The Blackfalds Wranglers put the wraps on the regular season with a dominant 9-2 victory over the Three Hill Thrashers Sunday.
Facing the only team in the Heritage Hockey League’s north division to not make the playoffs, Wranglers Coach Brian Lenz said the challenge was keeping the team focused and using the game – one that wouldn’t change seeding or standings – as preparation for the postseason.
“It’s tough to stay full throttle when you’re up like that, but it’s something we (the coaches) insisted they do for the simple reason we’re going to war with Stettler now,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough series.”
The Wranglers’ Austin Lightning struck first just four minutes into the opening frame. Just a few short minutes later Austin Kalev would capitalize on what would be their only powerplay opportunity of the game and team captain Spencer Otto added a third goal to give the team a 3-0 lead heading into the second period.
Curtis Rangen would shovel a puck past Thrasher netminder Devon Carroll two minutes into the second, followed by tallies from Taite Opdendries and Braidon Westin.
Tyler Bell would score his first of two third-period goals early in the third, before Thrasher Kyle Gray would break the shutout just over a minute later. Bell would respond with his second, followed by another Wrangler goal from Landon Crier-Wagner. The Thrashers would get one more back at 15:21 thanks to Kevin Schrock, but it would be last of the game where the Wranglers outshot their opponents 59-17.
While it might’ve looked like an easy two-point night, it certainly wasn’t indicative to the team’s season overall.
Their start was one of the worst in franchise history, no thanks to the departure of key, high-scoring veteran players including Landon Siegel and Ryan Chambers who joined the Wetaskiwin Icemen to vie for a provincial title.
“It was a rebuild year,” said Lenz. “We just had a tough start. We just couldn’t seem to get it going – too many overtime losses, and shootouts, and then we got down on ourselves.
“We were playing better at the end – we got a couple wins, relaxed a bit and then everything started to fall into place. Hopefully it carries over into the playoffs.”
Provided they keep as full of a roster as possible, stay disciplined and play the way they have over the last six games of the season, he believes they’ll have a fighting chance against Stettler – especially considering Blackfalds has bested them in their last two meetings.
“They’re a hardworking team. They come at you steady for a full 60 minutes. If we’re not ready for it, they’re going to score goals on us,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the series plays out.”
Their first game of the postseason will be on the road Tuesday, Feb. 12 in Stettler at 8:30 p.m., and they’ll return home on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, to host them at the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena. Puck drop is 8 p.m.
If needed, Game 3 will be on Saturday in Stettler at 7:30 p.m.