Junior hockey will be played in 100 Mile House this season.
The 100 Mile House Wranglers are the newest team in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League and will try for their first-ever win in early September when they visit Kamloops for an exhibition game against the Kamloops Storm. The KIJHL is a junior B loop that features 20 clubs and the Wranglers are now the northernmost member on the league's map.
They are also in the southern recruiting footprint of the Prince George-based Cariboo Cougars, one of the most successful teams in the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League. So, in the months and years to come, the Wranglers could be trying to lasso some of the guys the Cougars covet for themselves.
In past seasons, the Cats have featured several players from 100 Mile House, Williams Lake and Quesnel, locations that have now become potential hotbeds of talent for the Wranglers. Cougars players from those towns have included Brock Palasty and Brett Harris (100 Mile House); Tyson Hall and Tyler Povelofskie (Williams Lake); and Tim Traber, Alex Roach, Levon Johnson, Eli Jarvis, Ryan Gagnon and Colby Braaten (Quesnel).
The question is, does the Cariboo club have reason for concern that a junior B team has moved into its territory?
The answer -- probably not, but the Cougars' braintrust will have to be aware that there's a new option for players within the team's B.C. Hockey boundaries.
The reason the Wranglers likely won't be a big threat to the recruiting goals of the Cougars is that they'll be looking to be as competitive as possible, as soon as possible, in the KIJHL. With that in mind, they'll likely try to stock their lineup with older players -- guys who have already celebrated their 18th, 19th and 20th birthdays. As for the Cougars and other teams in the Major Midget League, they seek out the best 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds in their regions.
Every so often, the Wranglers and Cougars may both go after the same 17-year-old from Williams Lake or Quesnel and if that happens, the player will be the one who makes the final decision. In those situations, if the Cats have done all they can do to educate the player about the quality of their program and the benefits of playing at the major midget level, they'll have a better-than-even chance of getting their man.
Of course, the situation would be different with a 17-year-old who lives in 100 Mile House. If a player like that is given the opportunity to skate for the Wranglers, he couldn't be faulted for sticking around and playing for his hometown team. No matter how well the Cougars promote themselves in that circumstance, they would probably lose out.
Ultimately, there's every reason to believe the Cougars -- who have a combined record of 184-74-22 in the past seven seasons -- will remain strong.
And, for the town of 100 Mile House, the addition of the Wranglers is great news. 100 Mile had been trying to land a junior hockey franchise for five years and was the successful bidder when the Okanagan Hockey Academy put the KIJHL's Penticton Lakers up for sale last November. The league approved the relocation of the Lakers to 100 Mile House in December and the newly-christened Wranglers are now less than a month away from opening training camp.
The team will play its home games at the South Cariboo Recreation Centre, a 10-year-old arena that holds 700 fans. The buzz around the community is growing as the Wranglers' inaugural season draws closer and the hope of the ownership group is that the rink will be sold out for each and every home date.
Here in Prince George, the Cougars will hold their evaluation camp Aug. 9-11 at the Coliseum. With new head coach Bryan MacLean and new general manager Trevor Sprague overseeing the proceedings, the organization will take the latest steps toward its goal of winning league and playoff titles and eventually skating in the Telus Cup national championship.
Regardless of any new challenges the Cougars have to wrangle into submission, that objective won't change.