BY ZACHARY CORMIER
The summer months are only just coming to a close, but the Blackfalds Wranglers are already gearing up for a new Heritage Jr. B Hockey League season.
“I’m extremely happy with the way camp started and the numbers that came out to camp,” said Wranglers Head Coach Sean Neumeier.
With their Oct. 2nd season opener fast approaching, the Wranglers have been hard at work as they try to improve on a disappointing second round playoff exit after a 2015-16 season that was full of setbacks.
“That was tough. Last year wasn’t a fair assessment of what we had but that was also last year. We had a lot of injuries,” Neumeier said, adding that while this year’s squad will be much younger, especially on the front end, he’s looking forward to seeing what they can do, especially with offensive threats like Garrett Glasman back in the lineup for a full season.
“As long as we can stay healthy I always like our odds.”
According to Neumeier, the Wranglers will benefit from a lot of veteran players returning on the defensive side of the puck, including Jaye Sutherland, Brett White and Brock Boguski.
“We have five or six returning defensemen, so that helps back there. But our front end will be a little younger. I think we only have five returning up front, so there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for new forwards to make impressions for sure,” he said.
Although the squad will be without the services of leading scorers Robin Carlson, Bryce Boguski and Wally Samson this season, Neumeier said he is confident that the new core of forwards will be able to pick up some of the scoring they’ll be losing.
“There’s going to be some young kids that played Midget last year and had good years in Midget. They’re going to have to come into Junior and have good years and put up points. That being said, some of our vets from last year are going to have to step up and provide offense for us. You can’t win if you don’t score.”
Despite the youth of his team this season, Neumeier said the club will be looking to make a good push at the league championship this year.
“We expect to win every year. I’m never going to say that we don’t expect to win,” he said, adding that the HJHL will be tight this season. “The league has got really really close, it’s really really tight, especially our division. It’s a toss up now, there’s no one that’s going to run away with it. So we’ll be in the mix and have a chance to compete in the North and that’s all we want.”
According to Neumeier, the team, which started training camp a couple of weeks ago, are now down to around 23 skaters and three goalies as they prepare for their first two pre-season matchups this weekend. He added that the team currently has six tune up games scheduled over the course of September.
“I just want to see the younger guys compete. Coming up from Midget to Junior, it’s a big step just strength-wise. You’re playing against men now.
“We’ve got 21-year-olds, 20-year-olds. You want to see them not back down and just step in and feel comfortable as soon as they can. We’ve got a lot of skill rookies on our team and the faster they feel comfortable, the more effective they’ll be.”
The Blackfalds Wranglers will play their first home ice pre-season game this Friday against Beaumont at the Blackfalds Multiplex. Puck drop on that game is at 3:30 p.m.