SANDRA PRUSINA – 04.22.2023
This rather lengthy hiatus from home Wranglers games has had me reminiscing about the season, especially with the team officially finishing with the AHL’s best record this campaign.
How did they get there? What was the team’s turning point after losing five of seven to start the year? I don’t think it’s an easy answer, and several factors went into their meteoric rise. But the one that stands out most is this group’s buy-in.
While Matthew Phillips and Dustin Wolf led in league-wide statistical categories for most of the season, the Wranglers were never one player’s team. And I mean that as the ultimate compliment because it showed no one was bigger than the rest of the players. So, when they won, they were victorious as a group. Same when they lost.
I think back to Calgary’s 2-1 overtime win over the Colorado Eagles in mid-February. Both goalies, Wolf and his counterpart Jonas Johansson, were putting on a clinic after 40 minutes. The teams traded powerplay goals in the third to send them to overtime. Ilya Solovyov scored about halfway through the three-on-three frame — his first goal of the season. What a time to light the lamp, right?
And it wasn’t just the winning marker that stands out about that night. It’s how his teammates reacted. The second-year blueliner was mobbed in celebration. Solovyov put in the work all year, and although he wasn’t often rewarded on the scoresheet, that Friday night contest was his turn to be the centre of attention.
The same can be said of Adam Klapka’s hat-trick during Calgary’s final regular-season home game on March 31 against Henderson. Sometimes you forget it’s the big man’s first year playing in North America, but the growth of his game since the start of the season has been an absolute pleasure to watch.
Much like Solovyov, Klapka put in the hours, moved up and down the lineup, and was always first to stand up for his teammates. So it was no surprise to see Ben Jones work so hard to dish the puck to Klapka en route to the empty net so the forward could complete his first hat-trick on this side of the pond.
When the Pacific Division Semifinals begin next week at the Scotibank Saddledome (GET TICKETS) think about the buy-in mentality from the Wranglers that took them to the top of the AHL standings, which happens to be the ninth-best record in league history. It’s no fluke.
See you at the ‘Dome, Herd!