Wranglers Playoff Recap: An inaugural season for the books ended in overtime decision
Photo credit:Mike Zitek/Coachella Valley Firebirds
6 months ago
The winner of the best-of-five Pacific Division match-up in the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs was decided on Friday night. The Calgary Wranglers and Coachella Valley Firebirds were tied 2-2 in the series and one of their seasons was destined to come to an end by the end of the night. Despite an influx of scoring and battling, the Wranglers’ effort came up short and their highly impressive inaugural season came to an end with a 6-5 overtime loss.
Game at a glance
The Wranglers didn’t get off to the type of start that surely they had hoped for. They were in a tough scenario playing another elimination game on the road in front of a rowdy crowd cheering against them. Both sides were just as eager to get things going and it would be the Firebirds that did so.
Jesper Froden opened up the scoring 13:28 into the first period with a quick puck moving play with his teammates and their fans erupted. The crowd got a second goal celebration in before the end of the opening period but it came prematurely. The play was whistled offside and the Firebirds and the fans did not hear. They shot a puck past Dustin Wolf who was just standing relaxed in front of his net as he caught on to the play being dead. The confusion was cleared up very quickly and the score remained 1-0.
As if this wasn’t enough to take some of the wind out of the sails of the Wranglers, Matthew Phillips was on the receiving end of an ugly hit along the boards with just under two minutes to go in the opening frame. This knocked his helmet off but he got back up and stayed in the game. The power play that was earned from this play would be cut short by a high sticking call from Mitch McLain.
At the end of 20 minutes, the Wranglers trailed the Firebirds 1-0, but shots were an even 10-10. The Wranglers got to work on the scoring side of things early in the second period when Kristians Rubins found the space to wind up for a huge slap shot that beat Joey Daccord and put the Wranglers on the board. This was his first goal of the postseason and Jakob Pelletier and Yan Kuznetsov assisted.
Their goal celebrations were cut short as Ville Petman scored for the Firebirds 32 seconds later. The Firebirds made a push into the Wranglers zone when a puck slid just out of Brett Sutter’s reach. They struggled to keep up with Coachella Valley in their zone and Nick DeSimone lost track of the guy he was covering, he ripped a shot and Petman buried the rebound.
The Wranglers got some more time in the Firebirds’ zone. Connor Zary was in a battle on the glove side and was pulled down to the ice and was a little slow to get up. This didn’t keep him out of the game thankfully.
A few minutes later, the Firebirds attempted to clear the puck from a puck battle along the boards and Clark Bishop picked off a pass and sprung himself on a breakaway. With a quick deke, he took a shot and scored on Joey Daccord to tie the game.
After this goal, the period ran itself out pretty smoothly with only one penalty call against the Wrangelrs. They finished up the second period tied 2-2 and narrowly outshot by the Firebirds 11-10.
In the third, scoring absolutely exploded. With the talents in the net at both sides of the rink, this was absolutely shocking but both Calgary and Coachella Valley were fully aware their seasons were at stake. During this period, there was barely time to recover from and announce goals let alone keep up with scoring.
It started with Jeremy McKenna scoring goal number three for the Firebirds. Then Nick DeSimone scored 7:14 into the period with assists coming from Jakob Pelletier and Walker Duehr. Exactly 40 seconds later, Gustav Olofsson scored for the Firebirds. Then, exactly 30 seconds later, Jeremie Poirier scored and this game was up to a 4-4 game. Connor Zary and Jakob Pelletier assisted on Poirier’s marker. Cole Schwindt was the next scorer 13:02 into the third period with assists coming from Dryden Hunt and Kristians Rubins.
That gave the Wranglers their first and only lead of the night with a 5-4 score. This would’ve been their chance to hold things down and take that score to the end of regulation but it was too much time for a talented Firebirds team to not find another goal. Just over a minute after Schwindt’s goal, Jeremy McKenna scored for the second time in the third and tied things 5-5.
The Firebirds had more looks in the third, outshooting Calgary 17-10. The Wranglers made it very tough on themselves in the last couple of minutes when Cole Schwindt was called for tripping at 18:14. However, they were able this penalty off, but this game would need an overtime decision with it finishing up still at 5-5 by the end of regulation. These two teams had just gone to a triple overtime decision earlier this week on Monday night but this game would be decided much sooner than that.
Both sides got three shots registered in overtime and the third Firebirds shot would put the last nail in the coffin on the Wranglers’ season and hopes to raise the Calder Cup in 2023. Jesper Froden got a pass up to Andrew Poturalski, who took a top corner shot on Wolf’s glove side that looked like it may have skimmed the top of his chest or shoulder and found the back of the net.
Wolf’s pads were down on the ice and once he realized this puck was in, he stayed in his save position and rested his head down on the ice for an extended period of time. Coming from a goalie who is just as humble as he is talented, he is going to give himself a very hard time for that goal and his teammates gathered around him to console him.
The Calgary Wranglers were not Calder Cup winners in their first year in the AHL. However, they were the Pacific Division and League Champions with outstanding individual, team, and coaching performances that earned them enough recognition to be very proud of where they ended up in the 2022-23 season.
Transitioning into the offseason
All that is known for the next steps for the Wranglers is they will be flying home and cleaning out their lockers. Some for the last time for Calgary. Will Matthew Phillips still be here next year? Will some of the Wranglers best become everyday Flames? Will their depth dwindle with offseason moves? Will Mitch Love get an NHL promotion? There are so many questions to be answered in the next few months, but alas, this team has so many positive memories to reflect on and deserves high praise for what they did these last seven and a half months.
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