In typical fashion, Matthew Phillips was right in the thick of things as the Calgary Wranglers pulled out a 3–2 win over the Tucson Roadrunners at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday afternoon.
The Wranglers entered Friday’s action still in search of their first win at home. They kicked off their two-game set against the Roadrunners with a deflating 3–1 loss on Wednesday in which they failed to register a single shot in the third period.
Despite the Wranglers’ struggles with consistency, Phillips has come out of the gate as reliable as ever. The 24-year-old winger left it a little late on Friday, but he still managed to extend his personal point-scoring streak to a team-high six games — and he did it in style.
With the score tied 2–2 late in the first period, Roadrunners forward (and former Calgary Flames prospect) Adam Cracknell took a high-sticking penalty to send the Wranglers to their fourth power play of the afternoon.
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Phillips made him pay for it.
The 5’8″, 160-pound forward put his poise and patience on full display after taking a feed from Ben Jones at the top of the right circle.
Phillips waited for the Tucson defenders to overcommit before firing a quick wrister past goaltender Jon Gillies — another ex-Flame — to put Calgary back on top.
“It’s fun to score a big goal like that,” Phillips said after Friday’s game. “That’s kind of why I play the game, for big moments like that. It was a good feeling.”
Phillips has always been more of a natural playmaker than a sniper. Was he thinking pass or shot when he double-clutched with the puck?
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“I think understanding when the other team might be in desperation mode, you’re just kind of looking for a lane. I think I can pass the puck harder than I shot that one,” Phillips said with a laugh. “It’s just kind of finding that spot when the goalie’s scrambling like that.”
Jones, who recorded the primary assist on Phillips’ game-winning goal, had a banner outing of his own. The 23-year-old centre scored his second and third goals of the season just 6:27 apart to give the home side a 2–0 lead early in the second period.
With Connor Zary and Brett Sutter already off to strong individual starts, Jones’ emergence gives the Wranglers a strong crop of two-way players capable of playing down the middle.
Sutter, in particular, is a quality role model for Jones to follow on and off the ice. Jones centred a line with Sutter and Walker Duehr on Friday.
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“He’s awesome,” Jones said. “I see a lot of my game in his and ways that I can be better. Obviously, he’s played in this league a really long time.
“He’s a really good pro, he’s a guy who everybody should be looking up to every single day,” Jones continued. “Getting to play with him is obviously exciting and great. I think our line was really good tonight.”
Dustin Wolf came up big for the Wranglers with 33 saves on 35 shots against Tucson on Friday.
The 21-year-old goaltender has been a little up-and-down to start the season, although his baseline in recent games has been much better than his .808 showing against Coachella Valley in the home opener. He’s up to 3–2–0 on the season with a .900 save percentage.
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Radim Zohorna, Nick DeSimone, Jeremie Poirier, and Emilio Pettersen also picked up points for the Wranglers (3–5–0) in the victory. Jan Jenik and Nathan Smith tallied for the Roadrunners (6–2–0), with Gillies making 26 saves in the loss.
The Wranglers will attempt to begin their first winning streak of the season when they return to action at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Sunday evening. They’ll kick off a two-game series against the San Jose Barracuda (4–2–1) at 6:00 p.m. MT.