The month of January saw a shift for the Ponoka Stampeders and the hope is they can keep it going.
A five-game win streak — which included big victories over Blackfalds and Stettler — helped lift not only the attitude of the players, but the Heritage Junior B Hockey League club’s chances in the looming first round of the playoffs.
“We said from the start that it was going to be a process and there was going to be some hard work. More importantly, the guys had to learn how to win,” said coach Matt Williams.
“It was tough at the start, but the guys finally decided they were going to play as a team and it all started to click for them.”
“We don’t have the most skill in the league, but I can tell you we have a lot of heart and heart is going to beat skill a lot,” said Williams.
Much of the credit for the recent Stamps’ success comes at the hand of special teams, as well as managing to stay out of the penalty box, something that assistant coach Colton McCrea stated is going to continue being key moving forward.
“We’ve stayed out of the box pretty good lately, and even when we have taken a penalty, we’ve done a good job on killing penalties. We’ve also done better on our powerplay, so special teams are really helping us win games lately,” he said.
“Our goaltending has also helped us a lot, it’s easy now as we have two goalies playing excellent. We can go to either one and know they are going to give us a chance to win.”
With just three games left — tonight (Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.) at home to Mountainview, Feb. 9 in Stettler and home Feb. 10 (8:30 p.m.) versus Airdrie — the Stamps know this week is important to preparing for an opening round playoff match up against either Mountainview or Blackfalds.
“Playoffs are a different animal and we of course want as much momentum as possible going in. We have our plan put in place, but we are working hard and working to get better every time we show up at the rink,” Williams stated.
Also key to the resurgence has been the play of the Stamps three 21-year-olds — Nate Higgins, Jordan Sears and Austin Ancion — all of whom are focusing their efforts in pushing this team as far as possible in their final season of junior hockey.
“Just keep practising hard, making sure everyone shows up every night, working hard every shift and not dwelling on things if we have a bad game,” said Higgins, when asked how the club can keep the momentum.
Sears noted the players just have to keep working at things, knowing full well this team has to grind things out.
“It’s a total grind with us. A lot of guys have been putting themselves out there, going to the dirty areas and that has made a huge difference,” he stated.
Ancion added the improved goaltending and staying disciplined has also been big for the Stamps recently.
“It’s working harder, not taking those lazy penalties, moving our feet more and that comes from trusting the guys beside you to do their job. And as a D-man, I trust both goalies. I know they are always going to make that first stop, so then it’s our job to clear the rebounds.”