It’s still early – just four games into the 2023-24 season – but the Wranglers (3-0-1) have yet to lose a game in regulation.
Dustin Wolf and Oscar Dansk are big factors to the Wranglers’ stellar start, with Wolf (3-0-0) picking up three wins (and counting), while Dansk was solid in his first appearance, making 37 saves.
“Both goalies have played well,” explained Wranglers goaltending coach, Mackenzie Skapski, when asked about the tandem. “They both put in a ton of work this summer.”
Mackenzie Skapski chatting with Dustin Wolf.
A Dynamic Duo
Wolf is fast becoming a household name across the hockey world after coming off an MVP season with the Wranglers in 2022-23, where he led in almost every goaltending category and picked up his second-straight ‘AHL Goaltender of the Year’ award.
“For Dustin, it was easy go into the summer feeling satisfied with the year he had,” explained Skapski. “But he continued his work off the ice and started skating in August and is really starting to come around on things.”
As for his counterpart, Dansk, he signed a one-year extension over the summer and provides the Wranglers with an element of experience and leadership.
He was named as the team’s AHL ‘Man of the Year’ for his contributions to the Calgary community last year.
The Stockholm, Sweden product appeared in 17 games last season, posting an 8-6-2 record with a 2.75 goals-against average, and .905 save percentage.
“Oscar put in a lot of work off the ice, and really focused on some of the things we wanted to touch on throughout the summer, so there’s no coincidence that he’s had such a strong start to the season,” said Skapski.
“He’s done a really good job at executing and buying into the system we want to do here.”
Mackenzie Skapski with Oscar Dansk.
For any professional athlete, handling pressure and managing expectations, both internal and external, is extremely important.
During practice, Skapski employs what he calls ‘measurables’ – a series of developmental goals and tasks that are tailored to each goaltender – which empowers them to simply stay focused on the business of stopping pucks.
For Wolf, focusing on things he can control is an important lesson in his continued development.
It appears to be paying off, too.
“Going back to those measurables,” Skapski explained. “They are ultimately going to outweigh the expectations Dustin has on himself and that everybody else has for him.”
“He’s such a smart individual and he can adapt so quickly,” he added. “I came in (last season) with an idea of how I wanted him to play and introduced a plan, and we had some dialogue going both ways, and he was able to take that and run with it.”
“Playing with his post lines is a big thing for us, having good depth management, and being ahead of the play,” explained Skapski. “We are working on strategies in those areas to ultimately give him better chances at stopping pucks.
“Now both goaltenders have a system that they can fall back on, one that gives them a clarity that, ultimately, can provide them with an identity as a goaltender, which is awesome because they can just have fun executing on what they need to execute on in practice since they have those measurables in place.”
So, as they continue to build off last season’s success, it’s encouraging to see Wolf and Dansk, along with Skapski, displaying natural chemistry, often seen having a chat or sharing a laugh in between drills.
Trust is paramount in any relationship.
“I think that’s the primary aspect to everything,” said Skapski. “Before we even touch on our systems and how we want to play, we ultimately need to have trust. Me with the goaltenders, and them with me, as well.”
Communication is key, too.
“Open dialogue is one of the biggest things we’ve tried to have,” he added. “Both guys can just be themselves, which is so important. They feel comfortable and I’m a firm believer that you have to feel comfortable to execute your game.”