By Zachary Cormier
The Blackfalds Wranglers’ power play units took centre stage in Blackfalds Tuesday night, as the Heritage Junior Hockey League playoffs got underway.
The Wranglers kicked off the 2016 HJHL post season with a huge win on Tuesday when they hosted the Three Hills Thrashers at the Blackfalds Multiplex for the first game in a best of three series.
“That’s playoffs. That’s the way it goes,” said Wranglers’ Head Coach Sean Neumeier after his team claimed a marathon 4-3 win in double overtime. With the win, the Wranglers take a 1-0 lead in the series.
It was a close game, though it started quite slow for the Wranglers.
Blackfalds got the game off to a good start when defenseman Brock Boguski ripped a power play goal past Three Hills’ goaltender Greg Pols to give his team a 1-0 lead 10 minutes into the first period.
After that, though, the home team’s defense seemed to fall apart.
It took less than two minutes for Three Hills to tie the game up when Damien Chopek shovelled the puck past Blackfalds’ goaltender Klay Munro. Just five minutes after that, the Wranglers found themselves trailing by a goal when Rylan Plante-Crough chalked up a power play marker for the Thrashers on a rebound.
“Our first period was very bad,” Neumeier said, adding their play in the second and third periods was much stronger.
The opening frame ended with the Wranglers trailing the Thrashers 2-1.
Despite the slow start, the Wranglers would not go down easy and came out flying in the second period.
They out-shot the Thrashers 27-21 in the second and third periods and eventually managed to tie it up a 6:59 of the second when Robin Carlson fired a shot past Pols.
Building on the momentum that goal gave them, the Wranglers continued the charge early in the third when Curtis Rangen picked up a gritty goal, pounding home a rebound to give his team a 3-2 lead.
Two minutes later, though, the Thrashers struck back, adding another power play marker on a Tyler Newsham shot. The goal tied the game at three and sent it hurtling into overtime.
“We had a lot of chances in the last 10 minutes of the third and the first overtime too. Greg Pols played really well for them,” Neumeier said.
The first 10 minute overtime period solved nothing, despite a bunch of good chances for both teams. Blackfalds’ penalty kill came up big in the first overtime frame, killing off a controversial tripping penalty that could have spelled the end of the game.
“The special teams have been improving throughout the year,” Neumeier said, adding having a strong offensive presence like Robin Carlson has helped both on the power play and the penalty kill.
The kill was a turning point for the Wranglers that allowed them to press offensively for the rest of the game.
They were playing so well that when Plante-Crough took a tripping penalty 38 seconds into the second OT to put the Wranglers on the power play, the Wrangler’s win was all but assured.
“As soon as that penalty was called, I said to my two assistants, ‘This is it, we got it,’” Neumeier said, adding a big part of his confidence came from how sharp the Wranglers’ power play looked throughout the game.
Sure enough, Andrew McLennan rose to the occasion and banged in the game winner just 58 seconds into the second overtime period.
“I told the guys in the room that it’s going to be a greasy, bang-in, rebound goal. It’s not going to be a fancy one. It’s going to be a hard working goal and Andy banged it home, so it’s perfect.”
With the win, the Wranglers will look to finish off the two game sweep on Friday night in Three Hills. Puck drop is at 8 p.m. at the Three Hills Centennial Arena.