The 100 Mile House Wranglers started their New Year and the second half of their Kootenay International Junior Hockey League campaign with a 3-2 win over the Kelowna Chiefs on Jan. 4.
“We beat a pretty good team. Kelowna is pushing for being the top dog in the whole league. They’re the best team in our whole conference, so for the boys to do what they did I was very impressed,” said Dale Hladun, general manager and head coach of the Wranglers.
The first period was scoreless. However, forward Cody Barnes got the scoring started with a little help from defenceman Aidan Morrison with a power-play goal five minutes into the second period. It was quickly answered seconds later by Marshall Porteous of the Chiefs, assisted by T.Y. Marchant.
Zane Avery, a forward with the Chiefs, put his team in front with seven minutes left to go in the second period.
It wasn’t until the third period the Wranglers started scoring again. The tying goal came within forty seconds of the period’s opening faceoff. It was scored by Morrison, assisted by fellow defenceman Ryan McMann.
Captain Kolby Page scored the winner less than a minute later, assisted by Jack Stewart.
Hladun spoke of goalie Jordan Wilde, along with Barnes and Morrison as being keys to the victory on Jan. 4. He called Wilde’s performance ‘outstanding.’ As far as Barnes, Hladun said he was the player who improved the most since last season. Barnes worked hard to improve, Hladun continued, and is now getting interest from the higher levels of hockey.
“I think the fans better come out and enjoy Cody while they can because I don’t see him in this line up in the future because he’ll be moving to the next level.”
Morrison was called an anchor on the backend who provided focus and leadership through his play, even before the Christmas break, He has become such a key factor in the team’s structure, according to his head coach.
Despite getting a good start to 2020, Hladun said he did have some concern about players travelling back from home after the Christmas break.
“Our first practice, we only had about 14 guys and then the second practice we had the majority of the kids but still some kids drifted in late just because of flights and travel and so on,” said Hladun. “To come back to try and get into shape was going to be a concern and then playing at a pace that Kelowna brings, especially since Kelowna really didn’t have a break – they played two games already over the Christmas break against Osoyoos. I was pretty impressed with how the boys did practice and I think the Christmas break was needed.”
He went on to say that there are a lot of kids who call home somewhere else, some as far as Winnipeg. Most of them, he said, were probably away from home for the first time.
“You could tell in late November/ early December the homesickness was coming in. It really was. Near the end, we were trying to motivate them but they just weren’t [motivated]. It was tough, it’s not an easy thing.”
But, now that they are back from the well-deserved break Hladun said the pace in practice was great and the chipperness in the lockerroom made him excited about the club for the latter half of the season.
Practices are also being run a little differently. The Wranglers don’t have the luxury of having a large staff, especially behind the bench.
“There’s only Chris [Langton] and I. Chris is busy a lot so basically I’ve been trying to run this by myself. So what we’ve done is the captains (Page, Darian Long and Harley Bootsma) are going to be part of our staff and they’re going to do a lot of the video breakdown with us, they’re going to run some of the drills and some of the systems in one end while I work with the kids in the other end. We’re going to share the workload and I think that’s going to go great because I feel like the soldiers are in the trenches. They know what’s going on right there, so you’re getting recon right from the kids in the battle.”
Jan. 10 is also fast approaching, which is junior hockey’s trade deadline at all levels. The Wranglers currently have three cards open, so it is quite possible there will be some new faces on the roster and some missing come Jan. 11 when they return to 100 Mile House to take on the Kamloops Storm on home ice. Prior to that, they take on archrivals Chase Heat at the Art Holding Memorial Arena on Jan. 10.