Junior B Stampeders take strides just as season ends

CHARLES TWEED

There’s only one team that will win their final game in the Heritage Junior B Hockey League and celebrate a championship.

Ponoka isn’t that team.

But don’t think for one minute the 2010-11 campaign wasn’t a successful one. The Stamps made the playoffs, finishing fourth in the North Division and faced a tough Blackfalds team that lost only five games all year.

Blackfalds swept the Stampeders in three straight, but the series wasn’t a gimmie.

“We battled hard. The biggest thing is we didn’t have the depth at scoring that they did. They’re the top team for a reason and for most of the series we gave them trouble. They gave our guys kudos and their management and coaches were impressed that our guys battled and made it a series,” said coach Randy Rook. “I’m proud of the way we played.”

The series was an important step in the Stampeders’ progression. The team missed the playoffs last year after finishing with a record of 6-29-0, this year the team more than doubled its point output and finished 11-22-3.

Another encouraging sign was the young players who played pivotal minutes for the team in the stretch drive and in the playoffs.

“It bodes well for the future. Anthony Pickering is one of our top affiliates and I think if we can get him under contract, good things will happen for him and the team. All four affiliates were the cream of the crop and that’s why they were in and everyone of them did an exceptional job,” said Rook.

There are question marks concerning the status of the Stamps’ two young break out players.

Jared Kambeitz put up big numbers this season. He led the team in scoring with 13 goals and 36 assists, good for 49 points and 15th spot in league scoring. It doesn’t look like he’ll be back with the team — barring a miracle — after being called up twice to play with the junior A Drumheller Dragons. At times Kambeitz looked not like the best player for the Stamps but the best player on the ice and will be missed if he decides to move on.

The other player is Tyler Poskus. Kambeitz and Poskus played together growing up at every level and he too is protected by the Drumheller Dragons.

If Kambeitz is a lock to move on, Poskus is less so. The Red Deer native put up seven goal and 12 assists, but does possess a polished two-way game.

With those question marks looming the biggest uncertainty lies in the coaching ranks. Rook has guided the Stampeders for two years now and is beginning to see some of the results paying off from his hard work. The team has made it clear, they’d like to see Rook back behind the bench at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex but the decision is going to take some time.

“I haven’t made a decision on whether I’m coming back or not yet. I have other options and I’ve got to make a decision. I have to take some time and evaluate where I want to be,” said Rook. “Part of me wants to come back and continue building on what I’ve started — I’ve got a son who is playing bantam and family is always priority. If I come back it will be full steam ahead and if not I’ll make sure the transition is easy for whoever it is to continue the work we’ve built.”

Concerns aside, the Stampeders took major steps forward this season. The process has taken time — and at times been painful — but the Stamps have regained respectability around the league and will look to build on their success from this season into next.