Chris Wahl – 01.05.24

Mike Vernon knows a thing or two about big moments.

The Hall of Fame goaltender electrified crowds over his years in the NHL, winning Stanley Cups and playing a starring role in some of the most successful chapters of the Flames’ history.

But before he ascended to the NHL, Vernon was front and centre with the original Calgary Wranglers during a WHL post-season run that captured the city’s attention back in 1981.

“We were in the playoffs with the Victoria Cougars and Grant Fuhr,” Vernon recalled when reached by phone on Tuesday. “We had to come back and we had to play an afternoon game during the week, I think it was a Thursday afternoon game. We were expecting nobody in the crowd, the radio station said they didn’t want to put it on because they wanted to try and bring people down to the stadium.

“Well, the stadium was packed! I think there was 7,000 at the old Corral and at the last minute, they put the game on the radio so other people could hear it too.”

Those 7,000 fans probably had no idea they were watching two future Hall of Famers battle between the pipes, but part of the magic of junior hockey is watching future stars transition from hometown hero to household name.

Same story for the current iteration of the Wranglers: some of them will become NHL mainstays down the line, with a handful already having made memories in Flames silks as call-ups this season.

Wranglers ready for Round 2 at home

One of those players is Dustin Wolf, the 23-year-old netminder who comes into the best-of-five set with Coachella Valley on an absolute heater.

He won four straight NHL starts at the end of the Flames’ season, then turned in a 46-save shutout and .966 save percentage in the first round of the AHL playoffs in Tucson.

In watching Wolf perform, Vernon sees a lot of qualities that could help the young Californian succeed not only this weekend, but at the next level.

“I’m very impressed with his composure, he doesn’t seem to get too flustered, he doesn’t seem to get too high or too low,” Vernon said. “He’s got a great demeanour for the position, you need that; his lateral movement is unbelievable, he’s very quick.

“Playoff opportunities like this, I know he played 17 games with the Flames but to come back and just get that playoff experience will really help him in the long run, and develop as a goaltender.”

Wolf and the Wranglers are facing the Firebirds for the second straight spring as the chase for the Calder Cup intensifies.

And while Calgary is the lower seed, they will start the series at home, with Game 1 set for Friday (7 p.m. MT), and Game 2 scheduled for Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. MT) at the Scotiabank Saddledome. TICKETS

It’s a chance to catch Wranglers playoff fever, just like the city did with Vernon’s WHL squad back in the ‘80s.

“These are the future stars of the NHL, for a lot of the players, this is one more step and you’ll be in the National Hockey League,” he said. “They’ve been part of this community now for a couple years; just to support ‘em, it feels good when you’re out in the community and people recognize you, and people are wishing you good luck and things like that.

“Calgary’s a good sporting city, it supports all the teams, it’s good to see. Hopefully, we’ll get some good crowds out for the next couple games for the Wranglers, and cheer ‘em on to victory.”