BLACKFALDS — The Blackfalds Wranglers rolled to the Heritage Junior B Hockey League final without hardly breaking a sweat, but they have a worthy opponent now.
Unfortunately for the Wranglers, with as easy a path as they’ve had, suddenly flipping the switch is a little easier said than done.
The Coaldale Copperheads thrashed the Wranglers 4-0 in Game 1 of the best-of-five final at the Blackfalds Multiplex on Friday.
“We didn’t look good at all, it’s tough to really evaluate that,” said Blackfalds coach Sean Neumeier. “We need more from our top two lines, they were average and that can’t happen. We gout outplayed, we got outeverything tonight.”
The Wranglers knew they were getting a skilled opponent that competed hard, after all the Copperheads won both games the two teams played this season. But even Coaldale’s coaches did not quite expect to hand the reigning provincial champions their first shutout loss since March 3, 2013 when they lost 5-0 to the Red Deer Vipers in the North final.
“We’re on a bit of a hot streak now and we just want to keep it going,” said Coaldale head coach Derek Wiest. “We got some lucky bounces in the third period, but other than that it was a tight checking game all game. To come out with a 4-0 lead I don’t think (shows) how close the game was.”
Holden Lamb, James Price, Colby Murray and Craig Lyon scored for the Copperheads while Dillan Kelly stopped all 28 shots he faced for the clean sheet. Thomas Isaman stopped 26 shots in the loss.
The game was actually pretty close through 40 minutes with the Copperheads carrying a one-goal lead through two periods, but the wheels came off for the Wranglers early in the final frame.
First Price scored off a rush at 4:57, then 43 seconds later Martin came late on the cycle and buried a one-timer from the top of the slot.
The Copperheads iced it with 3:23 remaining in the game as Lyon chipped home hard centering pass.
Both teams were coming off of sweeps in the division finals over chippy opponents — Blackfalds knocked off the Mountainview Colts 4-0 and Coaldale did the same to the Okotoks Bisons — but this series already has a much different feel to it.
The Wranglers (34-2-2) were by far the best team in the North while the Copperheads (31-6-1) convincingly won the South. The Copperheads won their first meeting 6-5 in overtime in on Oct. 19 in Blackfalds and then won 5-3 on Feb. 7 in Coaldale. For the Wranglers, it is a rare opportunity to play a team that is quite similar to themselves, and they were not prepared for it.
“Everybody had a good first shift and then they scored and it seemed like we couldn’t generate anything,” said Neumeier.
Both teams have already qualified for the provincial championships just by getting to the league final — the HJHL gets a wild card berth — and Neumeier believes that may be a mental barrier his team needs to get over.
“I think that’s half the battle, we win that series against Mountainview and everybody’s happy,” he said. “Last year we lost to Okotoks in the final too then we went on to win provincials. It’s one of those things where mentally they don’t get up enough because they think they’re already there. It’s tough to handle that.”
Game 2 goes Sunday in Coaldale at 6 p.m. with Game 3 back in Blackfalds next Friday at 7:30 p.m.