Following a dogged, last minute 4-3 win in hostile territory, the 100 Mile House Wranglers and the Revelstoke Grizzlies battled again the following night in a match-up of division rivals, and neither team budged or broke at the defensive end in 70 minutes of back-and-forth and apparently raucous Kootenay International Junior Hockey League action.
Even with the offense-friendly overtime formats of 4-on-4 and 3-on-3, the Junior B hockey teams stayed knotted 0-0 on Jan. 23. Each coming away with one point.
There were some pretty spectacular saves in that one, says Wranglers coach Dale Hladun, whose lively description of the arena in the busy ski town seeing its large seasonal influx of tourists is evocative of a rowdy Soccer match.
“It was a pretty entertaining game. The whole one half of the arena was a beer garden. They sing songs, they got chants. They stack all their empty beer cups along the glass so there’s a huge pyramid to the top of the glass. It’s quite an environment.”
“They bring so much life to the Grizzlies,” he adds of the fans. “Their game got elevated every time.”
Wranglers goalie Zane Steeves made 47 saves in the marathon tie game, while the Wranglers managed 35 on the Grizzlies’ Paul Laferriere.
The night before, on Jan. 22, Adam Derochie made 40 saves and Michael Lynch notched the game-winner for the 100 Mile House Wranglers when they handed the Grizzlies a 4-3 loss.
Brett Harris, Ryan Friesen and Todd Bredo also scored for 100 Mile, while Lynch, Alex Meeker, Harris (2), and Austin Turner (2) tallied assists.
Both Wranglers goalies were quite strong on the weekend, says Hladun, adding they had to battle some poor officiating in the 4-3 win. The Grizzlies tied the game 3-3 on the power play with six minutes left in the third. Lynch scored the winner, also on the power play, with just over a minute remaining.
“It is what it is,” says a frustrated Hladun. “You can always disagree with an official, but it got to the point where he apologized for some of his calls… Like, really? This is an important game for us.”
Having won three of four points on the weekend, the Wranglers now trail the Kamloops Storm by one point for first in the division. Looking ahead at the Doug Birks Division standings come playoff time, the Grizzlies, while they haven’t officially clinched, are nine points ahead of Sicamous in fifth and 11 points behind the Chase Heat in third with 10 games remaining and are basically now guaranteed the fourth place spot. Chase have third locked up, but could potentially move into second, or even first, if the Wranglers or Kamloops really start to falter in their last nine games. Which is to say, it’s a competitive division, and a first or second place seed doesn’t guarantee anyone an easy round.
“If we play Revelstoke in the first round this is exactly how it’s going to be,” says Hladun. “Just because they’re in fourth doesn’t mean they’re way behind us… I think if we had a series with them, it would be a longer series, like six or seven games.”
Still, Hladun says 100 Mile House is focused on “grabbing the top rung”.
“Kamloops and us have nine playoff games left, it’s pretty much nine playoff games in a row until playoffs,” the coach adds with a chuckle. “If we’re trying to get first place.”
The local club hosts the North Okanagan Knights on Jan. 29 and the Sicamous Eagles on Jan. 30.
Defenceman Josh Odelein is probably out for about six weeks with a knee injury, the coach says. As Lynch has been excelling at both forward and defence positions this season, he will likely cycle back and forth. Austin Turner can also play a bit of defence if the Wranglers need six skaters on the back end on any given night. These will be game time decisions, Hladun says.
Steeves, 17-10-1 on the season with a 2.43 goals against average and a .930 save percentage, was called up to the Merritt Centennials of the British Columbia Hockey League this week, so Derochie will get the starts this weekend against the Knights and Eagles.
“It’s good for him and it’s good for our team to be showcasing a good goalie like him,” says Hladun of Steeves. “I’m confident with letting Zane go because Adam can step right in. He’s got the confidence of the team.”
Derochie, as backup, has been equally impressive this year. He’s 9-3-1 with a 2.26 goals against average and a league best .940 save percentage.
Of the Knights, Hladun says: “If you bring your ‘A’ game you should beat them. But if you don’t, they’re going to push. North Okanagan last week was down 2-0 going into the third and beat [Okanagan Division-leading] Osoyoos 4-2. Not a lot of people can beat Osoyoos. That’s going to be a dangerous game Friday night. ”
Of the Eagles: “They’re a Jekyll and Hyde team. I think they were playing really good just after Christmas. And the next couple of weeks they plummeted. They’ve lost five in a row now. Some of them have been 10-0, 7-0. So I’m not sure what kind of team they’re going to bring Saturday. There’s enough rivalry there with Sicamous and us that they’re going to bring a good effort.”
Meanwhile, ticket sales continue in the club’s ongoing Cash Lottery, whose draw date is Jan. 30 during the Sicamous game. Tickets are $10. First prize is $7,000; second prize is $2,000; third is $1,000.