By Dale Cory
It certainly was not the result he was looking for.
However, head coach and general manager Randy Rook won’t be pushing the panic button just yet, despite watching his Ponoka Stampeders get beaten twice on home ice in the past week.
Rook knows Blackfalds didn’t get any points in the standings after the Wranglers whipped the Stamps 9-3 Sept. 15 at Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex. He also knows Stettler received no official marks for its 7-3 win over the Stampeders Sept. 18 on Ponoka ice.
The games, part of the Heritage Junior Hockey League exhibition schedule, meant nothing in the whole scheme of things.
But, he also understands that losing games the way the Stamps did in front of Ponoka fans can’t continue, especially with the start of the regular season little more than a week away.
“Exhibition games are for us to find out where the players fit in with this team. Things are coming together,” insists Rook, in his second year with the team. “We saw some good things over the last two games, but also saw some challenges that need to be overcome. Overall I believe this team will be ready for opening night and will be greatly improved over last year.”
Against Blackfalds, the Stampeders allowed the defending league champs the first five goals of the game, then stormed back to score three in a span of 2:19 to get back into the game. However Blackfalds returned the favour by scoring three in a 90-second span early in the third period to put the game out of reach.
Cody Hagg had another good game to lead the way with Dylan Lightning, Josh Lefley, and Kenton Siegle each notching a goal.
“I think overall, I saw what I expected to see. A much faster game and better test for the players. Some of the players who have not played at this level were taken off guard at the speed of the game. They need to adjust and elevate their game to the level needed to play in this league,” said Rook. “I’m not disappointed as I saw some good things happen.”
Devin Elst allowed five goals on 26 shots, and looked shaky on at least three of the pucks that got past him. Donovan Auger gave up four goals on 15 shots.
Three nights later, Elst was back in the Ponoka complex, but was wearing a Stettler jersey.
Goaltending has certainly been one of the main areas of concern for Rook.
“I believe our biggest challenge at this point is finding a goalie that will make the big save when needed. I think Bryan Zygmunt played an okay game Saturday, and is doing everything in his power to make a case to be here, but the jury is still out on him,” said Rook. “We will know this week whether Garret Montour will be back with us. We have another goalie coming in Wednesday. So as of right now, I’m not too concerned about the back door.”
Against Stettler, The visiting Lightning held a 5-1 lead until Ponoka gathered some steam and reeled off a pair in the middle frame to close the gap.
Kenton Siegle led the way, showing toughness and scoring ability with a pair of goals. Rookie Jared Kambeitz continued his strong play up front by pouncing on a rebound to put the puck past the Stettler goalie, and then setting up Siegle’s highlight goal as he floated a beautiful pass to the slot for the tap in.
Rook inserted players on the bubble to make this team against the Lightning, and must have seen what he wanted, because he dropped a few players from his roster Saturday.
“One could easily see that some of the younger players just need another year of midget before making the jump to junior,” said Rook.
Rook currently has seven defencemen, with one more possibly coming, 15 forwards, with the possibility of four more players joining the team, and three goalies.
The Stampeders visit Blackfalds Sept. 24 and Stettler Sept. 25 before opening the regular season at home against the Lightning Saturday, Oct. 2.