Wranglers’ depth helped get the team into Keystone Cup
There’s something to be said for depth.
The Blackfalds Wranglers displayed the importance of a deep roster while capturing the Alberta junior B hockey championship at Grande Prairie during the weekend.
The Wranglers cruised past the host Kings 6-0 in Sunday’s championship final, just three days after falling 6-4 to the Grande Prairie squad in their tournament opener.
“When they beat us the first game it didn’t look like there was that much difference between the teams,” Blackfalds head coach Brian Lenz said Tuesday. “But we rolled four lines through the tournament and they were basically playing with two.
“A reporter there said they (Kings) used two lines about 85 per cent of the time and the other two 15 per cent, so they just couldn’t keep up to us on the last day.”
The Wranglers went into the provincials as the No. 2 seed out of the Heritage League after giving up a pair of late empty-net goals and losing 7-4 to the Okotoks Bisons in the fifth and final game of the Heritage championship series the previous Sunday.
“We had a couple of injuries towards the end of that series, so we sat some guys and that didn’t help,” said Lenz. “We had to decide which was more important, that (Heritage League title) or the provincials.
“The Okotoks goaltender got hot, too. It just came down to a matter of a couple of breaks here and there. We hit a couple of posts in the final game and a cross bar in the last six to seven minutes.”
In the end, the Wranglers won the championship that really mattered. The Bisons, incidentally, were 1-1-1 at the provincials and failed to make the playoffs.
Following the first-day setback, Blackfalds downed the Fort Saskatchewan Hawks 6-2 Friday and then slipped past the Cold Lake Ice 2-1 Saturday morning, setting the stage for an evening semifinal showdown with the St. Albert Merchants in which the Wranglers staged a late rally and pulled out a 5-4 overtime win.
“It takes a good team to win and a bit of luck,” said Lenz. “We were definitely lucky to beat St. Albert on Saturday night. We were down 4-1 with seven minutes remaining and scored three goals in a minute and a half. How often does that happen? Not too often.”
Considering the parity of the eight-team provincial field, the Wranglers required a few breaks.
“The teams there were all so close,” said Lenz. “That’s the first time I been at the provincial tournament when every team was 1-1 after the first two days. When you see that you know you need some breaks.
“We got ours Saturday and I told the boys Sunday that we’d used up our luck last night so we’d better be ready to go (in the championship final).”
If past history means anything, the Wranglers should have success at the Western Canada championship — the Keystone Cup — set for April 17-20 at Abbotsford, B.C.
Blackfalds last won the Western title three years ago following the same script as this spring — winning the Alberta crown after falling to Okotoks in the Heritage League final.
“We were a different team then. We probably have a little more depth this year than we had then. We have four lines that are pretty even,” said Lenz. “We had a better defence back then (2011) but our goaltending now is unreal. We used both (Thomas) Isaman and ((Kyle) Baumgartner in Grande Prairie and they were both unreal.”