The 100 Mile House Wranglers put themselves back together following a big collapse and knocked off a monster for the second time this season.
While the Junior B hockey club was up 4-0 on home ice with 20 minutes to play on Nov. 1, the Wranglers gave up four straight goals as time wound down in the third period to the Grand Forks Border Bruins, which then added the overtime winner, stunning the crowd at the South Cariboo Rec. Centre.
The Wranglers dressing room was quiet after that, and the sting of that 5-4 loss would carry over to the next afternoon when the Wranglers hosted the Kamloops Storm, a Doug Birks Division rival and Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) powerhouse.
Brady Ward was the hero in the 2-1 win over Kamloops on Nov. 2, notching the game-winning goal with 1:11 remaining, but it was a more solidified and mentally-strong Wranglers team which coach Dale Hladun credits for the win.
In the end, getting three out of a possible four points in a weekend is a positive thing, says Hladun.
“If you’re into roller coasters, jump on board with us,” he adds. “Weirdly enough, the loss to Grand Forks helped us get two points the next day. During that game, you could sense our guys were getting too distracted and too full of themselves. I was a little disappointed in how they were handling themselves with a lead. I thought I addressed it between periods, but obviously not. I don’t need to like it, but I think it was a valuable lesson on how we mentally have to prepare more and focus.”
Cole Zimmerman tied the Kamloops game 1-1 at the beginning of the third period. Brett Harris and Cole Weber assisted on Ward’s goal, while Austin Turner and Devan Suidy assisted on Zimmerman’s. Kristian Stead was solid in net, turning away 32 shots. Hladun also highlighted the play of defenceman Tavis Roch.
The coach also says some smarter and more conservative on-ice adjustments were made against Kamloops, while pointing out the Wranglers, currently in the middle of the Doug Birks Division at 8-7-0-2, have a way of stepping up against top teams in the KIJHL.
“Look at us so far in the season. How come we’re knocking off the monsters? We’re beating Beaver Valley (9-4-1-4), we’re beating Nelson (12-4-2-1), we’re beating Kamloops (11-7-0-2), and then we struggle against non-upper-echelon opponents.”
The coach stresses patience while the team moves forward.
“We’ve got the tools; we’ve got the pieces,” he adds. “It’s only month two, and we’ve played the least amount of games.”
Up next, the Wranglers hit the road for contests against the Chase Heat (6-9-1-2) on Nov. 7 and Revelstoke Grizzlies (8-8-2-2) on Nov. 8, both Doug Birks Division clubs.
The Wranglers recently acquired Tyler Garcia from the Kimberley Dynamiters.
Garcia, 19, an import from Anchorage Alaska, is listed at 6 feet 205 pounds. He has tallied nine points in 13 games this season and Hladun describes him as a “Todd Bertuzzi-type player”, a tough guy with good hands that “runs over people.”
“You can ask Cole Weber or Josh Odelein, because they played for me in Fernie [last season], that Garcia was probably the biggest reason Kimberley beat us in the first round [of the playoffs]. He’s a big strong kid, he has a nose to score, and I’m pumped that he wanted to come. We’re getting a real good player, and it’s going to add some size to our club and veteran experience. I think it’s a great fit. I can’t wait to get him on the ice.”
The move comes as the Wranglers organization says goodbye to Lane van de Wetering, 19, last season’s most valuable player. The Wranglers hadn’t moved the rights to the Quesnel skater as of press time, but Hladun explains the forward wanted to transfer to a hockey club with a university in town to pursue his education, and they’re looking at other opportunities for him.