The 100 Mile House Wranglers received the Doug Birks Division Playoff Championship banner on March 16 before the puck dropped at 7 p.m. for the opening game of the Okanagan/Shuswap Conference Championships.
The Wranglers did what they had to do at home on March 15; they beat the only team they didn’t beat in the regular season.
They knocked off the Summerland Steam 3-2 on another big goal by hometown product Cole Zimmerman (Michael Lynch, Brett Harris) at 9:25 of the second overtime period.
The game was a run-and-gun contest with both teams applying extended pressure in their opponents end of the ice.
There was a lot of crashing and banging with the Wranglers taking no prisoners whether it was along the boards or in the open ice.
Going into the game, coach Dale Hladun said the Summerland Steam are similar to the Wranglers in that they are a big, physical team, with a couple of guys at six-foot-five and six-foot-six.
However, Hladun said he believes the 100 Mile goaltender tandem of Zane Steeves and Adam Derochie has the edge of the Steam goalies.
“I think we match up pretty well with them. I sense the series could go six or seven games.”
He noted one advantage for the Wranglers is they are used to travelling for games, while Summerland and other Okanagan teams don’t have to travel very far to play.
“I think that will help us a bit.”
Hladun added the Steam have three game-breakers in Jack Mills, Wyatt Gale and Braden Eliuk.
The coach noted the Wranglers “score by committee” and it seems every night it’s somebody different providing the scoring punch.
“We’re a difficult team because teams wonder, ‘who are their stars’. We are deep [in scoring].”
After the couple of days extra rest we got, he said the fans are going to see a whole different team.
“We’re relatively healthy for playoffs. They’re not 100 per cent – there’s a limp and an ache and pain – but overall, they can play minutes so we’re alright.”
Noting this will be a different series than the one against Chase, Hladun said the teams knew each other, but the Wranglers and the Steam don’t know each other very well.
In head-to-head games, the Steam travelled to 100 Mile on Nov. 13-14 and went home with two wins – 2-1 in overtime and 3-2 in regulation.
Hladun said he thinks games 1 and 2 will be a feeling out process.
“They’ll play their game and we’ll play our game. They’ll run their power play and we’ll try our penalty kill.
“You can only do so much with game film, but we’ll learn pretty quickly which of our guys can match up with their defence.
“I think the first two games will be run-and-gun hockey until we figure each other out.”
The coach said the Summerland Steam is the only team in the league the Wranglers face this year that they haven’t beaten.
The Wranglers will be doing their best to remedy that issue during the conference finals.
Game 2 on March 16 was also at the South Cariboo Rec. Centre (score not available at press time) and then games 3 and 4 will be in Summerland on March 18 and 19.
If necessary, game 5 will be in 100 Mile House on March 21; game 6 in Summerland on March 22; and back home for game 7 on March 23.
Watch for game reports on the Free Press website (www.100milefreepress.net) in Around Town and Sports and on Facebook.