Amarillo Wranglers wing Kristaps Skrastins scored eight goals during the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn. [Photo provided by NAHL]
The Amarillo Wranglers started off their season at the 18th annual North American Hockey League Showcase in Blaine, Minn.
Playing four games over four days the expansion Wrangler team impressed winning 3-of-4 at the prestigious showcase to capture six points.
The style of play that Amarillo executed on the ice was physical, blue-collar and sprinkled with a little finesse. The only stinger throughout the weekend was the unfortunate loss to Amarillo’s former franchise, the North Iowa Bulls by a 4-1 deficit.
During the showcase inter-divisional play does not occur and teams from outside of their respective divisions pair up. The Wranglers may have an opportunity to avenge this loss in the playoffs. But that’s absolutely putting the cart before the horse. To say that the showcase was successful is an understatement. This team has been together for less than a month. What the coaching staff, led by Harry Mahood, were able to put together this past weekend is nothing short of amazing. The “Bad News Bears” of hockey did not disappoint this weekend.
This year’s team looks physical, hungry and ready to prove they belong in the NAHL. The Pure Hockey Super Rinks in Blaine, Minn., are international sized rinks and are much larger than the rink at the Amarillo Civic Center better known as the Budweiser Bullpen. This presents a unique opportunity for players. It’s early in the season, however history was made at the Showcase. Winger Kristaps Skrastins, from Riga, Latvia, scored four goals in his very first NAHL hockey game (against the New Jersey Titans). That has never been done in league history. Skrastins, on the following night, scored yet another three goals against the Minnesota Wild, thus breaking yet another record of two Hattrick’s (three goals in a single game) on consecutive nights in his debut. Skrastins had a total of eight goals in four games and already leads the league. The season is very young. Not since Logan Ginuwine of the Amarillo Bulls has Amarillo seen such a prolific scorer in such a short period of time. As Mahood said on the “Sports Drive” with Lance Lahnert just minutes before the game with the Wilderness Thursday night, “Everybody knows who he is now”. Skrastins is also one heck of a basketball player and is known to pick up some street hoop from time to time. Center Glebs Prohorenkovs, also from Riga, Latvia, had a one-goal and six-point weekend proved himself to be a true “Ice General” and contributed greatly to the success of the Wranglers.
Fan favorite and Goalie Max Gutjahr out of Appleton, Wisc., performed well throughout the tournament with a 1–1 record.
Head coach Harry Mahood has made it very clear throughout the preseason that unnecessary penalties hurt. One of the major contributors in the loss to the North Iowa Bulls (the Wranglers only loss of the tournament) was penalties. The opportunity to minimize penalties is quantifiable and knowing the quality of this coaching staff, this will be something the team works on before the home opener. When the puck dropped on Wednesday evening, the Amarillo Wranglers had only been a team for approximately 22 days. A team put together that quickly can expect a disproportionate share of penalties and I’m sure this will be addressed. During the Showcase, the coaching staff was able to mix and identify positives between the lines/skaters, thus creating opportunities in identifying team chemistry and situational awareness.
The season is very young and there is a lot of Hockey to play (56 games left in the season). In hockey, confidence is critical, and what I saw this weekend was a team that was building off of their confidence, a team that is building off their physicality, and a team that is growing into its identity. If this past weekend’s play is any indication on what we can expect for the season, the Wranglers have positioned themselves quite well. The Amarillo Wranglers will be tested yet again when they open the home schedule against the El Paso Rhinos on Friday and Saturday night at 7:05 pm at the Amarillo Civic Center in the Budweiser Bullpen.
The music, the fans, the physical hockey and the new attitude of the Amarillo Wranglers will be well worth the price of admission. As I always say: “Be there or be square”, because it’s going to be ROCKIN’!!!!!
Please watch for Tommy Tee’s weekly column during the hockey season that bring a unique perspective covering the Amarillo Wranglers.