The Heritage Junior Hockey League kicked off its regular season Oct. 1. The Ponoka Stampeders hit the ice for the first time October 2, when they host the Stettler Lightning. The Stamps are unveiling new uniforms this year, and have high expectations of passing last year’s victory total of six, which left them dead last in the league. The Ponoka News put second year head coach Randy Rook on the hot seat, and asked him to assess his team, and the HJHL, heading into the upcoming season.
How do the Stampeders look heading into their first game of the season?
“Many people will look at a team right from the onset of the season and make a judgment about them, good or bad. December is the time when I get the real feel of where this team will be. Once the players have the system we are teaching down pat, I look for very positive things to happen to this group of players. We have some skill, attitude, and desire and I see some very positive signs — but also some challenges we have to overcome. I always say, challenges can be overcome, but problems are a cancer and have to be eliminated. Every player now knows or will know their role and buy into that. Exciting, fast paced, aggressive hockey is what will be the identity of the Stamps this year. I truly hope the hockey fans of Ponoka will come out and support the team this year, as I guarantee we will provide them with some exciting hockey. We may not win every game, but at the end of the night, you will be able to go home and say, that was a very good and exciting game.”
The Stampeders gave up 7.54 goals per game, more than any other team in the HJHL in 2009-2010. Can you cut down your goals against this season?
“Our goaltending challenge should now be overcome as Garret Montour is back from junior A camp. We are glad to have Garret back in the mix and look forward to him winning us some games. As well, former Midget AA Red Deer Canyon, and SCAHL all-star goalie Cale McBeath is now here after taking a year off to heal a groin injury. Getting both of these goalies will be a bonus to the club as both will push each other to be the best they can be. When you have two quality goalies that you can turn to, that just breeds confidence in your players and they play a more relaxed game. I will carry a third goalie, Bryan Zygmunt, who will be mainly a practice goalie who will fill in when needed should an injury or absence arise. Bryan won’t be called on for a lot of action, but his positive attitude will definitely help the team.
Randy, you have voiced your confidence in the goaltending situation. How much will that help your defencemen?
“Our defence corps, I believe will be second to none one-through-six. We should be very solid on the backend with returning veterans Kenton Siegle, Wayne-Joe Swampy, and Bob Goodship, who will provide great leadership to our team and the young guns. Rookie Tyler Poskus will be moved up to wing to provide some speed up front and with his vision and shot, should provide a lethal punch up there. That leaves big 6-4, 230-pound Bryce Hunker, who will present a physical presence. He still has to adjust to the speed of the game, but should be a nice addition on the backend. We have also acquired a very solid player in Caycee Littlechild who played in the NEAJHL for the Saddle Lake Warriors. He should also provide a veteran presence on the blue line. A newcomer to the scene is Hobbema native Bruce Baptiste, who is 6-2 and over 200 pounds, has some good hands and a booming shot, and should help out on the power play.”
The Stampeders averaged just over three goals a game in 2009-2010, less than half of the total goals scored by Blackfalds, the defending league champs. Randy, have you recruited sufficient firepower to put the puck in the net, and keep your team in the game?
“A young 1993 born player, Jared Kambeitz, has been the forward who came to camp and turned heads of the coaching staff, since coming back from the AJHL Lloydminster Bobcats camp. He shows great vision and possesses a very accurate shot. Look for him to put some points up this year. In three exhibition games, he had two goals and added three assists. A year wiser and more mature, returning players Gage Rosie, Scott Bowkett, and Cody Hagg will be heavily relied on to provide scoring punch and leadership to the front end. Having three solid lines that can put the puck in the net and a fourth role line, look for this forward group to put up far better numbers than last year. With Poskus moving up front, and Rosie leading him and Kambeitz, this should be a very productive and exciting line to watch. A few late additions in Bentley’s Mason Milgate, and Red Deer native Dana Daoust will only help solidify an already strong lineup.
The Stampeders play in the North Division, the strongest division in the HJHL considering division-mates include Blackfalds and Red Deer. How do you think the Stamps will match up against the Wranglers and Vipers, and the HJHL’s other teams?
“I look for four to five teams to possibly be very strong and contenders for the title this year, with the rest of the teams fighting to stay in the middle of the pack. Red Deer, with a veteran presence, looks to be the class at first glance, with league champion Blackfalds, Okotoks, Airdrie, and Three Hills close behind. Where we will fit in is yet to be seen but I believe if we play up to our potential, we should challenge all teams on any given night and be in mix.
The league itself is strong, attracting some very good talent. This is due in part to good recruiting and seeing some of the teams have great success in the provincials. No one wants to be on a losing team and for the majority of teams in the HJHL there will be parity. Sure there may be the odd blowout, but that happens in the professional leagues as well. That doesn’t mean the team is bad, it could have been that the players had an off night or the teams may have been missing some key players. There are many factors involved. Right now there are 15 teams in this league and every team is trying its hardest to ice a competitive team. Any players of junior age who are looking for a place to play should contact the league or a team close by, and join the excitement that we and other teams share right now.”
The Ponoka News thanks head coach and general manager Randy Rook for his candid assessment of the Stampeders and the HJHL.
The Stamps open the season, and unveil their new uniforms, Saturday, Oct. 2 at 8 p.m. at Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex against the Stettler Lightning.
Let the fun begin.