The Wranglers have ended the regular season on a bit of a low, but their coach is confident they can make it up in playoffs.
On Feb. 16, the Blackfalds Wranglers lost 4 – 1 in their final game of the season against the Okotoks Bisons.
Coach Brian Lenz said the loss was not unexpected.
He explained that the Wranglers were short some of their key players and that played a part in the loss.
“You aren’t going to beat that team unless you have a full team,” said Lenz.
He went on to say that despite being shorthanded and losing the game, the Wranglers played very well.
He added he was particularly impressed with goalie Kyle Baumgardner who made his debut in the game, stopping 36 shots for the Wranglers.
While many of the Wranglers players were obviously disappointed with the loss, Lenz maintained they played well and will hold their own in the post-season.
“We didn’t play that bad,” said Lenz. “Losing once in a while doesn’t hurt either. Our guys hate to lose, I know that, but that doesn’t hurt. You’ve got to learn to lose before you can win. We aren’t going to go through the playoffs without losing once in a while.
“It’s a matter of bouncing back. Like I said, if we had played poorly today I would have been worried.”
It was a fast, high action, hard-hitting game. Both teams played extremely aggressively and the matchup made for some exciting hockey.
Chris Couper of the Okotoks Bisons opened up scoring for the game halfway through the first period.
Continued pressure on the Blackfalds defense throughout the period allowed the Bisons to hold onto the lead throughout the period but the equally aggressive Wranglers managed to keep Okotoks from scoring further in the period as well.
In the second, the aggressive stance of both teams continued.
Play even got a little too rough, resulting in several penalties being called on both teams, particularly Okotoks.
In any case the Bisons still managed to find more openings than the Wranglers, scoring two more before Blackfalds would finally get their first and only goal courtesy of Tiaan Anderson in the last five minutes of the period on a power play.
In the last period of the game, both teams calmed down a bit but still displayed a highly aggressive, competitive style of play.
Despite ramping up their game and keeping pace better than ever with Okotoks, there wasn’t time enough for Blackfalds to close the score gap and the Bisons scored one more to end the game 4-1 in their favour.
As the team heads into playoffs, Lenz said every team vying for the Heritage Junior Hockey League Championship should be prepared to fight for it.
He added all the top teams in both divisions are close in the standings and the path to the championship will not be an easy one for anybody.
“It’s a tough league this year,” said Lenz. “It makes the year interesting.”
Lenz said that discipline is something that has improved for the Wranglers but staying out of the penalty box will still be key during the playoffs.
He added that as long as the team skates hard and moves the puck they will do well but they will have to work hard to make it in the playoffs.
“I’m not guaranteeing anything,” said Lenz. “It’s going to be a battle.”