The 100 Mile House Wranglers of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) don’t start their camp until Aug. 31 and won’t finalize their roster until the days leading up to their Sept. 14 home opener against Princeton Posse.
More young faces will be in the fold, as Dale Hladun, the club’s general manager and head coach, expects there to be around 10-15 school-aged players on the roster after a handful of veteran players aged out or have either moved onto to Junior ‘A’ hockey clubs across western Canada.
“I think having the school kids will re-energize a lot of things because they’ll be young and excited and ready to play,” said Hladun. “The thing is, they’re talented, they’re good players. I won’t take a school guy unless he’s an impact.”
So far a few players from last season have confirmed their return to the club and some are now wandering back after training camps with Junior “A” clubs. Ten new fresh faces, including former Toronto Maple Leaf player Dave Keon’s grandson Tim, have singled their attention to join the team.
Hladun mentioned that at the beginning of the franchise’s short history in 100 Mile House, the club only started with one veteran and still made the playoffs that year. The youth, such as Mike Lynch, Stephan Egan and Brady Ward, from the season in 2013-14 stayed for another two years, leading to the championship-winning season of 2015-16.
“So I think it just reestablishes the strength of our franchise for the next couple of seasons. I really like this club. I can’t wait until Friday [Aug. 31] and start putting the pieces together. I think we have more skill than we’ve ever had in the past,” said Hladun. “You just get the right vets and the right energy and everything should be fine. I have no concerns with being young, zero concerns. Ryan [Parent] beat us last year in Revelstoke and they were younger than we are, so it works.”
The general manager also recently spoke to some of the returning veterans, who indicated they thought they should have gone all the way last season and Hladun said he agreed with them after looking back and seeing all the mistakes they made and what they could have done differently.
The new season will also see the Wranglers take some road trips to the East Kootenay region (Eddie Mountain Division) as cross-over conference play is back in the league. Fans who like to travel with the team will have a chance to see the Junior “B” team play against league champions, the Kimberley Dynamiters and Hladun’s former team, the Fernie Ghostriders.
Instead of playing eight games against their Doug Birks Division rivals, the Wranglers will only play six to accommodate the cross-over conference play which will also see them host teams from the Neil Murdoch Division, like the Beaver Valley Nitehawks, Nelson Leafs and Washington’s only team in the league, the Spokane Braves.
“I like that we have games against everyone. I feel like our league is unique in the province compared to the other Junior B leagues because we have overnight trips and it’s closer to Junior A and Major Junior,” said Hladun. “Having those overnight bus trips is important for team building and I think it’s important for a young guy.
A lot of good team stuff comes from the bus, whether it’s sharing stories or songs and also at the hotel. The guys will go for a walk, they’ll do stuff like just spend time together. I think we’re going to have eight or nine overnight weekends so the boys will get to know each other really good.”
Hladun welcomes the challenge of playing some of the KIJHL’s most storied teams, such as the Nitehawks, Leafs and Dynamiters who have each hoisted the KIJHL championship at least twice in their history.
“I think it will be great to get over to see Nelson, Beaver Valley and Kimberley. Those teams are always in the conversation to win a championship, so I’m absolutely good to go there.”
The franchises first game of the regular season and home opener against the Princeton Posse is on Sept. 14.