BRYAN WILSON – 05.11.2023
In the playoffs, there’s nothing more valuable than experience and the Wranglers forward line of Kevin Rooney, Brett Sutter and Clark Bishop have plenty of it.
Rooney began the season with the Flames, appearing in 17 games before joining the Wranglers. Since then, for the most part, has centered a line between captain Sutter and Bishop.
Sutter has played over 1,000 professional games (NHL, AHL), while Bishop is the lone player on the Wranglers to have captured a Calder Cup back in 2018-19. So, with Rooney – who has 227 career NHL games under his belt – the veteran trio consistently sets the tone for the Wranglers each game, providing a simple, detail-oriented approach.
Rooney enjoys playing alongside them.
“It’s been easy,” he said. “It’s been, I think, four months now we’ve been on a line together. They’re just so easy to read off, two very predictable players and two guys that have been around. Bishop has won a Calder Cup and Sutter has been around a long time, so it makes my job easier playing in the middle.”
It was an admittedly intense and emotional series in Round 2 for Rooney and the Wranglers, who faced off against the Abbotsford Canucks in a heated affair. It came following a rather lengthy first-round bye, and the group adjusted quickly to the pace – and the physicality – of playoff hockey.
Now, Rooney intends to take what he learned in Round 2 and apply it in the Pacific Division Finals against Coachella Valley, which begin tonight at the Scotiabank Saddledome. (click for tickets)
“Just how hard it is in the playoffs,” Rooney explained about what lessons he took from the previous series. “Every inch of the ice is highly contested out there, but if you’re still standing at this time of the year, you’ve done things the right way. All the little details in the game will be huge and will get magnified in Round 3.”
The upcoming series features the top two teams in the AHL this season. Each club sports a high-powered offence, good speed, and mobility on the blueline, plus solid goaltending and great coaching. It’s a recipe for a stellar series. Both teams were closely matched all year long, splitting the season series with four wins apiece and the Firebirds pushed the Wranglers into a ‘must-win’ mindset right up until the final game of the season, as both teams vied for top spot in the league.
“It was tight all the way,” recalled Rooney. “I think the last 20 games really pushed both teams to continue to play the right way. Both teams clinched early, but there was still so much to play for, for both teams, so playing playoff-style hockey for the last stretch of the season – it was a real grind – it was good for our group, it was probably good for their group, and now we’re ready to faceoff here.”