The Blackfalds Wranglers have been on a roll as of late.
In eight games since the end of the Christmas break, the Wranglers sport a 7-0-1 record, including an incredible seven-game winning streak to kick off the back half of the season.
“Things have been going a lot better,” said Head Coach Sean Neumeier after Tuesday night’s game against the Airdrie Thunder.
Going into the break, the Wranglers held a 12-9-3 record and were struggling against injuries that had sidelined two thirds of their top line last season. It definitely wasn’t the start the defending HJHL North Division Champions were looking for.
“Last year we were real good and we didn’t really get tested, like we didn’t really go through any adversity. This year we went through so many injuries and we had a lot of tough times,” Neumeier said, adding the way the team has responded to that adversity has really impressed him, especially in recent weeks.
“The guys that we have now, I love these guys. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. And now they’re starting to get results. It’s pretty special to watch.”
Tuesday’s game at the Blackfalds Multiplex was a close one. On one side were the Wranglers, arguably one of the hottest teams in the league. On the other, the Airdrie Thunder who are right in the thick of the race for first place in the North.
“They’ve got some skilled guys that if you let them walk around and have time and space, they’re going to hurt you,” Neumeier said.
The game went right down to the wire. Both teams played some excellent hockey. In the end, despite a good performance from Blackfalds goalie Klay Munro, it was the Thunder who would come out on top.
That being said, the Wranglers definitely didn’t make it easy.
The first period served to show just how close the two teams are. The teams traded checks and shots and were dead even through the first 20 minutes, eventually finishing the period in a scoreless tie with nine shots apiece.
It took until six minutes into the second for someone to break through, but eventually Blackfalds’ forward Andrew McLennan managed to beat Airdrie netminder Kade Taplin to give his team the first lead of the game.
The Wranglers got into a little penalty trouble late in the second, which allowed Airdrie’s power play to pocket a pair of goals just two minutes apart to make it 2-1 Thunder going into the third.
It didn’t take long for the Thunder to strike again, this time Dylan Mccuaig managed to find the back just two of the net just two minutes in with assists from Beston and league-leading scorer Clay Murray to give their team a 3-1 lead. The assist was Murray’s only point on the night thanks to strong defense by the Wranglers.
Now the hosts had a problem. They had just 10 minutes to score two goals, not an easy feat considering they were facing the goalie with the league’s best save percentage.
But they would not be stopped.
After a bit of rough stuff and a multitude of penalties early in the period, the Wranglers seemed to get their legs back.
They poured on the shots and eventually team-leading scorer Bryce Boguski maganged to bang his 20th goal of the season past Taplin to bring his team within one.
Finally, with the Wranglers on the power play after Trevor Strong of the Thunder took a five minute major penalty for cross-checking, Blackfalds got their break in dramatic fashion.
With just nine seconds remaining on the clock, Layne McLean received the puck on the point and wired it past Taplin to tie it at three. We were heading to overtime.
“For these guys to gut out a last minute comeback like that, I think they all deserve a lot of credit. To tie that game up is pretty good. That was a team effort to even get a point for sure,” Neumeier said.
Overtime solved nothing, despite a dominating performance by the Wranglers, so the game went to a shootout.
It was a gruelling nine round affair but eventually Airdrie’s Kody Mcmanus managed to beat Klay Munro. Taplin followed that up with a great poke-check on Spencer Otto to hand Blackfalds their first loss of 2016.
Despite the loss, Neumeier said he is happy with the way his team played.
“Since guys want to be here and things are starting to go our way. We’re getting healthier, they believe in themselves now. It’s fun to come to the rink,” Neumeier said.
The next home game for the Wranglers is a Sunday matinee against Stettler. Game time is at 3:30 p.m. at the Blackfalds Multiplex.