There is renewed hope and optimism in the Ponoka Stampeders camp with the new season upon them.
That positivity comes courtesy of the Junior B clubs new coach and general manager, Mike Nesbitt, who is the team’s third bench boss in the last five seasons.
“Things are looking good with the boys we have right now,” said Nesbitt, who is making his first foray into junior hockey in his 17 years of coaching.
“We do have some work to do in getting some more local players and hopefully winning over some of the players from Lacombe and Blackfalds with the Wranglers moving to Sylvan Lake.”
Nesbitt, a native of southern Ontario, has been in Alberta for about seven years and coached in the Sylvan Lake Minor Hockey system. However, his most recent stints were back in Ontario, where he was an assistant with the Oshawa Midget AAA Generals.
“I did know quite a lot about the Stampeders and the league when I jumped on board,” he said.
“It’s nice to already have some veteran, local players signed. I’m hoping to find at least six more local players, then with the number of billet families we have I can look at bringing in a few players.”
His hope is that some of the players that may have entertained going to Blackfalds will see Ponoka now as an option, but admitted its been somewhat tough attracting some players.
“My focus is on having some good local and area talent then using some contacts to have a few players come in from B.C. and Ontario,” Nesbitt stated.
“Our plan here is to be competitive from the outset and hopefully that will bring the fans out as well, since their support can make a difference to the team’s performance.
“I have already been in touch with several Junior A clubs about possible affiliation and maybe getting some players that way. I want to help turn things around here and believe it can happen.”
Nesbitt is also in search of a few good people to round out the coaching staff and other positions.
At the moment, he is looking for two assistant coaches and a local person that’s willing to take on the equipment manager post. He was hoping to start interviewing candidates prior to the start of the Stampeders main training camp, which gets runs Sept. 3 and 4 at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex and ending with the annual Red and White game on Sept. 6.
Nesbitt has already secured a trainer for the club, managing to steal away Sierra Thompson with the Wranglers on the move west.
The Stampeders are hosting a four-day conditioning and evaluation camps in Lacombe to help prepare for the season, both the players and coaching staff.
The camp will run Aug. 26 to 29, at a cost of $100 per player. More information and registration is available by heading to www.ponokastampeders.ca.