Playoffs apparently already started a couple of weeks ago – in the minds of the 100 Mile House Wranglers.
The local Kootenay International Junior Hockey League club are winners of its last three games, five of its last six, and winners of an imaginary best-of-seven round that started in late January against whichever team was on the schedule next.
It seems that sort of mindset is a good prescription for getting the job done late in the season, as the Wranglers have clinched the fourth seed, at the very least, in the Doug Birks Division.
“What we tried to do is visualize the playoffs early, and how we’d act,” coach Dale Hladun explains. “So now that we won that [early ‘playoff’ series] in our mind, the next step is we want to be in second place. The boys are purely focusing on Chase.”
Back-to-back shutouts by goalies Quinn Ferris and Kristian Stead, and a hat trick by captain Devan Suidy, helped propel the club in its last three games, where a ticket to the 2014-15 post season was officially punched.
The Wranglers beat the Revelstoke Grizzlies, 5-0, at the South Cariboo Rec. Centre in front of 621 local fans on Feb. 9.
The Wranglers hammered the North Okanagan Knights on the road, 4-0, on Feb. 8.
In front of 690 local fans in announced attendance, the Wranglers whipped Chase, 5-1, on Feb. 7.
Hladun says all the boys, “as a five-man unit”, have been outstanding lately.
“I’m excited about the team play,” he adds. “What makes me proudest is listening to how the guys speak in the dressing room… Right now, the kids are coaching themselves. I’m [only] changing lines now. I’m happy with the total group, right from top to bottom.”
Two road games remain – both against fellow Doug Birks Division playoff-clinchers – on the regular season schedule: Chase Heat on Feb. 13, and Kamloops Storm, Feb. 15.
The playoff picture in the Doug Birks Division is a tight one. The seeding in the division might not be firmly established until after the last game of the regular season.
Kamloops, with 66 points, has clinched the division with three games remaining. Chase, with 56 points, is currently second place with two games remaining. The Wranglers have 55 points in third place. Sicamous, at 52, is fourth at press time with two games remaining. The Grizzlies, with 51 points, are fifth with two games left.
Ahead of the weekend, Hladun talks about staying focused. He says it’s not always the best teams that win championships, but those that have the right focus and mindset for the task ahead.
“You’ve got to stay the course and be true to the guys in the room, and that’s where I think we’re going.”
Suidy was named player of the game for the Wranglers on Feb. 9.
Michael Lynch scored two goals and won player of the game on Feb. 8.
Stephen Egan, with two assists, was named player of the game on Feb. 7.