The two top teams in the Heritage Junior Hockey League, the Blackfalds Wranglers and the Coaldale Copperheads, faced off last week in a championship game that Coaldale ultimately won.
The Copperheads finished the game with a score of 4-1, after a scrappy three periods with intense participation from both teams. Coaldale Head Coach Derek Wiest was proud of his team.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. These guys battle so hard all year – it’s a much-deserved championship. To beat a team that had such a great record three games in a row –it’s just an unbelievable feeling right now and I can’t express it,” he said.
Tension was palpable in the arena and visible amongst the players. Several fights broke out on the ice, a few penalties were given and some aggressive checking was put forth. Although the Wranglers tried hard to maintain control of the puck, they were thwarted by the Coaldale goalie and intense energy of the Copperheads.
Wiest said the championship title was a lot of work and he truly felt his team deserved to win.
“We always kind of build for the playoffs all season long. We just try to play a simple game, keeping to our structure and our systems, and getting pucks deep. We get on the fore-checking and just battle hard. I thought our guys did a great job of doing that. I’m super happy.”
As the scoreboard buzzer sounded, a rush of cheers and release of energy was felt throughout the arena. The Copperheads threw their gear about the ice in excitement, and were eager to hoist their championship cup.
For the Wranglers, the game had not ended in victory but Coach Sean Neumeler was still proud of the team and said they would re-focus their sights on the upcoming provincial tournament.
“(The Copperheads) are a great team and we knew they were going to be tough. We didn’t play very well the first game against them – they deserved to win that. Down south, they won on their home ice like they’re supposed to,” he said.
“We came back home and we played really well tonight – really well. I think we got burned a bit and their goalie really helped them out. That’s what happens when you can’t score, and it was one of those nights. I was still proud of the guys and how they played. I really was.”
Last year the Wranglers lost the league final to the Okotoks Bisons but were still able to proceed to provincials. Neumeler said although the loss stings, it is nothing to dwell on or seriously worry about because the team still has a bigger picture to focus on – provincials.
“Provincials takes place over Easter weekend. It’s a long tournament so we’ve got to be ready. If you don’t win two of your first three games, you’re out,” he said.
“Those first three games are huge so we’re going to start with those and then if we can, continue. I wouldn’t change a lot from tonight; I just hope that we can get through the net when we get up to Stony Plain.”
The Wranglers finished the regular season with a record of 34 wins, two losses and two ties. They were the top scoring team in the Heritage Junior league with 70 points.