After splitting last weekend’s games – a 7-2 away-game victory against the Sicamous Eagles on Friday and a 3-0 home-opener loss to the Osoyoos Coyotes on Saturday – Wranglers coach and general manager Dale “Duner” Hladun says he thinks the team is “coming along nicely.”
He notes the Wranglers have a lot of skill and speed up front and that bodes well as the season progresses.
However, Duner points out this is a vastly different team from last year’s squad, which had a lot of veteran, older and experienced players and only a handful of new players making the roster.
“This year we have 15 rookies and seven of them are school-aged kids. I looked at the league’s current rosters and there are only three teams that have as many or more young kids than us – Kamloops, Revelstoke and Invermere have a few more rookies – 16 and 17.
“Ya, we’re really young, but I really like the energy with these young guns. Once we start getting on the same page in terms of how to play away from the puck. I think we play OK with it, but we have to get a little structure.
“I think by the end of the season, we’ll be a really dangerous team for this league.”
Duner notes the Wranglers are just starting to practice as a team and he believes that compared to last weekend, the players will be much better this weekend.
“The boys are going to dryland training, spin class and having team meetings. I think it’s getting exponentially better because of the structuring we started, and we are just at the tip of the iceberg.”
Noting they just had interviews with the players to get to them better; to know where they want to go with hockey; and how it’s going at the billet homes and if they’re settling in OK.
“Now that we’re getting going, we need to know who wants to get work and who is going to school and what courses they need and things like that.”
We wanted to get feedback on how they liked the team so far and they all seem to be excited.
“A little thing like we played baseball the other day and that made the team better because the boys got connected and made the [structure] even better.
“There’s familiarity and joking around … they’re kibitzing about things but now they know each other better – so you don’t have little cliques and they’re more and more teammates.”
The coach says he believes this year’s squad is going to be way more exciting to watch.
“Last year, we won because of the character, grit and resilience, which was exciting. This year, I think the play-making and the speed will add a different type of entertainment for our fans.
Noting goalies Brendan Henderson and Clay Stevenson are both young and rookies, Duner says he’s going to continue rotating them.
“They got to find their way. I’ve been happy with both of them and they have been learning the mental toughness of the game already.
“When you’re a minor hockey goalie, I think you just stop the puck, but when you move up [into Junior hockey], you have to be the general in your end. You have to tell the D-men how much time they have; you have to be watching referee’s calls in case there’s a penalty and you have to come off for the extra skater; you have to read the clock because sometimes we don’t have to have face-offs in our end, so why are we smothering the puck.
“That’s what these guys are learning already. It’s not just about stopping the puck; it’s about controlling things in our end.
Duner says the Wranglers played a good game against Osoyoos on Saturday, and the team did everything right except they didn’t win.
The Wranglers host Sicamous on Friday (Sept. 23) with the puck dropping at 7. They’re on the road on Saturday to take on the North Okanagan Knights.