The 100 Mile Wranglers made a good account of their self during their Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) home opener against the Golden Rockets on Sept. 7.
“I was really happy with the first game of the season by the boys. We wanted to – because we’re a bigger club – set the tone as being a tough team to play against,” said head coach and general manager, Dale Hladun. “They [Golden Rockets] had a relatively big team, but I felt we controlled them through the game.”
With a score of 7-2, newcomer Jackson Kowblick led the charge with a three-point game (one goal, two assists). Quinn Mulder and Chase Vancoughnett-Lafleur also had a multi-point game (one goal, one assist).
“I think some new faces right away made our fans excited,” Hladun said, fingering Kowblick and Vancoughnett-Lafleur.
Veteran players such as captain Kolby Page, Darian Long, Harley Bootsma and Cody Barnes also contributed a goal or assist in the seven-goal thumping of the Rockets.
Page was only in the game for one period, still managing to make an impact before he was sent off after reacting to being speared.
Hladun also spoke highly of two new defenders on the team, Eric Smith and Jack Stewart.
“I felt big Eric Smith from Whistler made a couple of huge hits, which really kind of showed what Wrangler hockey is going to be. The boys voted for him [as] player of the game (at the end of every game the boys will pick a guy they felt stood out and they get to wear the wrangler cowboy hat),” he said. “Jack Stewart, from only being at one practice and coming from Winnipeg, he’s quite a creative player with a little bit of sandpaper in him. I thought right away you could tell he’d be a really exciting player to watch.”
As for the overall shape of the roster, Hladun said he was pretty happy with how it’s shaping up but makes no bones about the need to enhance it a little bit.
“I know some kids don’t have the skill level and game sense to rise to; like we’re certainly not sharp, but there wasn’t anybody I was rolling my eyes over or disappointed in… We’re still working on finding a few more kids. We’re not done yet. We still have to tweak this time roster.”
In an earlier interview with Hladun, he was unsure who would fit between Page and Long, who ended last season with 55 and 57 points respectively. Last year, Garrett Hilton was on their line, leading the team with 72 points. However, Hilton is now playing college hockey with Selkirk College. Hladun said he thinks Barnes could be the replacement.
“I think Cody Barnes should be filling in that role. He’s very capable,” he said.
He said so far the September roster is a good one, but he still wants to add a few more bodies. Due to how much he rates the squad right now, he said he’s able to be picky and patient about adding the right piece. He also mentioned that there are still a few players already confirmed to come back, such as defenceman Ryan McMann who will be returning after haying season. The Wranglers also have the rights to a player still playing Jr. A in Saskatchewan.
“The longer these kids stay in Jr. A; the better play we get,” he said. “Right now, I’m happy with our roster in September, but I do believe we’re going to have a very strong roster by Dec. 1. That’s when it really starts to take shape,” he said. “What we’re trying to do – well there are different ways to run a club, for instance, the Revelstoke [Grizzlies] have a lot of offence and they’re going to ‘run and gun’. They’ll be an exciting team to watch. We’re going to be more like four lines of battle and we are going to score by committee.”
Hladun said he would be happy to have a whole bunch of 20-point guys, mentioning that’s how teams like the Boston Bruins have won the Stanley Cup (among others) and even how the Wranglers succeded in winning the KIJHL Championship, Cyclone Taylor Cup and the Keystone Cup during the 2015-16 season.
“Last year, our club had one line that was outstanding and we struggled after that,” said Hladun about last year’s offensive depth. “This year, we’re going to have a good two to three lines that can contribute as shown already by Kowblick, Vancoughnett-Lafleur and [Kaden] Dempsey, including our top line. That’s kind of how we are moving our club.”