The Wranglers split a home back-to-back series against the Revelstoke Grizzlies in Kootenay International Junior Hockey League play on Sept. 22-23.
The 100 Mile House squad dropped their first game 5-4 but came back after giving up the first two goals in the opening period.
Wranglers general manager and head coach Dale “Duner” Hladun says his boys are still trying to find their way as a team.
“We started slowly in both games. As a team, we aren’t playing very structured in our defensive zone, which I’m going to be focusing on during practices this week.
“I also don’t feel we’re very structured on our penalty kill or our power play.
“Again that’s a teaching thing and that’s what I told those kids – ‘all I want from them is effort and to finish their hits, back checking and so on’.”
Duner says he thought the lads did that and he accepts responsibility for the 5-4 loss.
“Instead teaching them systems and things like that, we worked on other things. They’re working hard; I just have to show them how to work smart.”
The Wranglers also gave up two early during their come-from-behind 3-2 victory in the second game.
The coach says the coaching staff is trying to “instil in the kids that we have to be a tough team to play against. It’s not about winning a game. It’s about winning a series.”
Noting this weekend was a two-game series, Duner says they’re trying to preach to the boys that what happens in the first game matters for the second one.
“As the series went on, I think we took charge. I thought we were finishing our hits and I just felt Revelstoke didn’t want to come out in the third period.
“I think they definitely felt we’re a tough team to play. I was proud of the boys.”
The coach says he thinks the ability to out-skate teams in the second and third periods has a lot to do with the conditioning program they get at Action Fitness.
“If we continue to work on our strength and our fitness, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.
“I thought it was a good team-building game. It was physical hockey.
“Revelstoke and the Wranglers got under each other’s skin, so there was a lot of emotion in the game.
“There were a couple of scraps at the end of the game on Saturday and there will be some suspensions.”
There were 113 minutes of penalties handed out after the final buzzer.
All of the player suspensions involved action in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Grizzlies Cole Golden (fight and game misconduct) was suspended for two games and hometown talent Dylan McNeil, who scored two goals during the weekend series, was suspended for three games for multiple fights in the same stoppage and a game misconduct.
The Wranglers had three players suspended.
Liam Dodd got two games for fighting and game misconduct.
Travis Gook will be out for four games for a gross misconduct (gesture to opponent’s bench), multiple fights in the same stoppage and a game misconduct.
Mackenzie Benn-Wipp was suspended for seven games for leaving the bench and a game misconduct.
Hladun was automatically suspended for not controlling a player who left the bench and he’s OK with that.
Duner says he can accept Gook’s and Dodd’s suspensions because “they deserved it,” but he’s not happy with Benn-Wipp getting seven games.
“It was ridiculous.”
Noting the game was over, Hladun says the lads went on the ice to celebrate.
“The ref was upset because [Benn-Wipp] went on the ice and there were still Revelstoke guys in our end, so they gave him a penalty for leaving the bench. It didn’t help when he got a roughing penalty.
“Basically, for a [bad] call, we’re serving eight games – his seven and my one.”
Duner says he wasn’t impressed and he made that clear when he called the league.
“They’re just going to hide their heads in the sand…. For something as cheesy as that to give seven games, which is one-quarter of a season. So what do you give a guy for spearing, which is intent to hurt? A lot less.
“Here’s a guy who got caught up with the game. He’s brand new to the league; he doesn’t know. The game is over; the music is playing, and he wanders out on the ice – that’s crap.
“It didn’t help that he went into the scrimmage and took a roughing penalty, but making a call like that is asinine.
“It took BC Hockey 19 days to get him carded and now they’re going to do this to him. They just keep piling it on the poor kid and all he wants to do is play hockey.”
Meanwhile, Duner says he thinks his team came together a bit and it gives the rookies a chance to play more minutes. The team will just move on.
“Whether we lose a guy for seven games for a crap call or we lose a guy for a dislocated shoulder, we still have to adapt.”
Garrett Hilton fell awkwardly and landed with his arm on the ice during some pushing and shoving around the net and someone fell on it, the coach says, adding it sounds like he may be out for a month.
Duner says he was happy with play of both his goalies – Jared Breitkreuz and Hayden Lyons.
“I thought Justin Bond was a force all weekend. He’s going to be a premier player in the whole league. He was just fantastic.”
He adds it was nice to have Rob Raju back in the lineup and predicts it won’t be long before he hits his stride.
“I thought there was a lot more good than bad this weekend despite those idiotic suspensions.
“We’re coming together as a club and we’re looking forward to playing Kamloops this Wednesday.”
The Wranglers have some big boys this season and the coach wants them to play big.
“As the weekend went on, they started playing big. That’s going to be our M.O. Our goal is to play heavy hockey.”
Noting Revelstoke is a good team, Hladun says Wranglers handed them their first loss of the season. “Kudos to us.