Lightning may not strike twice, but the Blackfalds Wranglers did earlier this week as they toppled the Stettler Lightning in their first two Heritage Junior Hockey League preseason games.
On Sunday, they defeated the Lightning 3-1 on the road, and then beat their opponents again 4-3 on Tuesday evening at the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena.
For a team in a rebuilding year, it’s certainly not a bad start. However, while the 3-1 and 4-3 scores look good on paper, the team’s performance wasn’t necessarily where coaches wanted it to be.
When asked what he liked about the team’s game Tuesday, Wranglers Assistant Coach Brian Lenz said there wasn’t a whole lot to like.
“It was sloppy, ugly, scrambly – I don’t know what else you can say,” he said.
“Our hustle was good – we forechecked pretty well, but we didn’t pass well. At this age, I think we should be able to pass better than we have in the last two days, so that’s something we’ve got to work on.”
The Wranglers scored first just past the six-minute mark of the first period on a goal by Riley Matthies. Midway through the period they scored again to make it 2-0 – a lead they’d carry into the second period.
For awhile it looked like the team would maintain that momentum, scoring their third goal of the game with 11:42 left to go in the second period, but with less than a minute and a half in the frame, the Lightning scored two quick goals, narrowing the Wranglers lead to 3-2.
The Wranglers responded in the third, but the Lightning would once again draw back within one, however, wouldn’t be able to tie the game before the final buzzer.
The biggest ‘problem’ area was their passing game.
“The passes were behind the guys and in their skates…it’s only our fifth time on skates so maybe you expect that,” said Lenz. “It’s frustrating this time of year as a coach. You forget it starts like this every year.
“It’ll take time, but they’ll improve.”
Given that it’s still early in the year and the regular season has yet to begin, the Wranglers roster could still some tweaks, as well. They have a total of about 21 players on their roster, and they’re waiting to see who will return from Junior A level camps, and waiting on others to make a decision as to whether or not they’ll officially leave the team for Wetaskiwin this year, where provincials will be held, or for other commitments.
Some of the Wranglers’ veteran players considering playing in the Wetaskiwin league include Landon Siegle and Ryan Chambers – two of the team’s most impactful players over the past couple of seasons. Dylan Scheunert is also debating whether to continue playing, and may instead look to join the team in Three Hills.
“Three or four guys make a big difference,” said Lenz. “We have enough talent here, we just need a few older, more experienced guys.”
The Wranglers will play their next two games against Beaumont – this Friday, Sept. 14 on the road, and Sunday, Sept. 16 at home at 3:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, Sept. 18, they’ll play their last exhibition game against the Airdrie Techmation Thunder at the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena at 3:30 p.m.
Their first regular season game of the year will also be against Airdrie, albeit on the road Sept. 28. Their season home opener will be on Sunday, Sept. 30 against the Coaldale Copperheads.
The Blackfalds Wranglers are getting new jerseys this year, meaning many of the players were wearing jerseys belonging to other players during the game, nameplate and all….A roster list nor scoresheet were unavailable due to the nature of preseason exhibition games