By Zachary Cormier
It wasn’t the way the Blackfalds Wranglers had expected this season to go.
The Wranglers’ rollercoaster ride of a year came to an end on Sunday, when they were swept in four games in the Heritage Junior Hockey League North Conference semi-final series by the Mountainview Colts.
“I’m proud of these guys. It’s just a crappy way to end it but that’s hockey. Someone’s got to win, someone’s got to lose. We can’t win every year,” said Wranglers Head Coach Sean Neumeier after Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the first place Colts at the Blackfalds Multiplex.
The Wranglers have sure seen their fair share of bad luck this season. They lost several key players to injury early in the season, including 2014-15 league-leading scorer Robin Carlson and runner-up Garrett Glasman. Despite that, though, Blackfalds managed to hold their own, especially in the second half of the season when a few of those players returned.
“We’ve had a hell of a run. With all of the injuries and stuff that we went through, I think it’s a great year,” Neumeier said.
Blackfalds finished the regular season with a 22-12-4 record, enough to put them in fourth place in the North and set up a best of three elimination round meeting with the Three Hills Thrashers. Blackfalds swept the series in two games, including an 8-2 romp in Three Hills in game two, to move on to the best of seven Conference semi-final series.
That second round was never going to be easy, though. As the fourth place team, the Wranglers were the lowest ranked of the four teams that moved on to the semis, which meant they would have to play the first place Colts, a team against who they posted only a 1-3-0 record during the regular season.
And the disparity between the two clubs showed during game one in Didsbury.
“Game one should have been ours. That was one that got away in five minutes. They scored two goals in the first two minutes and then three goals in three minutes in the third and that can’t happen. That was one that we had to have,” Neumeier said of the 5-2 loss during which the Wranglers out shot their opponents 32-31 and went 0 for 9 on the power play.
Game two in Blackfalds, Neumeier said, was a slightly different story, despite the 7-2 loss.
“The score in the second game didn’t really indicate that game at all. They had an empty net goal, we made a late push. The game was a little closer.”
Then came game three, which wasn’t nearly as pretty.
“Last night we laid a bit of an egg,” Neumeier said of the third game, during which Mountainview trounced the Wranglers 7-1 to take a 3-0 series lead and push them to the brink of elimination.
That set the stage for game four, which was hands down the best game Blackfalds played throughout the entire series.
They kept it close throughout the entire game, never falling behind by more than one goal. Blackfalds trailed 3-2 heading into the third but a late goal by Tyrell McCubbing, his second of the night, tied the game in dramatic fashion to send it to overtime.
Unfortunately for Blackfalds, the celebration was short-lived.
A quick scramble in front of Blackfalds goaltender Nicolas Herrebrugh and a quick flip of the Colts’ Ryan Klinck just 1:19 into OT spelled the end of the game and, with it, the Wranglers’ season.
Part of what makes the Colts so good is that they are excellent at exploiting the opportunities that they are given.
Over their four game series with Mountainview they managed to outscore the Wranglers 23-9, despite being out shot in two of the games. They had a shooting percentage of 15.2, which is incredibly high for a four-game series.
To put that in perspective, when the Chicago Blackhawks swept the Minnesota Wild in the second round of the 2015 NHL playoffs, they outscored the Wild 13-7 despite being out shot 131-113. They posted a shooting percentage of 11.5 in that series and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
“They’re first for a reason. That’s a good hockey team. We can’t be devastated that we lost to them, we’re the underdogs. On paper we were supposed to lose but you still never like to,” Neumeier said.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, the coach added he’s optimistic about what next year might hold.
“I think next year we’re going to be strong. Those affiliate players that we had are really good and they’re going to come join us. We might lose five or six guys but we get five or six APs that are ready to jump in too. We’re going to miss our 21-year-olds, they’re phenomenal people and great athletes but I think next year we’ll be really strong.”