CLOSE GAME – Blackfalds Wrangler captain Robin Carlson had to skate hard to keep the puck away from Three Hills Thrashers opponent Dru Hickle in a closely matched game

Defending champs still have to work for their wins

The Blackfalds Wranglers had a tough match against the Three Hills Thrashers Tuesday night

The Blackfalds Wranglers had a tough match against the Three Hills Thrashers Tuesday night but managed to pull through in the third period to win the game 3-1.

There was a lot of back-and-forth between the two teams in the Blackfalds Arena. The Wranglers are no strangers to success but had to work at maintaining control of the puck with the Thrashers refusing to go down without a fight.

Wranglers Head Coach Brian Lenz was happy for the won, but said he felt his team could have performed better.

“We didn’t really look like we were mentally prepared for a game. Our passing was bad, and there were a lot of guys not giving 100 per cent on their skating. Three Hills played well too, and fore checked us a lot. But, you’ve got to have games like that to get better,” Lenz said.

“It was one of our ugly wins.”

In the first period, both teams were able to score a goal. From there, it was constant banter between the teams of fighting to maintain control of the puck. The Wranglers had to work to keep the puck in their opponents’ end due to the strong defensive game of the Thrashers.

Lenz admitted he thought his boys were skating as if they were tired, and said they were having a hard time that evening. The Wranglers have developed a reputation as a ruthless team with aggressive wins and lots of shots on their opponents’ goal. That was not the case in this past Tuesday’s game, where the Wranglers took a mere 37 shots – much lower than their game average.

“I think part of our problem was that we didn’t have a practice for a month, with the holidays. We had some guys here and some not, so I think if we get a practice or two in we’ll be in better shape.”

Second period was slow for both teams. No goals were scored, but the teams worked hard, each taking close to 15 shots on their opponents, but to no avail.

Wranglers captain Robin Carlson said he was happy with the win, although he admitted that his team started off on the wrong foot.

“We started off really slow, but (Thomas Isaman) was phenomenal – he held us out with some really good saves. And then we kind came together as a group, got pucks deep and got back to our game and just took it from there,” he said.

Isaman, the Wranglers goalie, made numerous saves that excited his teammates as well as the crowd. At one point, he managed to save three very close shots, earning yells and cheers from the attendees and his team.

Meanwhile, Carlson said although the team has had a strong winning streak, it isn’t for a lack of trying by the other teams.

“It’s getting tougher to keep our streak. It started out where we were winning games, and they were maybe a little lopsided but now the teams are really gearing up for us and we have to be ready no matter who we’re playing.”

In the third period, tension in the arena grew palpable, as fans were eager to see the 1-1 tie broken. With less than 10 minutes left, two goals were scored by the Wranglers.

For Thrashers Head Coach Ian Hall, the game was a good demonstration of his team’s ability to challenge and skate well, even though the result did not end in their favour.

“We couldn’t get our power play to work tonight, and I think that was the difference in the game. We had six opportunities and we didn’t score on any of them. That kind of changed the momentum. But, we were in it to the third, a couple bad breaks and some really nice saves by their goalie. I think it would have been a different game if he had let one or two of those in,” Hall said.

With playoffs around the corner, the Wranglers are in good shape to maintain their spot at the top of the league. However, teams like the Thrashers are gearing up to bring a good fight.

“We’re starting to hone in on how we want to play going into playoffs. We tried it out tonight, and it seemed to work for the most part but hopefully we can continue to build over the next month,” said Hall.

kmendonsa@lacombeexpress.com