The Blackfalds Wranglers are still the champs.
After losing in the Heritage Junior Hockey League final to the Okotoks Bisons, the Wranglers redeemed themselves when they defeated the Grande Prairie JDA Kings over the weekend to bring home gold at the Investors Group Hockey Alberta Junior B Provincial Championships.
Coach Brian Lenz said that, while it would be preferred to take both the league and provincial titles, taking one of the two is not so bad. “I’d like to win them all, but I guess if your choice is one or the other we would take provincials.”
While the Wranglers final game of the championship was a 6-0 blowout, the journey there was not so easy. In fact, the Wranglers lost their first game of the tournament to the JDA Kings, the team they would later defeat in the final.
“We didn’t play that well in our first game.”
Lenz said that things were incredibly close at the provincial tournament and all eight teams were one and one after their first two games. “That should tell you how close things were,” said Lenz, adding it was the first provincial tournament he had been at that was that tight.
Lenz said the real test and subsequent relief came in the semi-final against St. Albert when Blackfalds took advantage of a few lucky breaks and scored three goals within two minutes to tie the game 4-4 and force overtime and then score again in overtime to win the game.
He added he and the players were counting their lucky stars after that game and players and fans were so happy you would almost think the Wranglers had won the tournament and not just the semi-final.
“That’s what I said to the boys Sunday morning before we headed into the final,” said Lenz. “We used up all our luck last night (in the semi-final). You better make sure you are ready to go today.” Indeed, the Wranglers were ready to go. Lenz said he was taken aback by the outcome of the final. “I never expected to win six to nothing in the final game,” said Lenz. “When I’ve been at the final game it’s always been really tough.”
Lenz said that he was told after the game that Grande Prairie had only been rotating through two lines, while Blackfalds used all four of their lines and therefore fatigue may have been a factor in the one-sided final. “It’s a tough grind, you play five games in four days.”
Not only that, but the Wranglers showcased their A-game in the final as well, added Lenz. He also said that, throughout the season Blackfalds has done exceptionally well considering they have so many young players. Fourteen of the names on the Wranglers roster are rookies.
“Our guys played unbelievably on Sunday,” said Lenz. “Some of our rookies up there were unreal – they just played extremely well. You would never know they are rookies.”
Size was a bit of disadvantage when it came to being physical on the ice however, Lenz said.
“We took a lot of bruises. We were probably the smallest team in the tournament but I think we were the fastest, so I think that proves size doesn’t mean everything.”
Overall, Lenz said the Wranglers players, coaches, staff, families and other fans were extremely content with the outcome.
“How can you not be happy?” said Lenz. “I don’t care if you won the league or not, you’re still going to be happy when you win provincials.”