Chances for a playoff spot look even dimmer for the Ponoka Stampeders after a technicality rule in the league favours Stettler for two points.
A few weeks ago, the Medicine Hat Cubs folded for the year, seeking a leave of absence from the Heritage Junior Hockey League. Rules in the league appear to favour the team scheduled to play a team that goes under by awarding them a win.
In the standings, Ponoka is sixth out of seven and the top six make it to playoffs. However, Stettler Lightning is one point behind Ponoka and was scheduled to play the Cubs. Since that game will not happen, Stettler, being awarded two points without playing, will move ahead by one point, putting Ponoka out of the running, says coach Tyler Fiveland.
“It’s insane. I’m not sure how they (organizers) can justify it,” said Fiveland.
As it stands with wins and losses, Ponoka would be ahead of Stettler. Fiveland added that no one could know that the Cubs would be done before the season ended, but he questions the reasoning behind giving the points to a team who won’t play the Cubs. Despite these challenges, Fiveland said getting a playoff spot is possible.
“At the end of the day the season is in our hands in these last four games,” said Fiveland.
For the Cubs, Fiveland’s hope is the team will be able to re-establish itself for next season. The team applied for a leave of absence rather than close up shop altogether. “It’s too bad for them because they’ve had a really good tradition in their hockey club.”
He is hopeful management will be able to turn things around.
As for hockey action, the Stampeders gave the Red Deer Vipers a run for their money Wednesday, Jan. 20 during a home game that went up to the last seconds.
Things didn’t look good for Ponoka being down 3-0 halfway through the second period. It wasn’t until Mik Doell scored at the 10 minute mark that the team seemed rejuvenated. Just under four minutes later, and with some heavy offensive pressure, the Stampeders scored again, this time with Nate Higgins.
The Vipers weren’t about to give up easily and they scored some 30 seconds later bringing the score to 4-2. It could have stayed a two point game, but in the third period the Stampeders somehow managed to find gaps in the Vipers’ defence.
Taking advantage of a power play, Connor Hoffman dropped a puck into the net after just over three minutes. Ponoka’s defence managed to hold off the Vipers’ quick one-two pass close to the net, which boosted the Stampeders’ confidence.
Another power play proved beneficial for Ponoka who took advantage of their extra player over the Vipers. Tristan Elliot earned a goal tying the game 4-4. It seemed like nothing could stop Ponoka until penalty trouble started to tire out the team.
Players were able to wind down the clock to end the power play but the Vipers took advantage of a tired home team and scored with just over six minutes left. Despite a few penalties against Red Deer, Ponoka couldn’t capitalize and score. The game came down to the last few seconds with Ponoka pulling their goalie out but they couldn’t score leaving the game with a 5-4 win for the Vipers.
Fiveland said if the team played with the same intensity throughout, they might have won the game.
The Stampeders’ next game was Jan. 24 against Airdrie Thunder. Playing against the second-ranked team in the division proved too much and Ponoka lost 7-3. All of Ponoka’s goals were scored in the second period with Nate Higgins taking two and Jesse Fischer scoring the third.
The Stampeders’ next home game is Saturday, Jan. 30 with the last three games of the regular season played away. Fiveland suggests if they can get at least one win, they could still make it to playoffs.