It wasn’t going to be easy.
The undermanned 100 Mile House Wranglers knew that going into a three-game weekend that forward Nick McCabe later called “probably the worst weekend we’ll face all year”.
Evening games in 100 Mile House on Dec. 12 and Summerland on Dec. 13 were followed by a noon game back in 100 Mile on Dec. 14.
The team didn’t get back into town until 4 a.m. ahead of its last matinee performance. Throw in a handful of injuries, suspensions and call-ups, and you have a very different-looking Wranglers team. But despite suffering three losses – 7-3, 3-1 and 4-1 – coach Dale Hladun says he’s proud of what he saw from the team throughout a grinding 40-something hour stretch.
“The character was there and we were very shorthanded,” he says. “The guys are disappointed about not winning. But [I heard] zero excuses from those boys – zero. Between periods they spoke and challenged and pushed each other. Zero excuses. As a coach that knows playoffs are a few months away, to know that’s what’s bubbling below the surface? My god, I couldn’t be happier.”
On Dec. 14, the Wranglers hosted the Chase Heat, which is right behind 100 Mile in the Doug Birks Division standings of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
Chase scored the first three goals before Nick McCabe answered back for 100 Mile in the third. Chase found the empty net for the 4-1 final. Goalie Kristian Stead stopped 41 shots.
On Dec. 13, the Summerland Steam scored a 3-1 victory over the Wranglers. Tyler Garcia scored for 100 Mile. Quinn Ferris made 29 saves. Liam Cumberbirch, who had recently returned from an extended layoff with a concussion, suffered a serious leg injury, and is out indefinitely.
A couple new faces – Derek Popadinac from 100 Mile, Tyler Collens from Canoe, and Riley Deverell from Lillooet – took their first ride with the undermanned Wranglers through a 7-3 pounding by the Kamloops Storm in 100 Mile House on Dec.12.
Collens got on the board in the first, while Tyler Garcia and Michael Lynch also found the back of the net. Stead saw 36 shots.
100 Mile House’s Cole Zimmerman is one of the players logging Junior A minutes with the Prince George Spruce Kings of the British Columbia Hockey League this season. He was in the Wranglers’ line up against Chase on Dec. 14.
“The boys obviously battled hard [while] short players,” he says of the Wranglers. “It was a tough three losses though.”
“It’s going to be really nice to have the full line up back and everyone healthy,” McCabe adds.
Coach Hladun has a few rhetorical fallbacks he likes to use in post game interviews. One of them is: “It’s all practice to the playoffs.”
By design that one will always make some sort of sense. But it takes on a new meaning at this point in time – when the Wranglers are practicing against adversity, practicing to do without, and practicing to stick together.
“You have to sharpen all your skills, whether it’s the power play or penalty kill, stuff like that. But to have the work ethic also being sharpened? For 0-3, I couldn’t be a prouder coach. There were a lot of obstacles to overcome.”
The Wranglers meet the Revelstoke Grizzlies for back-to-back games before a holiday break. 100 Mile travels to Revelstoke on Dec. 19 and hosts the Grizzlies on Dec. 20.