CHARLES TWEED/Black Press
When the Blackfalds Wranglers won the Keystone Cup as the best junior B hockey team in Western Canada, there was plenty of local flavor wearing red and black.
Three Wrangler players hail from Bentley — Jared Lenz, Chance Abbott, and Wyatt Fraser — while another, Layne Swier from Rimbey suited up in between the pipes.
Coach Brian Lenz is a Bentley native and he was impressed with how the guys came together during the season leading up to the western title win in Sherwood Park.
“These boys, this year, were very close and very dedicated. I think they did everything together,” said Letz.
“After our game at Westerns there was a couple of them sitting on the bench with tears in their eyes because they said, ‘This will be the last time we all get to play together and we had so much fun this year, it’s hard to believe it can’t go on.’ So that tells you right there how close these guys were.”
Jared Lenz, 21, played his final game of junior hockey and went out in style, hoisting the Keystone Cup as the captain of the Wranglers. The team won the final 2-1 over Sherwood Park and Lenz battled adversity all tournament long.
“He played well at Westerns. He had four cracked ribs going up there from provincials so we were a little concerned about that and then he pinched a nerve in his back playing so we sat him for a game and a half. He came back and played Saturday night (in the semifinals) and in Sunday’s final. He was a 21-year-old and you expect those guys to play well and he did,” said Lenz.
Fraser, who turned 20 in April, began his junior B career with the Rimbey Rock last year before making the transition to Blackfalds halfway through the 2009-10 season. This year with the Wranglers, Fraser found chemistry with the league’s second leading scorer, Kyle Mass, en route to finishing 16th in league scoring in the Heritage Junior B League.
“He was on our first line and he was injured going up there (Sherwood Park) but played through it. He had a bad elbow and missed most of the provincial tournament but came back to play well at Westerns,” said Lenz.
The coach attributed much of the team’s success this year to the evolution of the rookies on the team.
The first-year players were used in all situations and often found themselves playing large roles on the team. One of those rookies was Chance Abbott from Bentley who centred the team’s second line and second power play unit.
“He improved immensely. He started as a rookie and you expect him to start a little slow but he was one of our better players all through the playoffs.”
Swier was the younger of the team’s goaltending tandem but still came up with a couple of crucial wins during the Keystone Cup run and will be looked upon to shoulder more of the load next year.
“He played in two of the games at Westerns and played unbelievable against Saskatchewan (Pilot Butte Storm), probably one of the reasons we beat Saskatchewan because they won the bronze in the end and he came up with some big saves at the right time and we managed to pull away from them,” said Lenz.
Three of the four local products could suit up for the Wranglers next year, which should translate into another strong team in Blackfalds but Lenz said the team shouldn’t rest on its laurels.
“You never know with these kids from year to year with work and other things, whether or not they’ll be back, but I hope all three are back and I haven’t heard any different,” said Lenz. “They are the ones who will have to lead us next year, they will be the older boys and if they don’t lead you, you aren’t going to win.”
Coach Lenz has been involved with the organization since they started in Lacombe 24 years ago. This will be the team’s 25th year in existence and Lenz said it’s the satisfaction of working with young men that keeps him coming back.
“I’ve been there since the start and it is something that I enjoy. It’s my hobby you might say, I enjoy working with boys that age,” said Lenz. “The sad part about junior hockey is that you lose a half a dozen or more that have to move on, so it’s the tough part of junior is that you lose these kids that you’ve become attached to.”
Lenz said he’ll be back behind the bench next year for the Wranglers and with a solid core of small town hockey players from Rimbey and Bentley — and the possibility of more to come, especially with such a strong Renegade midget program in Rimbey — expect the Wranglers to be back on top of the Heritage.