A few hours before puck drop for Game 5 in Chase on March 3, and up three games to one on the verge of clinching Round 1, 100 Mile House Wranglers captain Jaidan Ward noted, “If we keep going the way we are, we’re in for a long playoff push.”
Well, they kept going.
Cole Zimmerman fired home the game-winner, Kristian Stead made 52 saves, and the Wranglers, with a 4-3 win, took a remarkable inaugural season in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League even further – a Round 2 playoff berth against the Kamloops Storms.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of guys step up,” Ward says of the series.
“We’ve had a lot of secondary scoring, which has helped out our first line. The guys are playing really well. It’s good to see we’re coming together at the perfect time.”
The Wranglers, which finished third in the Doug Birks Division in the regular season, took the best-of-seven series against the Chase Heat, which finished second, 4-1.
Next, the local Junior B hockey club is up against the Kamloops Storm, a league powerhouse and Doug Birks Division winner, by a wide margin. (In its divisional Round 1, Kamloops knocked off fourth-seeded Sicamous in five games.)
Still, 100 Mile House did play the Storm to some close games this year, and beat them earlier in the season.
In Game 5 on March 3, the Wranglers were up 2-0 after 20 minutes on goals by Connor Sloan, from Brady Ward and Michael Lynch, and Luke Santerno, the Doug Birks Division rookie of the year, from Lane van de Wetering, the winner of the Doug Birks Division sportsmanship award winner.
Chase scored two in the second to even the game heading into the final frame, and with 9:08 remaining, Zimmerman notched 100 Mile House’s third, with an assist by Stephen Egan.
The pair got together again eight minutes later when Zimmerman found the empty net and extended the lead 4-2.
Chase scored with 17 seconds remaining to pull within one.
In front of the home crowd at the South Cariboo Rec. Centre on March 1, 100 Mile House won 5-3, and on Feb. 28, the local team won 5-4. In Chase to open the series, it was Chase 4 100 Mile House 3 on Feb. 26, while the Wranglers took the first game 5-4.
Through it all, J. Ward, one of the club’s top defenceman, has been watching from the stands. The captain suffered his third concussion of the season in the final regular season game against Kamloops on Feb. 22, where the Wranglers lost 4-0.
Ward says he doesn’t remember much of the play, except reaching back for a pass.
“I got hit in the side of the head, went down, and blacked out,” the 20-year-old explains. “I remember looking for my stick on the ice and getting to the bench. That was about it.”
Some of the symptoms he’s been dealing with our headaches, dizziness and nausea. Ward says he thinks he came back too early from his first concussion earlier this season, which contributed to the second.
Now, he’s suffered a third, and, as one would expect, it’s not easy not being out on the ice. But, players have to be careful with this type of injury, Ward says.
“I don’t want to risk having future brain damage. I have to take my time.”
“The guys are doing their part and they’re winning and giving me more time to come back and play another game. It’s all I can ask for.”
Round 2 is slated to start March 7 or 8 in Kamloops. For game times, read the March 7 edition of the Cariboo Connector. For regular Wranglers playoff updates, visit www.100milefreepress.net.