No more pretending, the real thing is on the horizon for the 100 Mile House Wranglers. After all, “it’s all practice to the playoffs”, as the always quotable coach Dale Hladun likes to suggest.
The Wranglers won two of three games last weekend and have three road games and one last home stand in the coming weeks against division opponents to bring their 2015-16 regular season run to an end in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
The local club is primed for its third post season in its three-year history. Trailing the Kamloops Storm by one point for top spot in the Doug Birks Division, they’re pretty much a lock for (at least) a second place finish. While third place is an (unlikely) option if the Chase Heat, seven points behind them, put on a real show in their remaining five games, and the Wranglers really falter in their final four.
The Revelstoke Grizzlies have fourth locked up; the Sicamous Eagles are already eliminated from the post season.
The Wranglers had a shot at keeping the top spot when they hosted the Storm on Feb. 8. The Storm weathered the Wranglers’ three-goal push in the third period though, and held on for the 4-3 win. Brady Ward, Brett Harris and Cole Zimmerman scored power play goals in the final frame for 100 Mile. Michael Lynch, Zimmerman, Tyler Povelofskie, Ryan Friesen and Stephen Egan tallied assists. Zimmerman won star of the game.
Hladun considers the late surge against the mighty Storm a bright spot of sorts.
“I think I’m a happier coach than the Kamloops coach [Ed Patterson] because they almost blew a lead and we almost came back. I think it added another dimension to us to show we could push back.”
The Wranglers burnt the Chase Heat, 3-2, in Chase on Feb. 6 and grounded the Kelowna Rockets, 5-1, in 100 Mile House on Feb. 5. Nick McCabe won star of the game in 100 Mile House and Michael Lynch won star of the game in Chase.
With Tate Page, Kolby Page, Justin Bond and Josh Odelein out of the lineup, Lynch and Austin Turner have stepped in to become a “pretty powerful” combination as two-way players, to help shore up the defence, says Hladun.
Another significant addition made to the backend was the signing of Prince George defenceman Jordan Low on Feb. 9. The 19-year-old helped anchor the Wranglers’ blue line during the 2013-14 season before moving up to Junior A in the British Columbia Hockey League for two seasons with the Nanaimo Clippers. He stepped away from the team after eight games this season in pursuit of off-ice business opportunities and schooling. While Low won’t be playing every game for 100 Mile, getting him in the lineup once every three or four games will help the team, says Hladun.
“He’ll bring in leadership and skill and size.”
Looking ahead, the Wranglers head to Sicamous on Feb. 12, Revelstoke on Feb. 13, and Kamloops on Feb. 19. Their final game of the regular season is at home against Chase on Feb. 20.
“Every game matters,” says Hladun. “Even Sicamous played Kamloops strong the last couple of games. I think all four games are going to be playoff-ish. They’re very important to us. And same for Kamloops. I think Chase might have to hope for more mathematics for them to get into second place or even first. I sense they’ll be third. It’s still a battle between us and Kamloops for first place.”