Wranglers prepare for season opener
Landon Siegle of the Blackfalds Wranglers takes his Ponoka Stampeders opponent wide, advancing the puck into the offensive zone during HJHL preseason action at the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena on Tuesday evening. The Wranglers won 8-1. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)
If preseason is any indication, the Blackfalds Wranglers won’t have a hard time finding their offence this season.
The Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) schedule of exhibition matches saw the team involved in numerous high-scoring affairs, including 13-2, 6-1, and 9-6 victories over Beaumont, Stettler, Airdrie respectively.
It was a trend they continued early this week in a home-and-home exhibition series against the Ponoka Stampeders, defeating their opponents 8-1 Tuesday, and 5-2 Wednesday.
Overall, Wranglers Head Coach Sean Neumeier is pleased with how his team looks so far.
“We’re scoring goals which is nice. That’s not a problem,” he said following Tuesday night’s game. The results are good,” he said. “We look good.”
In preseason standings, the Wranglers top the northern division, with just one loss in seven games to the very same Beaumont team they later dropped 13-2.
It’s still early, however, and Neumeier isn’t putting too much stock into the team’s performance and says there’s plenty of room for improvement.
“We’re winning games, but there’s a lot of stuff we need to clean up,” he said. “It’s the simple stuff you forget about. The D-zone needs a bit of work and our discipline could be better. Just the small stuff that we’ll work on over the year.”
Training camp began just a few weeks ago, with around 40 players in attendance, including 13 returning from last year’s team.
Neumeier, who said he’s been running just three lines during the past few games, believes his team should be fairly deep come the regular season, but there will likely be a few new faces and opportunities for rookies to step into the lineup.
“We’re still obviously in need of help,” he said. “We’ll need to add a couple of defencemen and another forward but I really like our team.
“If we can stay healthy, I really like our chances.”
The Wranglers had a decent run last season, finishing the regular season with a 25-12-1 record and tied with the Red Deer Vipers for third place in the northern division.
In the playoffs, they squeaked out of the first round against the Stettler Lightning, coming back from a 4-0 deficit in the qualifying round final and pushing the game into double overtime to take the series.
Their luck would run dry in the North Division semifinal, however, where they were bumped out by the Mountainview Colts, who have now bested them two years in a row.
In the last decade, the Wranglers have finished first in their division seven times, won a league championship, two provincial championships and a Western Canadian Junior B championship.
The goal, naturally, is to return to the top. For now, however, Neumeier said he’s happy to see the team just continue to improve throughout the year.
“As long as we’re getting better throughout the year, I like our chances,” he said. “There’s going to be ups and downs, but as long as we get better every game, come playoff time we should be at our best.”
The Wranglers will start the regular season on the road Friday against the Airdrie Thunder. On Sunday, they’ll host their home opener against Strathmore at the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena. Puck drop is 3:30 p.m.