Two young hockey players from Terrace won the Junior B title for western Canada with the 100 Mile House Wranglers this spring and said that drive and team work were what earned the team the championship.
Kyle Lindstrom and Austin Turner conquered the season with the Wranglers, winning the KIJHL (Kootenay International Junior Hockey League) in March, and then earning the provincial Cyclone Taylor Cup in Victoria in April.
They went on to earn the title as champions of western Canada by winning the Keystone Cup in Regina, which includes the top-12 league teams from northwestern Ontario, and all the provinces west of there.
They faced the Saskatoon Quakers in the final game, and were down 0-2 by the end of the first period.
“We came into the dressing room and everybody was hanging their heads,” Austin recalled.
“Then our coach came in and said ‘I don’t know why you guys are hanging your heads. We’ve played like this all year. We go down in games, and then I don’t know what gets you guys going, but you turn it around and win. That’s how we do it.’”
Austin said their playoff saying was “if it’s not the hard way, it’s not the Wrangler way,” and the coach’s speech boosted the team as they went into the second period. Wrangler Ryan Friesen scored a minute later to make it 2-1, and then Cole Zimmerman scored later in the period to tie things up 2-2.
Nobody scored in the tight third period, and Zimmerman clinched an early-overtime goal to earn the Wrangler victory.
This was Turner’s second season with the Wranglers and Lindstrom’s first. Both guys were born in Terrace and played in Terrace minor hockey from age five.
In 2014, they played a strong midget season which shot them to provincials where they were scouted by the Wranglers head coach Dale Hladun. Turner played with the Wranglers the following season, 2014-2015, and Lindstrom joined the team last August, missing several months due to an injury.
This season, Turner did not initially join the Wranglers, but was convinced to return in January by team mates Stephen Egan from Smithers and Travis Roch from Quesnel.
Coach Hladun said he was happy to have both Terrace guys join the team.
He said the strength Lindstrom brings to the team are his size and force.
“What we like about Kyle is he likes to finish his hits… he is a big boy and he forechecks hard,” Hladun said, adding that it’s one of the aspects Wranglers are known for.
“We work very hard and we always finish hits and we are tough to play against, and Kyle is one of the reasons we are tough to play.”
As for Turner, Hladun said he brings sharp hockey smarts, creative play and strong abilities in both forward and defence.
“He has a sense to him, so he can get pucks through to the net for a shot, or he knows how to just miss the net and have a guy tip at it… He knows how to evade, or how to just tap a guys stick to get the puck loose,” Hladun said.
He added that Turner can fake well, dish pucks with accuracy and was a valuable player on the penalty kill and in power play. But he also brings strong character, a sense of humour and strong leadership, Hladun said.
The Wrangler season this year started slow, but shifted significantly following a team meeting in January.
“From January on, we lost one regulation game,” he said. “The guys were just zeroed in, they were hungry, they could see there was not much left until the finish line and they wanted it.”
He said another shift that propelled them towards victory, was how each player started buying into their roles.
“Not everybody can score, not everybody can hit, not everybody can make a big save. We’ve just got to make sure, that if that’s your role do it,” Hladun said.
It was the team dynamics and strengths of each player that Turner believed made the difference in their championship season.
“I like the way someone put it at the Keystone,” Turner said. “We weren’t a team that had one line… We had four lines of guys that could do it all – score, hit, grind it out in the corners. If they shut down our top line from scoring, our second line could come right back and score.”
Lindstrom said the team dynamics also stood out to him, with lots of team bonding and working together.
“We were really close, all of us. With other teams I have been on, there has been certain groups that hang out, but we just all hung out as a group.”
But Lindstrom said it was the hard work was the biggest thing.
“Work ethic is huge,” he said. “We weren’t the most skilled team by far, but we had that work ethic and that drive that we needed to get there.”
Coach Hladun said the same, saying the individual effort was what ultimately made the difference.
“It comes down to discipline… discipline of working hard in practice, discipline of being a good team mate,” he said.
Lindstrom said that of all the lessons he learned from the season, that was the biggest.
“I gained a lot of perspective on what it takes,” he said.
“I think that was one of the big things that I took out of it… you have to have that drive to get anywhere in life,” he said.