The Amarillo Wranglers found stepped up in yet another must win situation this time getting a two-game sweep of the El Paso Rhinos in El Paso on Friday and Saturday. The Wranglers were able to sweep the Rhinos in convincing fashion 3-0 on Friday night followed by another lopsided 5-1 victory on Saturday night. The Wrangler have owned the series against El Paso moving to an eye-opening 16-0 all time against the Rhinos. As a result of sweeping El Paso, the Wranglers (25-19-2-1, 53 points) were able to gain four points on fourth place New Mexico Ice Wolves (28-18-2-1, 59 points) for the fourth and final playoff spot in the very competitive North American Hockey League South Division.
A newly renovated El Paso County Event Center was filled with an enthusiastic crowd. No matter El Paso’s, the team is known for its bountiful and boisterous fans. As the puck dropped, the chirpiness began. The physical play on both sides was apparent from the very beginning. The Wranglers went into this game needing a victory, while the Rhinos went into this game needing some respect. At the 5:21 mark of the first period and fresh off his NAHL Goal of the Week honor, Wranglers forward Jack McDonald did some fishing in front of the net to poke one passed goalie Nolan Suggs to give the Amarillo a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission. McDonald was able to give Amarillo much needed insurance towards the end of the second period sniping one in the back of the net for his 10th goal on the year and second of the game. That was more than enough scoring for Amarillo goalie and Air Force commit Carter Clafton who picked up his third shutout on the year while notching his ninth win of the season.
Amarillo went into Saturday night’s game completely aware of the New Mexico Ice Wolves loss to Odessa, thus giving them an opportunity to gain some ground on fourth place. At the midway point of the first, Amarillo forward Jack McDonald fed linemate Ben Ivey to take a 1-0 advantage. Just a few moments later defenseman and Latvian native Rihard Simanvovics drove through a one-timer as the Wranglers went up 2-0 into intermission. In the second period, forward Roman Zap scored his first of two goals for the night, giving him 10 goals on the season. West Point commit Jack Ivey scored the final goal of the night for the Wranglers and his 10th goal of the season as well. Clafton had a second straight night of being strong between the pipes achieving his 10th win of year by stopping 18-of-19 shots.
When local ownership purchased the Kanas City Pilots from the Hunt family (owners of Super Bowl Champions Kanas City Chiefs) one of the most important elements of this purchase was to bring quality players the the Amarillo community. Hockey is a different animal relative to other sports. The path to college play is much different than football and baseball. Hockey players normally are required after high school or 18U youth hockey to play in junior league hockey. Most young players leave high school to play juniors for a couple of seasons, all the while competing for that prestigious NCAA Division I college scholarship. This season the Amarillo Wranglers have six players who have obtained the ultimate goal of a junior league hockey player.
- Chase Davis has committed to Bentley College.
- Ben and Jack Ivey, the twins from San Diego, Calif., committed to West Point.
- Goalie Carter Clafton will be an Air Force Falcon.
- Defenseman Pierce Patterson committed to West Point.
- Forward Ronan Walsh committed to the University of New Hampshire to play alongside former Wrangler Kristaps Skrastins.
The Amarillo Wranglers will be hosting a formal commitment signing presentation at the Amarillo Ice Ranch later this season.
The Amarillo Wranglers take a four-game win streak to Shreveport for a Friday-Saturday matchup with the Mudbugs. Please watch for Tommy Tee’s weekly Wrangler updates and also catch Tommy at 5 p.m. Thursday evenings on the “Drive at Five” with Lance Lahnert on the Panhandle Sports Star (102.9-F.M.)