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Ringless: The S51 Calgary Wranglers


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Welcome to the fifth edition of Ringless. In this series we look at the best teams throughout VHL history to never win the cup.


Make sure to check out other series VSN has to offer, such as our weekly reviews, podcasts, and scouting reports

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Some teams have the talent to win it all, but simply can’t put it together for a strong playoff run. The S51 Calgary Wranglers fit that description, as they only would win a single game in the postseason, despite having one of the greatest regular seasons in league history. 


The seasons prior to S51, the Wranglers had been building a team slowly but surely through the draft. They drafted forward Travis Gowecny, defenseman Tobias Klingberg, and another forward in Ted Doughty, who they selected second overall in the S49 draft. While these three were not superstars, they were very reliable players that the Wranglers could depend on for the upcoming seasons. They also had goaltender Ariel Weinstein, who was a very strong goaltender for Calgary. He was drafted in S45 by the Quebec City Meute third overall, then played in Stockholm for a few seasons before finding his way to Calgary. He was a veteran goaltender that could help this young Wranglers team thrive. The team had some good young pieces, but didn’t have the big star just yet. In the S50 draft, the Wranglers selected Theo Axelsson second overall, a future Hall of Famer that would be instrumental in Calgary’s success. 



Future Hall of Famer Theo Axelsson was an important piece for the Wranglers throughout the early S50s


S50 was a solid season for the Wranglers. Theo Axelsson had a strong rookie year with 58 points, but only three players on the team had more than 50 points. The highest-scoring player was defenseman Marquis Hyvarian, who was a veteran for the team, with 63 points. Despite these very low offensive totals, goaltender Weinstein put up incredible numbers, with a 2.05 GAA and a .929 save percentage. This also was a time where goaltending dominated the league, with the likes of the Clegane brothers, Hans Wingate, and Jakab Holik, three of which are in the Hall of Fame, and Holik has been on the ballot for many seasons. The Wranglers finished with a record of 33-29-10, far from elite but it got them into the playoffs as the third seed in the North American Conference. 


They were promptly swept by the Quebec City Meute, but it was a valuable experience for Calgary. They were on the right track, and a couple more solid pieces could make them a contender. Unfortunately for Calgary, they couldn’t pick up anyone in the draft, as S51 was one of the worst draft classes in history, with only twelve players being taken, not even enough to fill out two rounds. They had to resort to free agency.


Building teams through free agency is risky. You usually have to overpay for players in free agency, and many people believe building a team through the draft and trades is a better way. The S51 Wranglers had a very different philosophy. In order to try to bring their roster a couple more solid players to really take a big step forward, they signed not one, not two, not three, but four elite players who would go on to receive votes to make it into the Hall of Fame, although only three of them would end up actually making it. Those players were Unassisted, Black Velvet, Tyson Kohler, and Aleksi Koponen. The Wranglers went from a decent up and coming team to the best team in the league in the blink of an eye. Anything short of a cup this year would be a failure.


The regular season showed how incredible this team could be. They put up an astounding 132 points and 64 wins, one of the best seasons in VHL history. They had by far the best offense in the league, scoring 283 goals, nearly 40 more than the next best offensive team. The Wranglers' defense was also incredibly elite. Let's look at the best defensive season for every other team in their franchise history. The majority of the best seasons for each team defensively are around 115-130 goals against throughout that season, such as the Bears 128 goals against in S27, and the Titans 126 goals against in S33. The Meute had the best defensive season out of all of the other teams, allowing only 110 in S49. The Wranglers in S51 allowed only 96. Based on what I could find, that is the only time a team has ever allowed less than 100 goals against in a season. That’s barely more than one goal per game. The S51 Wranglers had statistically the greatest defense in VHL history. 


The strong defensive core they had certainly played a huge factor in allowing only 96 goals all year. Black Velvet's 98 assists were the most in the league, and his 121 points were the most any defenseman had that year. Tobias Klingberg also contributed with 56 points of his own, but this defense was all about Black Velvet, as well as goaltender Ariel Weinstein. His .932 save percentage, 1.35 GAA, and 16 shutouts were some of the highest totals in the league, and had the Greg Clegane trophy, which was given to the goalie with the lowest GAA, existed back in S51, Weinstein would have won the award. Weinstein's .932 save percentage is tied for tenth best all time, his 1.35 GAA is fourth best all time, and 16 shutouts is also tied for tenth most all time .The Wranglers' defense and goaltending was incredible, but the forwards deserve some love too.



Ariel Weinsteins historic season helped the Wranglers win 64 games in S51


Aleksi Koponen led the team with 135 points and 60 goals, while Tyson Kohler had 122 points. Travis Gowecny had 71 points, complementing Koponen and Kohler on the first line and they formed a deadly lineup. On the second line, Unassisted had 106 points, including 54 goals, while Theo Axelsson had 65 points to support him. The team was noticeably top heavy, but they still were an incredible team. They were heavy favorites to win the cup in S51, and anything less than that would be disappointing.


Since they finished first in the North American Conference, they received a bye, and would end up facing the Toronto Legion in the conference finals. The Legion had some elite talent themselves, with Zach Parechkin and Max Molholt leading the team, both of which are Hall of Famers. Goaltender Greg Clegane had a season arguably as good, if not better than Ariel Weinstein, with a .940 save percentage and a 1.50 GAA, which are the second and eighth best all time respectively. The series was likely to come down to the goaltender battle; could Weinstein outduel Greg Clegane?


Game One was an intense matchup, as it was tied at one after regulation, and overtime was needed. Both goaltenders were playing incredibly, as was expected. After five minutes of overtime, Zach Parechkin scored to win the game for the Legion. Clegane’s .972 save percentage in game one helped the Legion pick up the win, as they were outshot by ten and outplayed for most of the game. The Wranglers had to win game two. In Game Two, Tyson Kohler scored only six seconds into the game, but the Legion tied the game up at one only a few minutes later. After that, the defense settled in and we went through the next two periods without any goals, still tied at one. Unassisted scored on the powerplay early in the third to give the Wranglers a 2-1 lead, and Weinstein shut down the Legion as Calgary would win Game Two and tie the series. Weinstein won the goaltending battle in Game Two, with 26 saves on 27 shots. Game three in Toronto was coming up next.


Game Three was not how Calgary expected. Max Molholt’s goal just twelve seconds in seemingly set the tone for the remainder of the game, as the Legion would go on to win 4-0. Clegane stopped all 26 shots he faced, and the Legion easily won Game Three. Game Four was now a must-win for the Wranglers, as they wouldn’t want to go down 3-1. Unassisted and Molholt traded goals in the second period of Game Four, and it was tied at one heading to the third. The Wranglers could not score, most notably their top line. Unassisted was doing what he had to do, but Koponen, Kohler, and Black Velvet had been very disappointing thus far. About halfway through the third, the Legion scored to take the league. The goal scorer was Marquis Hyvarinen, who was the Wranglers' leading scorer just a year prior, but they let him leave as they pursued other marquee free agents. That goal would end up being the winner, and Toronto would take a 3-1 series lead. Weinstein bounced back from Game Three, but his efforts were still not enough to help the Wranglers win. You can’t blame the goalie when your team has four goals in four games. Game Five was do or die for the Wranglers.


The home fans in Calgary had waited all season for a possible cup, but their hopes seemed to be crashing down. Greg Clegane was putting up some of the best performances ever against the Wranglers, and this elite offense failed to do much, but there was still hope. After all, the Legion’s offense hadn’t done great either. It was a scoreless first period in Game Five, but the Legion took the lead midway through the second to go up by one headed to the third. If the Wranglers didn’t score in the next 20 minutes, their 64 win season would have gone to waste. Midway through the third, the Legion go on a rush and score again, doubling their lead. Aleksi Koponen finally scored his first of the playoffs with a few minutes to go, but it was too late. The Legion would win Game Five 2-1, and win the series. Weinstein made 38 saves in Game Five, keeping the Wranglers in the game even though they were seriously outplayed. The Wranglers relied on elite scoring, but it disappeared when they needed it the most. Greg Clegane single-handedly won this series for the Legion.



Greg Clegane's performance against Calgary was one of the greatest single series performances in VHL history


In S52, they still won 50 games, but lost Unassisted during the offseason. They would lose in the semi-finals that year, and it all came crashing down after that. During the S52 offseason, they lost everyone, as Tyson Kohler, Black Velvet, Ariel Weinstein, Aleksi Koponen, and Theo Axelsson were no longer on the team by the time S53 began. The Wranglers' elite weapons were shut down against the Legion, and Greg Clegane’s performance may have been the greatest single series performance of all time. The S51 Wranglers were one of the best teams ever, but could only win one game when it mattered most.



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3 hours ago, Victor said:


Wow I was unusually sassy in that thread, I apologize lol 


But in my defense I do remember being genuinely very concerned what a 4-peat would do to the league 

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8 hours ago, Will said:

Wow I was unusually sassy in that thread, I apologize lol 


But in my defense I do remember being genuinely very concerned what a 4-peat would do to the league 

I doubt it would have been worse than what actually happened to the league. :P

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