The Blackfalds Wranglers Valentine’s Day date with the Stettler Lightning couldn’t have gone much better, as they officially booked their ticket to the second round of Heritage Junior Hockey League playoffs.
After defeating the Lightning 4-2 in Game 1 last Tuesday, the Wranglers’ determination saw them edge their opponents 5-4 in front of the home crowd at the Blackfalds Multi-plex Arena to sweep the best-of-three series in two games.
Looking at the standings, one might’ve called the sweep somewhat of an underdog upset, but that wasn’t at all how coach Brian Lenz saw it.
“I don’t know if it was an upset,” he said. “We played well – we beat them three out of four during the year. We knew it would be tough, but we played well there (in Stettler) and well here and just did our jobs.”
In the first period, Stettler outshot the Wranglers, but Blackfalds had more that counted on the scoreboard. Midway through the period, Braden Olsen opened the scoring, followed by a Bronson Spearing goal a minute and a half later. Only Kieran Rost would score for Stettler, with about six minutes left in the frame, to give the Wranglers a 2-1 lead after 20.
Braidon Westin struck just 53 seconds into the second period, and Spearing would strike for a second time four minutes later. However, Lightning Tye Mulgrove would bounce one in off the Wranglers to come within two, and with 27 seconds left, Rost would do the same.
With their season on the line, tempers began to flare on the Lightning side, and midway through the period, Lightning Braydon Whiteford and Spearing got into an altercation in front of the benches. While Stettler was given the extra two, it was their Mulgrove who would score shorthanded to tie the game with just 7:36 left.
“We started panicking and the (Stettler) fans started getting on us in the back. We told them to keep their minds in the game, forget about the fans – they were the ones who should be panicking, they were the ones going out if they lost and we settled down,” said Lenz.
A desperate Lightning team, however, didn’t settle down, and they were sent to the box with what some Stettler fans might’ve called a controversial tripping call with three minutes to go. Taite Opdendries took full advantage of the extra man seconds later, and scored what would be the game and series winner.
“We started strong, got up on them,” he said. “We had a few unfortunate (goals against) tonight. We put a couple in our own net – one off our defenceman, and one in between our goaltender and defenceman – but other than that we played well and we came back and won.”
It might’ve been a good thing they closed out the series at home as well, as Whiteford’s mom was involved in a fight in the stands after the final buzzer with one of the Wrangler’s sisters. The altercation required RCMP response.
After the Lightning, however, comes thunder – in the form of the HJHL’s first-placed Airdrie Thunder. This season, the Wranglers have lost all four of their matchups by at three to eight goals, and so the matchup may not be a storm they’ll weather well.
“We changed our forechecking system around just for the next series if we got there, but they’re a good team. They’re all 20-21 year-olds and three-quarters of them have played Junior A and in the Dub (WHL) so it’ll be a tough series,” he said. “We’ll see what we can do against them.”
The schedule is expected to be announced next week.