BY ZACHARY CORMIER
A three game losing streak wasn’t exactly the way that the Blackfalds Wranglers planned to finish off 2016, but after last weekend, that’s the reality the team faces as they head into the Christmas break.
After a solid start to the month of December, posting a 3-1 record through the first two weeks, it looked as though the Wranglers would be able to stay in close contention with the top teams in the Heritage Junior Hockey League Northern Division heading into the new year.
That all changed after the team suffered a devastating 7-1 loss to the Red Deer Vipers on Saturday night.
“It was just one of those nights where nothing really goes our way,” said Wranglers Head Coach Sean Neumeier of the game, which had huge implications on the North Division standings.
Heading into Saturday night, the Wranglers (16-10-1) were sitting comfortably in fourth place in the division, just four points behind the third-place Vipers (19-8-1).
Had they won any of the three games, they would have closed the gap on their long time rivals to just two points. Instead, Red Deer were able to widen their lead to six points.
“We had a chance to make up for it the next night against Airdrie and I thought we played a decent game, but we rallied a little too little, a little too late,” Neumeier said, noting that picking up one point out of a possible six wasn’t good enough.
Things didn’t get much better from there for the Wranglers, who proceeded to drop a 5-3 decision to the Airdrie Thunder at home on Sunday afternoon before finishing the year with a hard-fought 6-5 overtime loss to the Ponoka Stampeders on Tuesday evening.
“I think we started the Christmas break three games early.”
Neumeier said the team was put on their heels right from the beginning of the weekend due to an injury to captain Eric Moltzahn earlier in the week, but he said that’s not really an excuse.
“We’re just kind of in a funk right now. The Christmas break will do us good that’s for sure.”
Despite the losses, though, Neumeier noted that the Christmas break will be a great opportunity for the players to rest up and prepare both mentally and physically for the home stretch of the season.
“Hit the reset button. I think everybody, coaches included, gets worn down a little bit. We play a lot of games so it’s nice to get a couple weeks off,” he said.
“Generally you want to go into the break on a high and not limp into it but we welcome it even more right now.”
With 11 games remaining in the HJHL regular season, the focus now will be on finishing strong to secure the highest position possible heading into the playoffs.
“We’ve just got to go back to doing what we were doing. When we were hot there we were just playing very simple, not making mistakes that we’re making right now,” Neumeier said, adding that in his estimation the team will have to have a very strong back half if they want to catch up to the leaders.
“We don’t have the easiest schedule so we’re going to have to pretty much run the table to even jump into third. We’re going to have to do some serious damage after Christmas to climb the ladder. But as long as we can host home ice I’m pretty happy with where we finish.”
The Blackfalds Wranglers are back in action on Jan. 3rd when they host the Stettler Lightning at the Blackfalds Multiplex. Puck drop on that one is at 7:30 p.m.