The 100 Mile House Wranglers are starting 2023 on a winning streak.
The Wranglers beat the Kamloops Storm 2-1 in a shootout victory Friday, followed by a 3-2 win against the Nelson Leafs Saturday. Wranglers coach Dale Hladun said he was stunned by the energy of his team coming off the Christmas break.
”My goodness, the week after Christmas those boys were flying (at practice). It’s like they’d had a breath of fresh air and you could see it in these two games,” Hladun said. “The team beat two very good clubs this weekend, both of them could finish first in their divisions.”
It was a slow start for both the Wranglers and the Storm Friday, with neither team scoring in the first period.
The game took off in the second period, with increased pressure on both nets. The Wranglers scored the first goal of the night after Memfis Burgeson, with some clever passes from Jack Mulder and Ethan Davey, snuck one into the Storm’s goal.
The Storm raged back, capitalizing on a four-minute powerplay, with Cole Senum tying the game. Despite several power plays, neither team was able to find an advantage and take the lead, resulting in an overtime shootout.
Hladun said this weekend he was happy to see “new heroes” rise from the ranks of his players. Wranglers goalie Royce Watson made some key saves against Kamloops, blocking 39 of 40 shots on net, and held on even during the shootout.
Owen Johnson and Presley Gordon ensured the Wranglers came out on top in the shootout. Hladun said Johnson on Friday really started to “find his game” and came into his own as a player.
“He’s a big strong kid who is a good skater. Once he understands that, he’s a force to be reckoned with when he finishes hits and drives at the net with the puck.”
Hladun said Gordon has been one of his most consistent forwards this season, both defensively and offensively. “Presley’s stable game and his calming demeanor have been invaluable both on and off the ice.”
Saturday night was a physical match as the Leafs showed they were still a team to reckon with, despite missing five players and their head coach to suspensions. The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League had issued 35 suspensions following a line brawl instigated by the Leafs as they battled the Beaver Valley Nitehawks on Dec. 31.
“They were shorthanded but their top kids were there,” Hladun observed.
While the teams seemed evenly matched in the first period, the Wranglers pulled ahead thanks to a goal scored by Nathan Bohmer. The Leafs turned up the pressure in the second period but Wranglers’ Jace Myers helped the team pull ahead by two.
The game became even more physical throughout the night, with players from both teams leaving the ice due to injuries. The Leafs stayed in the game with a goal in the second period followed by another in the third period tying the match.
During a Leafs powerplay, however, Wrangler defenceman Ty Smoluk broke away with the puck and was able to score a shorthanded goal. Thanks to a determined team defense, Hladun said the Wranglers prevented the Leafs from tying the game, even after they pulled their goalie in the last minute.
“We’ve had to learn to win tight games and that’s why we lost some (last year). To win these two tight games shows the boys played really good defensively.”
The Wranglers hit the road this weekend with a back-to-back matchup against the Revelstoke Grizzlies Friday and Saturday followed by a game against the Sicamous Eagles Sunday.