BRYAN WILSON – 12.20.2023

As the Wranglers’ five-game road swing rolls along, head coach Trent Cull has his group ready to finish off the trip on the right foot.

The Wranglers currently lead the Pacific Division with a 16-6-2-0 record (34 points) but are winless in their last three games. So, the focus in practice this week has been about getting back to playing a winning brand of hockey, with an emphasis on improving their special teams’ game.

“For us we’re focusing on our specialty teams, it’s an area we can be better,” Cull explained. “Even our PK, which has been a strong point all year, has been sliding a bit in the last six games, so we need our penalty-kill to step up big. We’ve got to establish more of a forecheck game, start creating turnovers and know where the puck is going, and that’s a lot of the talks we’ve had here lately.

“The other side of offence is your powerplay,” he continued. “We’ve had a pretty hot powerplay to start the year, and it’s not that right now, so it would be good to get that clicking along again.”

Calgary has just two even-strength goals in their last seven periods of hockey (plus OT), but Cull hopes that generating offence via the powerplay will have a positive impact on their overall offensive game.

“Your 5-on-5 play usually dictates how your powerplay is going,” said Cull. “If you’re not playing well your powerplay can help get you going as it carries over to your 5-on-5. I think specialty teams bleeds into your even-strength hockey and it can create momentum, but it can also kill it.”

The Wranglers will have two big pieces of their backend available moving forward, with defenceman Ilya Solovyov and goaltender Dustin Wolf joining the team on the road after their recall stints with the Flames.

Recalls and roster moves have been a constant reality for the Wranglers since Cull took over behind the bench this season and, on one hand, it’s encouraging to see tangible proof that the system is working, as players are getting their chances at the NHL level, but it can present challenges for the Wranglers coaching staff when trying to establish an identity within the group.

“It’s a day-to-day thing,” explained Cull, regarding keeping a cultural consistency at the AHL level. “I think if you’re sitting there wondering about your culture or your identity, normally that means you start to lose track of it. So, if you keep working hard every day and keep creating good habits, that’s what leads to your identity. Focusing on good habits takes care of a lot of those things, so for us it’s just about focusing on our day-to-day and make sure we’re sticking with it.”