BLACKFALDS — At 21-0-2 the Blackfalds Wranglers are almost perfect this Heritage Jr. B Hockey League season.
The ‘almost’ part, however, is what keeps driving the coaching staff.
The good and the bad was on display during their 5-3 win over the Cochrane Generals (14-5-3) on Sunday afternoon in Blackfalds.
“There’s a lot of areas we can still clean up, that’s the scary part,” said Wranglers coach Sean Neumeier, noting their defensive play in particular. “To say we’ve went out and played a 60 minute game yet is a stretch too. We haven’t peaked yet.”
Bryce Marshall, Jesse Fletcher, Bryce Boguski, Robin Carlson and Jordy Potter all scored for Red Deer while Thomas Isaman made 16 saves for the win.
Cochrane replied with goals from Colby Chartier, Austin Keller and Chad Harrison while Garrett Iverson let in four goals on 18 shots before getting replaced at 6:10 of the second period by McKenzie Chalmers, who allowed one goal on 24 shots the rest of the way.
The Wranglers built a 3-0 lead and took a 3-1 lead into the second period. 6:10 into the frame they made 4-1 but the Generals fought their way back into the game, scoring at 10:58 to cut the lead to two goals.
Harrison made the score 4-3 at 4:31 of the third period, but Potter re-gained the Wranglers’ lead at 9:03. Cochrane appeared to score again 21 seconds later, but the goal was waved off on a slashing penalty by the Wranglers’ Bryce Marshall, the referee ruling Blackfalds had played the puck before the Generals could pop the rebound home.
Cochrane never really came close again.
It was their season in a microcosm, they managed to outscore their mistakes.
“We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard if we’re going to have the success we’ve been having,” said Neumeier. “There’s moments where it looks like they take it a little easy but we’ve got to try an control it the best we can.”
Scoring is not an issue at all for the Wranglers.
They are led by Carlson, 20, who has a league-high 61 points (27 goals, 34 assists) in 23 games, but their next four leading scorers are also in the HJHL’s top 10 — Garrett Glasman (21-29-50) is fourth, Wally Samson (22-21-43) is sixth, Trent Hermary (19-20-39) is ninth and defenceman Bryce Marshall (9-28-37) is 10th.
“Last year we had two lines that did the goal scoring, this year we’ve had more of a contribution from all four lines and our forecheck has been unbelievable, we just hem them in and get shot after shot,” said Carlson, the team’s captain.
They are nine deep on the blue-line, meaning they will have some decisions to make with the Jan. 10 trade deadline looms. But that could be a good thing, encouraging better play in their own end, not just by their defencemen but by the entire group.
The goaltending tandem of Isaman and Kyle Baumgardner has managed to cover up for a lot of mistakes this season.
Heading into Sunday’s game, Isaman (10-0-2) had the league’s bet goals against average (2.30) and it’s best save percentage (0.929), but Baumgardner has been no slouch, sitting No. 3 in the HJHL with a 2.60 G.A.A. and sixth in save percentage, 0.916.
“We have two really good goalies that bail us out nightly,” said Neumeier. “There are games like against Mountain View, where we easily could have been down 5-2 but end up winning 6-1, it was two full periods before we got our crap together and if we don’t have (goaltending) it’s a different story.”
Driving them this year was last season’s success and ultimately their short comings.
The won their division, but lost the best-of-five league final to the Okotoks Bisons 3-2. Blackfalds went on to win provincials, but then settled for bronze at the Keystone Cup, the Western Canadian Championship, in Abbotsford.
The goal this year is to win all three titles.
“We have the experience, we know what we’ve got to do,” said Carlson. “The big thing we’ve got to do now is work on our D-zone and work our way out, that’s how we played so well last year, we just shut them down and then took it to them in the other zone.
“(Bronze) is not acceptable this year … We feel like we should have been in that final game. We want to be there this year.”
l The Wranglers beat the Three Hills Thrashers 13-5 in Trochu on Saturday, getting two goals and three assists from Glasman and two goals and an assist from Samson and Andrew McLennan. Jakubow, Hermary, Marshall, Boguski, Carlson and Jesse Fischer each scored once for Blackfalds while Baumgardner made 38 saves for the win.
Michael Stoetzel led the Thrashers (14-11-1) with two goals while Cody Keith, Spencer Fournier and Luke Scheunert each scored once.