The Ponoka Stampeders are experiencing a measure of success not seen in years.
Five games into the season and the junior B squad have earned at least a point in every game, while also narrowly missing out on being undefeated so far.
Having posted a pair of wins over Lomond and one over upstart Rocky Mountain House all away from home, the Stamps were left wanting more in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Mountainview Colts Oct. 12 and then rebounded with a big 4-2 victory over the Red Deer Vipers Oct. 13 — both at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex.
The Stamps held leads of 2-1 and 4-3 against Mountainview, but gave up the tying goal in the final minutes. That same player then notched the game winner just 23 seconds into the extra session. Bailey Nesbitt scored twice, including one on the powerplay, for Ponoka with the other goals coming from Devon Anderson and Jon Griffiths.
It was a different story the next afternoon versus Red Deer, with Ponoka jumping out to a first period lead on Carson Bear’s first goal of the game, only to see the Vipers score two quick goals early in the second.
However, the Stamps kept to their game plan and continued to pour the pressure onto the Red Deer defence, resulting in a two goal response late in the second to retake the lead. Nesbitt would score his seventh of the season with about seven minutes left in the frame, followed by a powerplay goal from Bear with 44 seconds remaining in the period.
Ponoka would salt the game away midway through the third on a goal from Anderson, his seventh of the season, while goaltender Geoffrey Drought shut the door on any comeback stopping all nine Red Deer shots in the third and 39 saves overall.
“When I took the job, this is what I strived for — wanting a team that could play in all different situations,” said general manager and head coach Mike Nesbitt.
“It’s starting to really come together, but when you really look at the room, it is also gelling as a team. They really love each other and that shows in the way they battle for each other.”
While the overtime loss hurt, due mostly to the way it happened with one player scoring twice in the last few minutes of play, Nesbitt liked how his team responded the next day.
“Against Mountainview, we had the game under control. It was just a couple of giveaways and our penalty killing that let us down,” he said.
“But we also got beat by a very good hockey player in Josh Gette. For us to go 3-0 then lose in overtime is kind of a lesson. Going into the third versus Red Deer, I brought that up and the boys stayed focused on what they needed to do.
“You have to become a family before you become a team and everyone is now on the same page. It’s going to be a great season.”
Bucking trends — In bringing in 18 new faces to the squad, Nesbitt has a club that is vastly different from previous versions. However, this club has learned from the past and are doing what they need to in order to win. That means playing defence to the tune of having only given up 13 goals in five games, while the offence has put up 25 goals. The Stamps will renew a rivalry tonight (Oct. 16) as the Stettler Lightning come to Ponoka (puck drop, 7:30 p.m.) and then hit the road south for a weekend set in Coaldale and Medicine Hat, before coming home to host High River Oct. 26 (game time, 8:45 p.m.).