Have you ever wondered where the 100 Mile House Wranglers scout for all their players?
Playing in a British Columbia based-league, it’s quite obvious that most of the players recruited will be from the province. In fact, over 90 British Columbians have played at least five games with the Wranglers in its short seven-year history.
“I think the way to recruit is to start in your own backyard and spiral outward. So locally, there’s limited minor hockey, so when you get a chance to get somebody to play at this level around town, you can,” said Dale Hladun, general manager and head coach of the Wranglers. “Then you spiral to Williams Lake. We’ve had a lot of Williams Lake kids with [Tyler] Povelofskie, [Justin] Bond, [Nic] Flinton and [Jaxon] Passeri.
A total of seven players have come from Williams Lake, the closest city to 100 Mile House, to play for the Wranglers (again – not including affiliates or players playing fewer than five games). Kamloops, the next closest city, only produced two players for the franchise, which is the same as Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Salmon Arm, Prince Rupert, Port Moody, Lillooet and Vancouver Island as a whole.
One of the most interesting aspects of the team’s recruitment is that they heavily rely on Prince George. It’s where most of their players come from, with 18 in total (not including affiliate players or players who played less than five games in a season). No other community in B.C. or otherwise has produced the same amount of Wranglers talent.
“Prince George is the next nearest [community]. It’s a bigger centre. You’ll find that the north kids that travel, they don’t mind coming to 100 Mile. It’s not easy recruiting from the Okanagan or the Lower Mainland because those guys have access to a ton of programs at our level there (there are two other Junior B leagues that cover the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island).”
The next two communities are Smithers and Terrace, which both have produced eight players.
One challenge 100 Mile has in recruiting prospects is that most people are oblivious to where the community is on a map. Hladun recounted an instance where he was at the Merritt Centennials’ (of the British Columbia Hockey League) spring camp and someone from Vancouver told him he had come a long way. The person was genuinely surprised when Hladun told him that 100 Mile House is in fact, a shorter distance to Merritt than Vancouver.
“We also have to recruit the type of person that can live in the Cariboo. Some bigger centre kids just don’t want to live in a small town. The other thing is the attractions. There are colleges in a lot of those other areas and parents want their kids to go to college and take courses. So we’ve got to find that fit that will come to the Cariboo. So generally, the north kids will come.”
The current crop of Wranglers has four players from Alberta (now with the recent addition of Sylvan Lake’s Khale Skinner), three from Saskatchewan and one from Manitoba. Only two of those eight come from major population centres – Aidan Morrison from Calgary and Jack Stewart from Winnipeg. Caelan Armstrong, who left the Wranglers earlier would have counted as a fourth Saskatchewanian, hailing from White City – a suburb of Regina – had he not left.
Hladun noted that most of these kids also come from northern communities and are typically AA midgets.
“The Southern Alberta kids tend to go to Kimberley, Golden and Fernie just because it’s easy access. Like Fernie to Calgary is only two hours,” he said.
One of the biggest recruitment tools for the Wranglers are the players themselves.
“I think a lot of times your players are also your biggest recruiters. A couple of Prince George kids tell another couple kids of Prince George kids and that’s how you get your guys. I call it a little bit of a pipeline. Maybe we end up with a kid from Red Deer, maybe he’s got another friend from Red Deer and it just works that way.”
Sometimes trends emerge in terms of where the best players in their respective positions come from. For instance, NHL franchises at one point favoured Finnish goaltenders (the mid-2000s to mid-2010s – Miikka Kiprusoff, Nicklas Bäckstöm, Tuuka Rask, etc.). In the ’90s, goalies from Quebec were all the rage with Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Josè Théodore, and Felix Potvin.
“I don’t think there’s one real fishing hole,” said Hladun. “It’s tough to say… I don’t mind the small-town kid that was just a good player and the way I look at those guys is that if they’re this good with limited leagues, limited coaching with limited ice time, their upside should be exponential. Like if they skated every day, they’re going to get way better. You look at the kids that we moved on over the years and they didn’t come from big centres – Kristian Stead was in Merritt, [Kevin] Fillier from Smithers, Clay Stevenson who is going to Dartmouth and has NHL interest was a tier-three guy in Chilliwack. Zane Steeves played in Ponoka in a very limited Junior B league and he comes here and just explodes.”
The list goes on. Luke Santerno played with the Wranglers in the 2013-14 season now plays with Bentley University in the NCAA. He also attended the Winnipeg Jets training camp last year. He’s from Smithers.