Wranglers build, get better

Blackfalds Wranglers head coach Brian Lenz was looking ahead when he recruited players for his 2008-09 Heritage Junior B Hockey League team.

Red Deer Viper Drew Todd releases the puck towards Blackfalds Wrangler goaltender Tanner Schalin during first period action of junior hockey action at the Arena on Monday. Schalin came up with the save to help the Wranglers go into the dressing room after the first period with a 3-0 lead.

Wranglers 5 Vipers 2

Blackfalds Wranglers head coach Brian Lenz was looking ahead when he recruited players for his 2008-09 Heritage Junior B Hockey League team.

His time and effort is already paying off in a big way.

While the Wranglers were a highly competitive club last winter, they’re now a front-runner with just one regulation-time loss this season.

“We kind of built for it last year. We had a lot of 18-year-olds kids and they all came back and have kind of gelled,” said Lenz, following his club’s 17th win of the current campaign, 5-2 over the Red Deer Vipers on Monday at the Arena.

“We also have some good young rookies this year, so yes, it’s kind of falling into place.”

The fresh faces on the Wranglers roster belong to defenceman Brett Lapointe and forwards Brad Watson, Jason Bell, Tyler Ellerby, Greg Gross and Jason Williams, and netminder Layne Swier.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old veterans Reed Watts and Riley Hansen, both defencemen, Ryan Stephens, Brandon Regush, Karson French and David Jantzie, who sits fourth in league scoring with 42 points (18g,24a), continue to flourish.

“We’ll be strong next year, too, I think,” said Lenz. “When your 18-year-old kids are as good as some 20- and 21-year-olds, you stay with them.”

The Wranglers lineup also features older top-end, take-charge talent.

Forwards Kurtis Ross, 21, and Kyle Maas, 20, are one-two in league scoring with 54 (22g,32a) and 48 (20-28) points, respectively, while defencemen Scott Maetche (6-19-25) and Jared Lenz (4-14-18), both 20, and 21-year-olds Scott Kallis (4-16-20) and Brant Leischner (3-8-11, 152 PIMs) provide toughness and leadership and have chipped in offensively.

“We didn’t have any 21-year-olds last season and now we have four,” said Lenz, in reference to Ross, Kallis, Leischner and forward Josh McIlravey.

“All of them are good leaders.”

The Blackfalds crew has plenty of depth, Lenz noted.

“We have 23 guys and it doesn’t matter who we sit out. They’ve all stepped up and played well,” said the coach.

Goaltending hasn’t been a problem this season.

Tanner Schalin, who stopped 30 shots on Monday, is a former Stettler Lightning netminder who last season suited up with the Kindersley Klippers of the SJHL, while Swier, from Rimbey, has posted some impressive numbers (2.22 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) after playing at the midget AAA level in Grande Prairie.

“I think it’s probably as good a team as we had when we won it all,” said Lenz, whose club, then based in Lacombe, captured the provincial title in 2007.

“But down the road injuries can play a big part in how your season goes. If we can avoid the major injuries I think we can go a long way.”

l Scoring for the Wranglers in Monday’s win were McIlravey, Jantzie, Maas, Kallis and Hansen. Drew Todd and Braden Corbett replied for the Vipers, who never recovered from a 3-0 first-period deficit.

Jason Pohl made 26 saves for Red Deer.

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com

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