks. Hockey season is on the horizon. For the Calgary Wranglers, there is just one month to go before the puck drops for their season opener on Oct. 13. For the incredible inaugural season they had last year, how are things going to look for 2023-24? Can success like that be repeated? I’m not so sure.

What’s the same

When you’re evaluating a team’s potential, sometimes the most reliable data point comes from what will still be here at the start of the season. The Calgary Wranglers will still have some big names on their roster that will make their games fun to watch. Connor Zary, Jeremie Poirier, Brett Sutter and Emilio Pettersen are expected to be some of the regular faces while Dustin Wolf and Jakob Pelletier could make appearances depending on their camps and pre-season performances.
The leadership is expected to be fairly similar as well. Brett Sutter will be returning as captain of the squad and Nick DeSimone will likely keep the A on his jersey. With them being such a new team, most of the things that make up their identity like their city, logo, colour scheme, venue and mascot are all expected to remain the same this fall. Not that any of those were in question. 

What’s different

Now to the parts that might make or break their year. One of the AHL fanbase’s biggest fears came to fruition this off-season with Matthew Phillips officially closing the door on his stint with the Flames organization. He has moved on to a hopeful NHL role with the Washington Capitals if not with the Hershey Bears.
He was the longest-standing active player in Calgary’s AHL system with five complete seasons with the Stockton Heat and Calgary Wranglers. He was the top scorer in the regular season and a huge clutch player in overtimes and shootouts. Not to mention one of the team’s all-stars last year and just an all-around stand-up player off and on the ice. 
Also joining Phillips in the Capitals organization is former Head Coach, Mitch Love. Love turned the organization around once Cail McLain picked up a job with the NHL squad. Love picked up back-to-back AHL Coach of the Year awards. In his first year with the Heat, he had a 45-16-5-2 record and with the Wranglers last year he had an even better 51-17-3-1 record. In both seasons, he led these teams to the Conference Finals of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Can they repeat their success? 

Without being overly speculative, my short answer is no. I don’t expect the Wranglers to take the league by storm this year and finish at the best in the Pacific Division. However, I fully support them in challenging that point. Not to say they won’t be a good team, but their talent is just not the same this season.
Jakob Pelletier and possibly Dustin Wolf could be gone for an extended amount of time. Walker Duehr and Dennis Gilbert are on NHL contracts and Matthew Phillips is in the wind. Those are a lot of key players that the Wranglers will surely be missing. Even the blue line is feeling a little lighter after Nicolas Meloche, Josh Brook and Kristians Rubins all signing with different teams this summer. 
However, there may be some talent to grab the reins and pick up the slack. Matthew Coronato is available and at a place to make the Flames or join the Wranglers. Lucas Ciona is another draft pick who will join the Wranglers after finishing up in the WHL. Those two alone could be a huge backfill for some of the talent they will be missing up front. 
That being said, we’ve seen time and time again with the Flames that there is usually a learning curve that comes with new coaching. Trent Cull was named Head Coach in mid-July and comes from the Vancouver Canucks organization with previous AHL coaching experience and NHL coaching as an Assistant Coach last season. He is not going to run things the same way as Mitch Love and I don’t imagine Calgary’s style of play is going to click into place right off the bat. The biggest thing the Wranglers had going for them was their team chemistry and cohesiveness and even with a new coach, I don’t imagine that will drop off too substantially.
On a lighter note, you also have to consider we might not have seen the best this team has to offer. Returning players who had their career years like Mitch McLain, Ben Jones, Ilya Solovyov and Emilio Pettersen could use that season as a stepping stone to be even better this year. Even the rookies with breakout years could just be starting their development journeys like Adam Klapka and Jeremie Poirier. There also ends up being new blood that comes from a variety of places that could offer some exciting skill additions to the team. My gut feeling is just telling me from what we know right now, we can’t expect the same. 
We’re getting down to the homestretch of the summer and October will be here before we know it. The Calgary Wranglers will open their season on October 13th on the road against the Manitoba Moose. Their home opener won’t be for a couple of weeks after that when they take on the Colorado Eagles at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Oct. 28.

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