The Ponoka Stampeders remain on the outside looking in at the Heritage Junior B Hockey League (HJHL) playoffs, but there is still a chance despite a controversial ruling.
On Feb. 9, the Stamps season came to an end following a 4-3 loss at home to the Rocky Rams, despite the fact league officials acknowledged the Rams used a player that should not have been on the ice.
Stampeders head coach and general manager Mike Nesbitt explained one of Rocky’s defencemen had received his third fighting major and game misconduct this season in the Rams previous game Feb. 7 versus Red Deer. As per the HJHL’s rules, that meant an automatic one game suspension.
However, that player was in the line up and on the ice against Ponoka and Nesbitt protested the result to league officials immediately after the game. The league told Nesbitt of its decision the next day.
“We were told that Rocky’s head coach and the ineligible player would each be suspended as a result. But that the league would only be taking away their points from the game and not giving them to us,” Nesbitt said in an interview Feb. 10.
“I couldn’t believe it, I was beside myself. It’s simply not fair, not right.”
Nesbitt added the league told him that, despite Hockey Canada rules that state the game should become a regulation victory for the non-offending team, it is up to the league to determine any discipline for these kinds of infractions.
Nesbitt appealed the decision to Hockey Alberta, who stated there was nothing that could be done on their end.
However, Hockey Canada told him Feb. 11 it is looking into it, even as the playoffs were due to start that day.
Ponoka News has reached out to both the HJHL and Hockey Alberta for comment, but neither had replied by press time.
“I’m very proud of how our team played all season and how we all fought right to the bitter end,” Nesbitt said.
“We have few overage players that are looking forward to coming back next season and I see a bright future for this team. I’m looking forward to the spring and fall camps, but I have to say this has left a bit of a bitter taste.”
Heading in to the game, the Stamps knew they needed a win in regulation in order to take the playoff spot from the Rams.
Ponoka got out to a 3-1 first period lead on goals by Tyrone Potts, Kodan Smallboy and Kieran Bulloch. Rocky would get one back in the second, then tie the game with about four minutes remaining in the third.
Ponoka would pull their goalie with about a minute left, only to see the Rams put one into the empty net.
In hindsight, if Nesbitt had known the direction the league’s ruling would be, he would have played to take the game to overtime to at least have a shot at getting the win and the two points.
“We held the tie-breaker, and with those points we would have made the playoffs,” he said.