The Calgary Flames officially announced the name of their AHL affiliate as the Calgary Wranglers and immediately went to work to shape the team up even more. Known to be playing out of the Scotiabank Saddledome for 2022–23, the Wranglers will become a new draw for Flames fans to watch professional hockey that includes some of their most exciting prospects.
This closes a chapter on the Stockton Heat—the Flames’ AHL affiliate from 2015–16 to 2021–22. For such a short time with an AHL franchise, the City of Stockton saw their team sail off into the sunset with an exclamation mark, as the Heat capped off their final season going to the Calder Cup Western Conference Finals after coming first in the Pacific Division. The team had only made the playoffs once prior back in 2017 after coming in fourth in the Pacific, but were sent home after the first round.
Introducing the Calgary Wranglers
On May 23, 2022, the Flames announced that they were relocating the Heat to Calgary. As the calendar turned over from July to August 2022, the Wranglers namesake made their debut—or rather, their return to Calgary.
The Calgary Wranglers were previously a WHL team (at the time known as the Western Canada Hockey League, or WCHL) that played between 1977–78 and 1986–87. The Wranglers relocated from Winnipeg, having played under the monikers of the Winnipeg Jets (1967–73), Winnipeg Clubs (1973–76), and Winnipeg Monarchs (1976–77).
The Wranglers replaced the Calgary Centennials as Calgary’s WCHL team, and the Centennials became the Billings Bighorns (and are presently the Tri-City Americans). For ten seasons, the Wranglers played out of the Stampede Corral with varying degrees of success, going as far as the WHL Final during the 1980–81 season.
After the 1986–87 season, the Wranglers relocated to Lethbridge to become the Lethbridge Hurricanes, a team that has persisted for 35 seasons and counting.
Now, the Wranglers are back as Calgary’s AHL team.
2022–23 Wranglers schedule details
New in the 2022–23 AHL season, all teams will play 72 games. Previously, teams in the Atlantic, North, and Central Divisions played either 72 or 76 games, and teams in the Pacific Division played 68 games.
The Wranglers will make their Saddledome debut during their season opener, playing a two-game set against the newest AHL expansion team the Coachella Valley Firebirds (the Seattle Kraken’s AHL affiliate) on October 16, 2022 at 1 p.m. MST and October 17 at 7 p.m. MST.
The Firebirds will be making their overall AHL debut after seeing their 2021–22 season postponed due to delays with arena construction (the Kraken instead shared the Charlotte Checkers with the Florida Panthers as their 2021–22 affiliate). The Wranglers are also scheduled to play the Firebirds out of Seattle as a part of their first road trip (arena to be decided), and will play them again in the newly complete Acrisure Arena in California later on in the season.
Two separate six-game homestands mark the Wranglers’ longest stretches at the Saddledome, the first coming in December, spanning from December 12 through 21, seeing action against the San Diego Gulls, Manitoba Moose, and Ontario Reign; the second coming in February, spanning from February 14 through 23, playing against the Abbotsford Canucks, Colorado Eagles, and Henderson Silver Knights.
They close out their season with their longest road trip of the year, coincidentally also six games. They’ll play six games from April 5 through 15, playing the Firebirds once, Gulls twice, and Canucks thrice.
The full 2022–23 AHL schedule can be found via TheAHL.com.
The Pacific Division
In the new 32-team AHL, the Pacific Division consists of a whopping 10 teams. The Central and North Divisions have seven each while the Atlantic has eight.
The move to Calgary makes the Wranglers the northernmost AHL team, and puts them closest to the Canucks—who play in British Columbia. The rest of the Pacific Division plays out of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado. As a result, the Wranglers will be subject to significantly more travel as a team, but the upside is that the Flames can call up players with ease throughout the season (if they elect to do so).
The Wranglers will look to defend their Pacific Division crown, but there’s been significant roster turnover, so the on-ice produuct won’t look entirely the same at all.
The Wranglers roster
Most notably for the Wranglers, they lose their captain as Byron Froese opted to sign a two-way contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. The team has seen a bunch more departures, but will also receive new additions in Flames prospects graduating from junior leagues and into the AHL. Suffice to say, the team will be new-look in both the brand and the roster.
The biggest additions to the Wranglers in terms of prospects include newly-acquired Cole Schwindt, as well as Rory Kerins, Jeremie Poirier, and Yan Kuznetsov.
The Wranglers also signed five players to to AHL contracts one day after their name was revealed, bringing on Brett Sutter, Mitch McLain, Simon Lavigne, and Rhett Rhinehart, as well as Flames goaltending prospect Daniil Chechelev. Lavigne and Rhinehart both attended the Flames’ Development Camp last month.
Sutter was originally drafted 179th overall by the Calgary Flames in 2005, when his dad Darryl was both general manager and head coach. Sutter comes onto the team as the oldest player by a large margin at 35 years old. The next oldest are McLain and Oskar Dansk, both at 28.
The Wranglers have a strong case to turn to Sutter as their new captain, as he served as the Reign’s captain for the past five seasons. He’s coming back to the club that drafted him, gets to play in the Saddledome once again, and his dad is coaching the Flames in the same building over a decade later. Getting the captain’s patch stitched to his jersey would be poetry on ice.
As for returnees to the roster, watch for Jakob Pelletier, Matthew Phillips, and Connor Mackey—and perhaps Walker Duehr—to be players pressing for the NHL jobs once training camp rolls around. Newcomer Nicholas Meloche may also push for a defence spot.
As for behind the bench, Mitch Love will remain head coach after an outstanding season.
The Wranglers brand
The new-look Wranglers carry the same name but not the same look as the team from times past. We’ll soon learn what the jerseys will look like, but in the meantime, here are concepts designed by Boyan Demchuk.
No matter how the final jerseys turn out, the club will come in with a refreshed look with their brand new logo. They’ll have the Flaming C on centre ice when they play home games, but that’ll be complemented by the Flaming W on their chests.
Flames hockey returns soon
The Flames and Wranglers still have work to do in the offseason, but preparations for training camp will soon begin. The Wranglers mark an exciting new era of hockey in Calgary, as having both NHL and AHL games in the same arena means there will be no lack of action throughout the year.
Bring on 2022–23.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire