BY ZACHARY CORMIER
The Blackfalds Wranglers’ Heritage Junior Hockey League season opener isn’t until Sunday, but the team is already showing flashes of mid-season form.
Spectators who made the trip out to the Blackfalds Multiplex for the Wranglers’ final pre-season tune up game on Tuesday night were treated to a dazzling display of offensive dominance as the home team cruised to a 9-0 shutout victory over the Stettler Lighting.
“This was exactly what we needed, honestly. I was hoping for that,” said Head Coach Sean Neumeier after the evening game.
It was a win the realitvely new group of players needed after dropping their previous two pre-season contests in a row, including a 2-1 overtime loss to the Red Deer Vipers last Tuesday and, perhaps more pertinent, a 4-2 loss to Stettler in Stettler on Sunday.
“Pre-season is always tricky. Tonight they didn’t have all their guys, when we were in Stettler we didn’t have all of our guys. Pre-season is pre-season. You can go 0-6 and it doesn’t mean a thing,” Neumeier said, adding while the early tune up games don’t really count for anything, he’ll still take the win. Especially when it is one as impressive as Tuesday’s.
“It’s good for the guy’s confidence to have a good night like this.”
And the team has every right to be confident after their performance on Tuesday because they were a force of nature on the ice from the opening puck drop until the final buzzer as they out shot Stettler 58-15.
“Everybody chipped in offensively, everybody was good on both sides of the puck. That’s a good way to go into Sunday for sure,” Neumeier said.
Even though they were playing against Stettler, who finished in last place in the HJHL South Division last year, the Wranglers looked like a team who could compete with anyone in the league. Everything was clicking on both sides of the puck. It didn’t take long for the new players to make their mark and by the end of the first period the home team already held a 3-0 lead.
“We just kept coming and coming and with 60 shots you’re going to score eventually. It was nice to put up nine for sure because we were a little worried about offense. We only had three goals in two games coming into this, so now to see nine is a good sign for sure,” said Neumeier.
He added games when everybody scores are excellent for a team’s confidence, especially a team without a lot of experience on the front end.
While the forwards stole the spotlight for much of the game, Blackfalds’ veteran defense weren’t slacking as they held Stettler to less than 10 shots per period. Goaltender Lain Brann was stellar between the pipes as he stopped all 15 pucks directed his way.
In fact, everything seemed to be coming together for the team on the ice, which is a good sign with the regular season just around the corner.
“We switched up the lines tonight just for a spark because like I said, we didn’t have much going and I don’t think it was that but everybody looked a lot better tonight than they did the previous nights. Game five, too. So you start to get your legs, your hands. Everything’s more comfortable. I think it’s just a matter of time,” Neumeier said.
And they’ll need every bit of that spark for the season opener on Sunday afternoon as they host the Cochrane Generals at the Blackfalds Multiplex. Puck drop is at 3:30 p.m.
“They’re a good team. We’re going to have our hands full. But if we play like we did tonight, I’m not too concerned. I think we’ll hang in there and probably get a win if we play like this.”