As a hockey broadcaster, you start every season with a checklist: first goal, a major milestone, a statement game, among others.
Who thought that statement game would come on a Friday in early February?
That’s the loudest I’ve heard the Scotiabank Saddledome for a Wranglers’ game — absolute madness for one of the biggest crowds to date. If you watch the highlights, pay attention to the fans’ reactions after the winner went in: hands-on heads, mouths opened, glass pounding, plenty of “OMG!”s and deafening screaming.
Calgary, AB – (20230203): The Calgary Wranglers vs the Bakersfield Condors at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday night. (Photo by David Moll / Calgary Wranglers).
It’s not a shock the dramatics came against the Bakersfield Condors. As much as I’m pained to admit, the Oilers farm team draws a crowd in Calgary. Blue and orange were scattered throughout the stands, especially with the 200 level open because of ticket demand. And that rivalry alone brings a different kind of energy.
It was their eighth meeting of the season, and it came just 24 hours after Mitch Love called his squad’s performance the night before, a 5-1 Wranglers loss — their first to the Condors all year – one of “zero emotion.”
So, there was also nervy energy. Calgary, the first team to hit 30 wins in the AHL season, had to deal with adversity and rebound from Thursday’s result.
Up to this point in the season, this group was even-keeled — not riding the highs too high, or the lows too low, and Thursday’s loss was uncharacteristic.
The final media timeout approached as time was winding down in regulation Friday. I remember reaching for the overtime statistics because that’s where this Battle in ‘Berta seemed destined to go. But then the emotion got dialled from 10 to 100 in the blink of an eye, with Walker Duehr scoring the game-winner with under five seconds to go. He threw himself into the glass to celebrate while being mobbed by his linemates.
The Saddledome exploded with euphoria because the Wranglers not only came from behind to take the win but got back to playing to their identity – a hardworking, structured team that can roll four lines. And perhaps, most importantly, not letting bad habits creep in during the mid-point of the season.
If you missed it, there was a lot of bad blood after the final horn – pushing and shoving and some stick work. But it wasn’t until captain Brett Sutter corralled his troops off the ice that cooler heads finally prevailed, and the group headed into its dressing room, statement game in its back pockets.
Odds and ends:
The middle of February brings the Wranglers their longest homestand of the season. The six-game stretch sees not only the Abbotsford Canucks for an all-Canadian set at the Scotiabank Saddledome Saddledome but first-time visits for both the Colorado Eagles and Henderson Silver Knights.
In this edition of jersey spotting, a high-five to the fan wearing a Team Canada Marie-Philip Poulin on Feb. 3. Captain Canada, known for her clutch prowess, would’ve been proud of the Duehr marker scored that night.