Coronato an All-Star in rookie year with Wranglers

Photo: Angela Burger

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

When Calgary Wranglers rookie forward Matt Coronato’s game is on, he knows it.

“Being extra-competitive is when I’m at my best,” said Coronato, who was selected 13th overall by the parent Calgary Flames in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Easier said than done, though, especially as the games pile up in January and February on an AHL club’s schedule. Does a player have his “A” game tonight? “B” game? “C”? The top players in any league are able to bring their best game more frequently, and that is the performance that Coronato wants to provide with the Wranglers – and eventually with the NHL club.

“For me, I think that’s a big focus, just trying to be more consistent,” Coronato explained. “I just want to be hard to play against. Being better defensively at the blue at both blue lines. I just want to be able to make the right play the majority of the time when I’m in those situations.”

Coronato’s 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) in 27 games top the Wranglers, numbers that have him tied for fourth in AHL rookie scoring. He will be part of a Wranglers contingent, along with head coach Trent Cull and goaltender Dustin Wolf, representing the Calgary organization at the 2024 AHL All-Star Classic presented by Tech CU on Feb. 4-5 in San Jose.

His standards are due for a major test in the coming weeks, as Calgary finds itself in a tight Pacific Division race as they prepare to pack up and hit the road this weekend. With three points separating the first-place Wranglers from fourth-place Coachella Valley, Calgary visits the Firebirds on Friday to open a seven-game road trip.

Seven road games against division opponents in 16 nights – that’s the type of demand that the Flames want Coronato to experience in the AHL. The 21-year-old spent the past two seasons playing a schedule at Harvard in which he did not exceed 34 games. With 11 contests in a Flames uniform this season along with his 27 games with the Wranglers, Coronato’s workload has already surpassed what he experienced in college.

“I think I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable with it as time has gone on,” Coronato said of adjusting to a pro schedule. “You get in a rhythm and know what to expect. I also think I’ve learned a lot and seen the way the older guys go about things with stretching and all that kind of stuff, but it’s definitely gotten easier as time has gone on.”

Inside the offensive zone is where Coronato has made his name, of course. He churned out 48 goals in 51 games with Chicago of the United States Hockey League in 2020-21 along with 38 goals in 68 games across his two NCAA seasons. This is someone who knows what to do with the puck and who can play a dogged, possession-oriented game.

Sure, there are going to be off nights. Coronato already has produced three two-goal performances this season. But what about those games where that offensive touch just is not there? Those are the situations that challenge a top prospect and are necessary to master to move on to a full-time NHL career.

“On those types of nights,” Coronato said, “make sure your details away from the puck are really good. Make sure you’re good defensively. You can always be in shot lanes. You can always battle a little harder to get a puck out. Those are the things that help a team win and are important on nights like that.

“Whether it’s blocking shots or just getting pucks out at the blue line when we’re breaking pucks out, finding the right time to stretch the zone… to maybe get low and be an option for the ‘D’ and always make sure you know when the next play’s going to go. They contribute, and they lead to offense.”

Mastering those lessons takes time, however. Both Coronato and Cull are in their first seasons with the Wranglers, and the pair have hit it off quickly. Cull spent five seasons as an AHL head coach with the Vancouver Canucks organization, plus eight more seasons as an assistant in the Columbus and Tampa Bay systems along with the 2022-23 campaign as a Vancouver assistant. With any coach, it isn’t just a matter of telling a player what to do. It comes down to showing a player which parts of a game need to be added in order to make that jump to the NHL. The pair have connected on those issues with lots of video work.

“He’s been awesome,” Coronato said. “I really like him. He’s been really helpful with me. I’m definitely thankful that he’s been so helpful and such a good teacher. It’s been a great experience for me.”