Chris Wahl – 03.05.24

He was a big part of last year’s Calgary Wranglers playoff squad.

But this weekend, Dryden Hunt will cheer the group on from the stands as Calgary opens its best-of-five Pacific Division Semifinal on home ice against the Coachella Valley Firebirds.

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A year ago, the winger chipped in with six points in nine post-season games for the Wranglers and this season, he was a point-per-game player with the club before spending the last two months of the campaign with the Flames.

It’s safe to say he knows both teams inside and out.

But even having that inside knowledge, the 29-year-old admits this series might be closer than your everyday 1 vs. 7 matchup.

“Coachella being the higher seed, they picked to come here first and I think the Wranglers have to use that to their advantage,” he said when reached by phone earlier this week. “Obviously, you want to split anytime you play two games, but maybe they steal two, anything can happen with Wolfie in the net and they’ve got a pretty solid top line with Matty (Matt Coronato), Pelts (Jakob Pelletier), and Schwinny (Cole Schwindt). It’d be pretty cool for Coachella to pick to come here first and for the Wranglers to steal two.

“You can ride a hot goalie; we all know Wolfie’s been hot as of late, that little stretch he had there with the Flames and then going down and playing so well. Anything can happen in a five-game series, the Wranglers are pretty loaded this year and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”

The season’s seen plenty of movement, and Hunt’s year was no exception.

He played a total of 51 games in 2023-24, with just over half (28) coming at the NHL level.

But even though players like himself, Dustin Wolf et al have swapped dressing rooms over the course of the winter, Hunt believes there remains a sense of cohesion within the group that crosses league boundaries.

And those relationships might end up being an X-factor for the Wranglers come puck drop.

“I think it starts from the top down, how close they are,” he said. “One of the benefits of having the Wranglers in Calgary with the Flames, you’re never too far from your buddies with the Wranglers, or with the Flames. Away from the rink, you hang out with whoever, it’s one of the special things about having both teams here in Calgary.

“It’s cool for Matty, Wolfie, Solo (Ilya Solovyov) and those guys to have the opportunity to come up, but also to be able to hang out with guys on different teams.”

This weekend, Hunt’s hoping for two things for his Wranglers mates: wins, and loud, boisterous crowds at the ‘Dome.

Playoff excitement abound, mixed in with a glimpse at future Flames.

And the type of home-ice advantage that could keep the Wranglers playoff train barreling down the track.

“I think it would mean everything,” he said. “They go to Tucson, they’re the seventh-seed, best-of-three series, they win two games with probably not a lot of Wrangler fans in the building. I saw they had the Wrangler logo at centre ice, I think it’d be really special for those guys, the organization to have a full house in the Saddledome.

“There’s a lot of guys that have been up and down with the Flames, if you want to get a good look at some of the guys and get a look at some of the talent, I think it’d be pretty special (for them) to play in front of a full arena.”