Denis Puska: Amarillo hockey history in the post season

Apr 16, 2023

Before we get ready to celebrate another Amarillo hockey team to reach the postseason with the Wranglers. It’s important to look back at the history of hockey in the Texas Panhandle when it comes to the playoffs.

It dates back to the original Amarillo Wranglers during the 1975-75 season in the Southwest Hockey League. This group of Wranglers, led by Head Coach Cal Swenson, won the league championship to give the city it’s first title on the ice.

However, there would be a long drought between trips to the postseason after that. The Amarillo Rattlers, in their six seasons in the former Western Professional Hockey League and Central Hockey League, wouldn’t taste the playoffs.

It was a year later when the Gorillas were born thanks to a local ownership group. Head Coach Joe Ferras led the Gorillas to the Central Hockey League playoffs on the final night of the regular season. The Gorillas blanked the El Paso Buzzards in front of a sell-out crowd to get in.

The Gorillas’ trip to the postseason was short-lived, as they were dumped by the Indianapolis Ice in four games.

However, Joe Ferras’ bunch were not done in yet, and in fact, in back-to-back season, advanced to the Central Hockey League conference finals only to lose to the eventual champion Laredo Bucks.
There would be two more trips to the postseason for the Gorillas, followed by three years of missing out.

However, things changed when junior hockey arrived in Amarillo in 2010-2011. The Bulls were born and joined the North America Hockey League and, under Head Coach Dennis Williams and his staff, would make regular appearances in the Robertson Cup playoffs.

In their first four seasons as a franchise, the Bulls had four straight trips to the playoffs — three consecutive winning the South Division and advancing to the Robertson Cup National Championship tournament.

In the first two years, the Bulls were eliminated in the Semi-finals, but three times was the charm the following year. A special group of players took the Bulls to the top of the NAHL and captured the 2013 crown, giving Amarillo it’s first title in more than 30 years.

Amarillo would fall in the South Division championship series to the Topeka Road Runners the year after, thus not defending its National title.

It would be another drought of four seasons before the Bulls would regain championship form. Under the direction of former assistant turned Head Coach Rocky Russo — the Bulls had one of their strongest seasons in many years. Winning the south division championship in a dramatic five games, including the last one on home ice. Logan Jenuwine set a record for goals in a season, and the Bulls returned to the national stage.

It was a short stay in the Robertson Cup championship for the Bulls as they were defeated by the Aberdeen Wings in three games.

The COVID-19 pandemic cut the Bulls’ season short in 2019-2020. The following season the Bulls would triumphantly return to the Robertson Cup playoffs but fall in the South Division Semi-finals to the Shreveport Mudbugs.

Amarillo hockey has always had a flair for the dramatic getting to the postseason. The Amarillo Gorillas needed the final night of the regular season to secure their CHL birth, and the new Amarillo Wranglers did the same thing — needing a third-period effort to beat Odessa and qualify for the postseason thanks to a nine-game winning streak.

The Amarillo hockey postseason is not done by a long shot. The Wranglers have proven without a shadow of a doubt that they will be a part of the NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs now for many years to come.