By Dale Cory
It’s still that time of the year when wins and losses don’t count in the standings.
While Ponoka Stampeders head coach Randy Rook likely didn’t lose a heck of a lot of sleep after watching his team drop a pair of exhibition games to Stettler last weekend, he also knows his team needs to improve in a few areas in anticipation of the start of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) season, less than two weeks away at this point.
The Stampeders, after a rookie camp Aug. 27 and 28, followed by a 10-day break, were back at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex for just one practice before matching up with rival Stettler in a home-and-home series.
Rook watched the games with the goal of getting an early indication as to which of his players are junior B hockey ready, and which may need more seasoning at another level.
“I saw what I wanted to see, and found out who could play at this level,” said Rook after the weekend exhibition games. “There were nine players on the bubble, and quite a few first year players, 1995- and 1994-born guys still midget eligible. We put them in the games to see what they could do.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand that junior B is not a bush league anymore. It’s a stepping stone to junior A — a fast-paced, man’s game. Some kids found out the speed is faster than what they thought it would be.”
In Stettler Sept. 9, the Stampeders were outshot 39-16 and outscored 6-3 by the hometown Lightning, and took more than their share of penalties to make winning that much easier for Stettler.
Ryan Blades, Josh Elliot, and Zach Bouw scored for the Stamps.
Starting goalie Brody Thomas faced 20 shots, making 17 saves, while Ryan Law stopped 16 of the 19 shots he faces.
Ponoka returned home to host the Lightning Sept. 10. Rook threw a different lineup on the ice against Stettler, and the new players responded with a much better effort. The Stampeders showed a lot of fire and took an early lead, but ran out of steam late, succumbing 7-5 to the visitors in front of a crowd estimated to be in the 300 range.
“I think we played a good game but unfortunately a couple of bad goals kind of deflated the boys,” said Rook. “I thought Ryan Law played well in net and held us in till we got our legs going. The players are still getting familiar with each other and once the line combinations are sorted out, we will be fine. We play exhibitions to get ready for the season.”
Training camp standout Eric Paterson of Winfield and Ponoka product Cole Pritchard each scored twice, with Paterson adding an assist, while Bryce Boguski enjoyed a three-point game with a goal and two assists.
“Patterson is back for good. We carded him,” confirmed Rook on Monday concerning the 16-year-old who had four goals and seven points in the Aug. 28 Bucket Cup game before heading for a midget AAA tryout in Leduc. “I expect 70 to 75 points from Eric this year. That’s how good he is. He undressed a couple of players Saturday. One was a TSN highlight goal. It’s nice to see someone who can fill the net.”
Rook was also impressed with the play of Boguski, along with a pair of cousins leading a strong contingent of Ponoka players.
“Boguski is from Sylvan Lake midget AAA. We’re going to enjoy having him in the lineup. He will be a big addition to our team,” added Rook. “Two ’95-born players — Cole and Jordan Pritchard — will be on our team. Cole played select in Camrose and Jordan in Leduc. They’re Ponoka born and raised players. This is going to be the best place for them to develop. Cole is slight, but has speed to burn and good vision.”
In fact, Rook expects at least four and possibly up to six Ponoka products in the Stampeders’ lineup this season.
Seven players were cut by the Stampeders after weekend games. Rook is now carrying 19 players, with another three arriving in Ponoka in time for the Sept. 14 workout.
Goaltender Logan Cardinal, recently cut by Coaldale, which had two returning goalies in camp, Aaron Swier of Lacombe, recently released from midget AAA, and Kevin Anderson of Prince George, who impressed Rook sufficiently during his one day of rookie camp, will all be in uniform this evening.
That will give Rook 22 players. His intention is to cut the roster down to 21 players by Sept. 28, leaving some spots open for junior A players who may get cut prior to that date.
The Stamps will practice tonight and again Sunday before finishing the preseason with a home-and-home series with the Wranglers, Tuesday in Blackfalds and Wednesday in Ponoka.