Blackfalds Wranglers reign over Wheatland Kings

Zachary Zaparniuk of the Blackfalds Wranglers battles with Zachary Suntjens of the Strathmore Wheatland Kings in front of the net of goaltender Riley Stovka during Sunday afternoon Heritage Junior Hockey League action at the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena. The Wranglers won 7-3, their first victory of the season. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

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A five-point performance from Austin Lawson helped lift the Blackfalds Wranglers 7-3 over the Strathmore Wheatland Kings Sunday, giving them their first victory of the season.

Aided by Taite Opdendries (two goals, two assists ), Braden Olsen (two goals) and Spencer Otto (three assists), the win improved their record to 1-2-1 on the season, and into fourth place in northern division standings for the Heritage Junior Hockey League.

While it wasn’t the 60-minute effort the coaching staff wanted to see from the team, the win was something they were pleased with al the same.

“We played an awesome game in Okotoks Friday night but we just couldn’t buy a goal and lost 3-0. To come back here and play an ugly period like we did in the first – I was beginning to wonder what team we had out there,” said Wranglers Coach Brian Lenz. “Then after that, we settled in and started moving the puck again.”

Just over three minutes into the opening frame it looked like the game might go the same way the last three had, with Garret Vander Ploeg of the Wheatland Kings finding the mesh behind Wranglers goaltender Lane Brann.

It took most of the period for the team to start breaking out of their own zone – they ended the period with just four shots on net to their opponents’ 16 – but at 15:02, Wrangler Braden Olsen made a shot that counted, tying the game 1-1.

When the team returned to the ice for the second period, it was clear momentum had swung in their favour.

Three and half minutes into the frame, Taite Opdendries gave the Wranglers their first lead of the game, and just past the midway mark, Braden Olsen scored his second goal on a pass from Austin Lawson, who would add a goal of his own about six minutes later. Strathmore snuck one goal past Brann with 1.6 seconds left in the period, but it didn’t take long for the Wranglers to respond in the third.

The Blackfalds Wranglers’ Braden Olsen scores against the Strathmore Wheatland Kings during HJHL action on Oct. 7, 2018 at the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena. Ashli Barrett / Lacombe Globe

Just 51 seconds into the final 20 minutes of play, Opdendries scored his second of the game from Lawson. Brett Westin scored five minutes later to make improve his team’s lead to 6-2, and Lawson struck on the powerplay midway through the period for his second of the game. Strathmore responded once more seconds afterwards, however, the Wranglers maintained their lead, and would finish with a 7-3 victory.

When asked what changed, Lenz said it was mostly just the team’s passing.

“We weren’t looking, we weren’t passing, we weren’t skating. Like I told the guys during (the intermission), it’s what we do when we haven’t got the puck that’s making it tough for us,” he said. “Once we got skating through open ice…it was a total different game.”

The challenge now is trying to maintain that level of play moving forward. Part of that will come with the return of about seven players that are unable to play due to injury and work.

“It’s only been the last couple of game that we’ve looked like we’ve found our way,” said Lenz. “If we ever get them all back, these guys won’t know what to do we’ll be in such good shape.”

Lenz believes they’ll have a few more bodies in the lineup for this coming weekend.

The Blackfalds Wranglers will once again head on the road this Friday to face the High River Flyers. They’ll return home Sunday, Oct. 14 to play Airdrie. Puck drop is at 3:30 p.m.