AHL fever in Calgary
The Flames aren’t the only hockey club in Cowtown. The American Hockey League’s Calgary Wranglers have had a stellar start to their 2023-2024 campaign. With a new head coach in Trent Cull and a desire for the Calgary Flames to get younger, everyone knew there were going to be changes to the Wranglers, but not everyone expected positive early-season results. A month into the AHL regular season, the Calgary Wranglers have compiled an 8-1-1 record. The Wranglers have picked up two victories against the Pacific Division-leading Abbotsford Canucks and two against the Colorado Eagles. Other Ws include wins against the Coachella Valley Firebirds and San Diego Gulls as well as splitting games against the San Jose Barracuda and the Manitoba Moose (OTL). All in all, things look to be going well for the AHL club that holds a current points percentage of 0.836 for best in the league (Calgary finished first in the entire AHL last season with a 0.736 for 106 points in 72 games).
Keys to early success for the Calgary Wranglers
As expected with the (two-time) reigning AHL goaltender of the year, Dustin Wolf, between the pipes, goaltending has been a strength of the club. The California goaltender has posted strong early numbers in six starts: a .924 save percentage and a 2.34 GAA. Due to this performance, (and Markstorm being listed day-to-day), Wolf was called up to the big club on November 9th. In Wolf’s absence, Oscar Dansk has posted a .944 and an astronomically low 1.95 GAA in four games. The 29-year-old Swede will need to continue this level of play if the Wranglers are to continue to compete in the Pacific Division this year. On average, the Wranglers are giving up 30.4 shots a game and the puck-stoppers are doing their job.
In addition to their strong goaltending, the Wranglers are also finding the back of the net. Scoring 3.4 goals per game gives any team a good chance at walking away with the two points. With the departure of some of their main offensive contributors (recalled to the Flames), like Zary and Pospisil, this might hurt their offensive output, but only time will tell.
A strong crop of AHL graduates
The Wranglers have a recent history of players who have made the jump to the big leagues with Jakob Pelletier and Adam Ruzicka being prime examples last season. This season is no different as Connor Zary (’01), Martin Pospisil (’99), Ilya Solovyov (’00), and the aforementioned Dustin Wolf (’01) have all donned Flames jerseys so far this season. Prior to Connor Zary’s call up he was leading the team in points with 10 in six games. Zary’s game is defined by his offensive creativity, deceptive and quick shot, and good transitional play through smooth skating. These skills have reaped early rewards as he now has two goals and two assists in his first five NHL games. In short, don’t expect Zary to don a Wranglers jersey again.
The 6’2 born Slovak, Martin Pospisil, is a prototypical power forward that excels at the more gritty elements of hockey. Pospisil was off to a great start with a point per game in his first six AHL games this season before his NHL call up. In his first four games of NHL action he has seen a more sheltered bottom six role averaging 11-12 minutes of ice, but has put up two goals and an assist in four games. There’s a good chance Pospisil will find a home on the Flames bottom six.
Solovyov suited up in two games and has since been reassigned to the Wranglers. Wolf started his first game of the season against Ottawa on November 11th, and played admirably. There are still lots of questions regarding how the Flames will handle their goaltending situation, so whether or not Wolf has seen the last of the Wranglers is anyone’s guess.
Prospects of the future finding their footing
Many of the players on the Wranglers aren’t entering their rookie season of professional hockey and are starting to hit their stride. This list includes forwards like Emilio Pettersen (’00), Adam Klapka (’00), and Cole Schwindt (’01). One particular player to keep a watch on is former Harvard standout and 2021 Flames first rounder Matthew Coronato (’02), who after a brief adjustment period is finding his footing in the past couple of AHL games.