With the Keystone Cup Championship on the line and the score knotted at two between the AGI Insurance Quakers and our local boys, and going into overtime, Wranglers coach Dale “Duner” Hladun walked into the dressing room and said, “Well, who is getting it?”
The response from his players came back in unison, “Cole says he’s going to get it.”
Cole Zimmerman, who was playing his last game in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), grinned at coach Duner and said, “I got it.”
With two-and-a-half minutes gone in overtime, Zimmerman got to a bouncing loose puck at the top of the faceoff circle and slammed it top shelf over Quaker goalie Brett Lewchuk – and then pandemonium broke out and the celebration was on.
The unassisted goal by the 100 Mile House hockey product gave the 100 Mile House Wranglers a 3-2 victory over the Quakers from Saskatoon and the right to hoist the Keystone Cup on April 17.
Now, the Wranglers are not only the KIJHL champions and the British Columbia Junior B (Cyclone Taylor Cup) champions, but the boys also lassoed the Keystone Cup for Western Canada Junior B hockey supremacy.
This marked the fifth consecutive year the winner of the Cyclone Taylor Cup has gone on to win the Keystone Cup.
Wranglers fans knew this third-year team was special, and now people from as far away as Thunder Bay, Ont. and all through the West know these 22 lads, who have represented 100 Mile House so well with their respect and their community-mindedness, never give up and they will work hard every minute of every game.
Coach Duner built a playoff team that had toughness, grit, determination and a large helping of a will to win – and they tore through the post season like a tsunami.
Here’s what he had to say during the long drive home from Regina:
“The boys slayed another giant like they did all year.
“Saskatoon [6-0 in the tourney, including a 6-4 win over the Wranglers] were the big-time favourites. They were very experienced; they had a lot of ex-Junior A guys; had an older team, and they were the belle of the ball there.”
Noting they had just finished playing them in the round robin, Duner says it didn’t matter if they won or lost.
“We rolled four lines and only sent one forechecker in to save a little gas and we wanted to just kinda feel them out.
“They were good and they have a helluva power play; they were crazy good on that, so they threw the puck around a lot against us. So, we saw a lot of that and tried a few things and we end up losing 6-4.”
Duner says the Quakers were older and more experienced, but they were no where near the Wranglers in fitness and work ethic.
For the championship game, he says they decided to set the pace, send two forecheckers in hard and force their defencemen to handle the puck.
“We told the boys they had to get pucks in deep or finish their hits. They couldn’t have any irrelevant shifts and we have to wear them down. By the end of the first period, you could see [the Quakers] were tired.
“We’re used to the grind, and then all of a sudden, they had to play six games in four days like us. We just went for it and the fans and the locals were so impressed how we shut down their big guys and how hard we worked.”
However, there was a little bit of nail biting by the fans when the Quakers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period.
However, the Wranglers came back with two of their own.
Ryan Friesen, who was named the star of the game, found the back of the net at 19:44 of the second period, with the assist going to Zimmerman.
Zimmerman got the tying goal on a power play at 6:30 with the assists going to Michael Lynch and Brett Harris, another 100 Mile hockey product.
There was no scoring in the third period.
At 17:25 of overtime, Zimmerman dented the twine on an unassisted goal, and it was time for our home-town heroes to throw their sticks, gloves and helmets and start a group celebration.
Zane Steeves was outstanding again between the pipes and recorded the victory by stopping 38 of 40 Quaker shots.
Duner says Steeves played a big role in the victory with some “stunning” saves especially when….
“It was painful,” he says about being shorthanded four times in the final frame.
“It’s tough hockey and the officiating was so soft. I couldn’t believe how we were in the box all the time. Oh, well, we killed a lot of penalties and Zane was fantastic.
“But I tell you what, local 100 Mile player Cole Zimmerman stepped up and factored in all three goals, including the overtime winner. He was in the zone.
“It’s a perfect way to end his career in 100 Mile House and in the KIJHL – that’s it, drop the mic, ‘I’m out’.”
Duner sums up the season by saying there’s a lot of depth on the team and boys came in and filled holes when other players were injured.
“We rolled four lines and seven D all year, and while some teams had some key players, they burned them out trying to keep up with us. We had fantastic fitness and that made a big difference as the year went on.
“You can’t have one style; you have to be like a chameleon and you have to change and adapt. I look at all those series we played, we had to change and adapt [to the different styles and strengths of the other teams].”
He also had high praise for Stephen Egan, Michael Lynch, Brett Harris, Tyler Povelofskie and Kolby Page for killing all of those penalties against the best power play they have seen all year.