WENATCHEE WILD – YEAR IN REVIEW
For the Wenatchee Wild, the 2021-22 season was unlike any other. Following a season in which the Wild were unable to compete due to border closure and other statewide restrictions, GM Bliss Littler and the coaching staff of Chris Clark, Tom Rudrud, and Leigh Mendelson were forced to build a team from essentially from scratch. Two Wild veterans returned and the remainder was composed of what became the youngest team in the league.
“With such a young group coming in, we expected some growing pains early”, explained Bliss Littler. “We also anticipated a much-improved team by the end of the season, and that’s exactly what happened.” The Wild raised a lot of eyebrows by taking the #2 seed Salmon Arm Silverbacks to Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wild opened the season with 8 games on the road, including two at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack. The first two games were both overtime losses at Penticton and Trail. Wenatchee sported a record of 0-3-3 when they posted their first win and a weekend sweep at Vernon before returning for the home opening series. A pair of one-goal losses at home to West Kelowna left the Wild with a record of 2-4-4 and headed back out on the road. A bright spot for the Wild was the first career hat trick for Cade Littler on Nov. 12 in a 4-3 home opening weekend loss.
A three-game Coastal Conference swing opened with two losses on Vancouver Island but finished strong with a 5-1 win at Langley. The Wild went 0-4-1 over the next five and sat at 3-10-5 before launching into a season-high win streak of 6 games that crossed over the Christmas break. During that span, Wild defenseman Brasen Boser and forward Cade Littler each earned the BCHL #1 Star of the Week. On New Years Day, the Wild were 9-11-5. Cade Littler had added his second hat trick of the season in a 6-2 win over Merritt on Dec. 17.
The BCHL had scheduled an All-Star event in January to played outdoors in Penticton but the event was tabled in light of covid restrictions and an abundance of caution. Cade Littler had been selected to play in the Top Prospects Game as well as in the All-Star Game but never got the chance due to the cancellation.
It would be three weeks before Wenatchee played another game due to flooding in BC and covid protocols around the league. During that time, the NHL Central Scouting Midterms were released with two Wild players listed, forwards Parker Murray and Cade Littler. When play resumed, January started well with a home sweep of Cranbrook, but was followed by four losses.
The Wild played .500 hockey over the last two months of the regular season, going 11-11-1, highlighted by a huge 3-game home sweep of Trail that helped Wenatchee secure the #7 seed and avoid falling to #8. By finishing at #7, the bracket set the Wild to face the #2 seed Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the best-of-seven Interior Division Quarterfinal round.
The series opened at Shaw Centre in Salmon Arm and went according to the conventional script with the higher seeded home team securing back-to-back victories for a 2-0 series lead. But when the series shifted back to Wenatchee, the Wild asserted themselves on home ice, squeezing out a 3-2 overtime win in Game 3 and dominating in a 5-1 win in Game 4. The series returned to Salmon Arm with a new complexion. The Silverbacks turned the tables, posting a 5-1 win to take a 3-2 series lead. Back in Wenatchee for Game 6, the Wild turned in a solid 60-minute game to net a 5-1 win of their own, forcing a decisive Game 7 back in Salmon Arm. A three-goals in three minutes outburst late in the first period spotted Salmon Arm to a 3-0 lead, and grew it to 5-0 in the second. But the resilient Wild refused to pack it in. A three-goal rally moved Wenatchee tantalizingly close, but Salmon Arm escaped with a 4-3 series win. Wild captain Quinn Emerson was named BCHL #1 Star of the Week on April 11 for his 6 goals and 2 assists in a four-game span.
Wild Head Coach Chris Clark reflected on the season. “Heading into the season we knew that it would take our group some time due to the inexperience in our room. I am very proud of our players and staff for coming to the rink everyday ready to get better. By the end of the year we had seen great improvement in our team as a whole and individually. I don’t think there is any question we played our best hockey the last month of the year.”
The Wild were led in scoring by Ean Somoza who posted 15 goals and 38 assists in the regular season, and was tied for the team high with 9 playoff points. The Wild year end awards, voted on by the players, noted his accomplishment by voting him Top Forward, and Co-MVP, along with goalie Tyler Shea. The Wild’s Top Defenseman Award went to Mario Gasparini, a two-way player who led the blueliners with 25 points. Most Improved went to forward Anthony Cafarelli, and Rookie of the Year to Cade Littler. Owen Bohn was named Fan Favorite in a public online poll.
Cade Littler capped off his rookie season with 20 goals in the regular season and 25 assists, earning him a spot on the BCHL Year End All-Rookie Team. He added 4 goals and 5 assists in the seven-game postseason. Littler was also listed on the final NHL Central Scouting Rankings at #187 overall.
The Wild anticipate a solid core of players returning for the 2022-23 campaign. Two prospect camps have already been held and the year long process of building the team is underway. Best of all, Wenatchee Wild hockey is back in full swing with no restrictions in place as far as attendance in the coming season. Something we can ALL cheer about!
Season tickets for the 2022-23 season are available now at the Wild office in Town Toyota Center. Ask about group discounts! Call 888-7825 or visit WenatcheeWildHockey.com.