At the midway point of the North American Hockey League season the Amarillo Wranglers are showing promise sitting a mere five points out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the traditionally tough NAHL South Division.
Through 33 games, Amarillo sits 16-13-2-1 overall with 35 points trailing the Shreveport Mudbugs (18-12-2-2, 40 points).
What’s a big positive is the Wranglers are currently second in attendance in all of the NAHL as the Budweiser Bullpen was electric once more on Friday and Saturday as the Odessa Jackolopes, who are also fighting for their playoff lives, came into Amarillo looking for a sweep. The Jackalopes (15-15-0-1, 31 points) hoped to take advantage of an injured laden Wranglers team, however, Wrangler split the series with Odessa getting a 1-0 win on Friday night before falling to the Jackalopes, 3-1, on Saturday.
Injuries have been a factor for the Wranglers
A disproportionate share of injuries has played a role within the team that no one wanted or expected. With the early season injury of “stick man” Jack McDonald, the unfortunate practice injury of defenseman extraordinaire Jase Sofo and the season ending injury of fan favorite, assistant Captain Tommy Chunchukov (just to mention a few). Amarillo has had to dig deep to stay competitive in the toughest division in all of the NAHL. With great coaching, hungry players and a rabid fanbase the Wranglers have managed to stay in the playoff hunt throughout this very challenging injury situation.
In front of close to 3,000 enthusiastic fans, there was a goal tending clinic orchestrated by two of the best goalies in all of the NAHL. Action between the pipes was plentiful and both goalies played on their heads. The Jackalopes came into the Budweiser Bullpen on a two-game winning streak hoping for the sweep. The Wranglers came into the weekend play on a two-game losing streak, after a disappointing weekend against the Oklahoma Warriors. The first period saw a lot of back-and-forth action with no scoring. The second period saw outstanding goal play by Amarillo goalie Carter Clafton and Jackalopes goalie Greg Orosz. At the 1:32 mark in the third period Wrangler Defenseman Blake Farrell took a shot from the point that bounced off Orosz pads. The ever-attentive Wranglers forward Connor McNaughton was able to put the biscuit in the basket for the game’s only goal and his fifth goal of the season. Amarillo went on to win 1-0 in a defensive classic. Clafton was magnificent saving all 33 shots to earn a shutout.
In front of another great crowd, the Jackolopes bounced back for a 3-1 victor to leave Amarillo with a split. Odessa goalie Greg Orosz shut the Wranglers offense down stopping 42-of-43 shots in his winning effort. The Wranglers lone goal came off a power play at the 16:32 mark of the second period, when forward Ben Ivy scored his fifth goal of the season.
Amarillo represents at World Junior Championships
The IIHF 2023 World Junior Championship had a plethora of Amarillo representation. Former head coach of the Robinson Cup NAHL National Champion Amarillo Bulls (2013) Dennis Williams, lead his Canadian team to the world championship. Williams was announced as their head coach early last year. Williams was the head coach of the Amarillo Bulls for four seasons. Watch for my story on Williams coming soon to Press Pass Sports. Amarillo Wranglers defenseman and Latvian native Rihards Simanovics represented both Amarillo and his homeland of Latvia. Simanovics saw a lot of playing time and scored four points for his national team. Simanovics said he was able to recognize one of his lifelong dreams of playing on the world’s largest stage when it comes to junior league hockey.
The Amarillo Wranglers will be on the road to face the New Mexico Ice on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Please watch for Tommy T’s weekly Wranglers update and also catch Tommy at 5 p.m. Thursday evenings on the “Drive at Five” with a Lance Lahnert on the Panhandle Sports Star (102.9-F.M.)