Red Deer Renegades 16, Calgary Wranglers 6
The Red Deer Renegades (15-2) are ready to make sure they reap the benefits of three years of hard work, turning the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse League Junior B Tier II franchise from a bottom feeder into one of the best.
They locked up first place in the North Division with a commanding 16-6 win over the Calgary Wranglers at the Red Deer Kinex Arena on Sunday, likely their opposition in the first round of the playoffs.
Nate Bellanger led the assault with five goals and two assists for Red Deer while Logan Sinclair had two goals and two assists, and Cole Young and Declan Johnston both scored twice. Cody Rush, Ryan Margetts, Calum Anderson and Austin Johanson all scored once for the Renegades. This onslaught all happened without the team’s leading scorer Justin Moltzahn, who was out with a minor groin pull. Brendan Machan picked up the win in net.
Gavin Hough, Travis Larsen, Max Giles, Kyle Castro, Jared Selanders and Lowell Chapman responded for the Wranglers while Adam Bukacel took the loss.
It looks good, there’s still some work to do, but they’re focused on what they want to do,” said Renegades assistant coach Owen Rush, who was filling in for head coach Rob Kachor, of the season they just completed.
No one, however, is ready to celebrate, despite the terrific regular season. The turnaround will not be complete until they can hang a provincial banner from the rafters.
“I think we have a very viable chance to head to provincials … we’re looking forward to the end result,” said Johanson, 20, a five-foot-10, 205-pound alternate captain, who has played four years with the team. The rebuild began three years ago when the current coaching staff came on board. The Renegades were coming off another last place finish with just a couple of victories on their resume.
But there were solid pieces in place on the roster, it was just a matter of changing the culture on the team and maximizing their potential.
“Along with me, we have three or four players who have been a long the whole time too and I feel they have really stepped up into positions of leadership and that’s really what’s led our team to achieve what we have,” said Johanson, also crediting the dedication and work of the coaching staff.
At the core of the turnaround are six players who are graduating at the end of the season — Brady Thudium, Ryan Svederus, Jason Brand, Moltzahn and Johanson. They have made it the South final the last two years, but have lost. Now they are the top team in the North.
There is no better going away present the coaches could deliver those players than a provincial championship.
“It would be huge,” said Rush. “With the coaching staff that’s here now, we took over a team that had a bad losing record, and those guys have stuck through it and kept coming out and it would be immense for them to win (a title).”
They have a lot of work ahead of them. Chances are they have a showdown awaiting them against provincial power Medicine Hat, who they beat 12-8 in Medicine Hat a couple of weeks ago, or against Lethbridge, who beat them 15-13 in the first game of the season at the Kinex. One advantage they will have is that the provincial final, if they make it that far, will come through Red Deer.
“We’ve got to improve our defence and out mental focus,” said Rush. “We took a pile of penalties out there today that were uncalled for and we’re letting the other team get in their heads a little bit — it shows they are playing with some intensity, but they just have to focus it.”
They are also being careful to not overlook their first round opponent, especially if it is in fact the same Calgary team they just beat.
Wranglers assistant coach Wayne Zadderey made it clear following Sunday’s game that they will be ready for the Renegades.
“We ran with those guys for two periods, we see how we’ve got to play them we know how we need to adjust and we’ll see them in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve got eight rookie players on our team and two midget call ups, so we’re quite young compared to those guys, but we’ve got something for them.”
The Renegades led 4-2 after the first period, but the Wranglers managed to make it 5-4 midway through the second period before the Renegades managed to pull away. One major adjustment for Red Deer was the addition of Johanson, who was unable to play in the first period due to an equipment issue.
“We played better defence,” said Rush. “They were a lot less worried about the trash that was going on the floor and the refs and they started worrying about what they had to do.”
NOTES — The Renegades scored five short-handed goals and three times on the power play, while the Wranglers scored twice with the man-advantage … Red Deer collected 42 minutes in penalties, Calgary had 41.