The Amarillo Wranglers finished up their inaugural season on Saturday night with a 4-2 victory over the Wichita Falls Warriors. In front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, Danylo Korzhyletskyi, started the scoring with a top shelf score at the 3:16 mark in the first period. TJ Koufis, Tommy Chunchukov, and Kyle Demarco also scored in the Wranglers final game of the season. Amarillo goalie and fan favorite Max Guthjar stood on his head most of the game, saving 32-of-34 shots to notch his 18th win of the season.
The Inaugural Season
What an amazing inaugural season it has been. When local ownership purchased the Kanas City Scouts from the Hunt family (owners of the Kanas City Chiefs), the monumental task of rebranding and putting a team together fell squarely on the shoulders of ownership. Austin Sutter, Eric Andersen and Chris Wright, all savvy and experienced hockey minds, were about to embark on a journey of building respect. Respect from the community, the fans, the North American Hockey League and the players. Without any question, the Wranglers accomplished the goal of building respect. In their first season, the Wranglers serviced the community like no other franchise. With hands in the dirt community service work. Working in the schools, the hospitals and the nonprofits. Constructing a team that a blue-collar community can relate to. Constructing a team that, game in and game out, came to play quality hockey. Constructing a team that struck fear in the opponents hearts and minds. The Amarillo Wranglers were able to accomplish all of this in their inaugural season.
Ownership realized the importance of hiring the right coach and the right man for the job. After an extensive coaching search, ownership decided on Harry Mahood. Coach Mahood’s credentials are impressive and his coaching style is even more impressive. Known as a thinking man’s coach, coach Mahood was absolutely the right choice. Hoody (as he’s known) has a resume that makes Wayne Gretzky blush. His history in Amarillo as an assistant coach with the 2013 Amarillo Bulls Robertson Cup championship brought a comfortable and familiar face back to Amarillo. His understanding of the community and his ability to recognize talent is what brought meaningful respect to this team. His undying quest relative to giving players second and third chances are legendary. Registering 27 wins in an expansion season in the South Division of the NAHL is no small accomplishment.
From the very beginning Hoody made it very clear this would be a team not unlike “The Bad News Bears”. Players that no one wanted, players that needed a second or third chance to get that college scholarship. This team at last count had five players receive college scholarships.
Because of its expansion status, this team had extensive travel at the first part of the season. This team saw its disproportionate share of injuries. This team dealt with its disproportionate share of COVID-19 infections. This team gave its all to provide great hockey, community service and entertainment to Amarillo. Whether it was Kristap Skrastins (team MVP, 36 Goals and 70 points) starting off the season making history by scoring two hat tricks in his first two games played in the NAHL, or Ukrainian Danylo Korzhyletskyi playing through the most emotionally horrific circumstances of war in his homeland.
At the end of this first season, Amarillo finished 27-29-1-3 (58 points).
Least we not forget the Wranglers were in the playoff hunt with less than four games to play in the season. This team and its coaching staff gave their all.
Amarillo is becoming a hockey “hotbed” in the USA. World class athletes from all over the planet come to Amarillo to play hockey. With a robust and growing youth hockey program and a world class ice sports facility in the Amarillo Ice Ranch, Amarillo’s hockey future is very bright.
The Wranglers, in an expansion year, placed fourth in the entire league with overall attendance of 61,000. The Amarillo hockey fan is loyal, passionate, knowledgeable and thirsty for high-level hockey and the Wranglers delivered. Whether it’s the Section 101 crew toasting the goalie before every game or the Jason Aldean video of “Amarillo Sky” starting off the night, the fans have been loyal and, most importantly, growing.
The immediate future is very bright for the Wranglers franchise.
Moving into next season, the Wranglers have positioned themselves as a strong playoff contender and a team to be reckoned with. Amarillo will continue to be a destination spot for hockey and I, for one, will be wearing my sunglasses every day.