By Dale Cory
As each game passes, it’s becoming quite apparent that this edition of the Ponoka Stampeders junior B hockey team is vastly improved from the team that has struggled through season after season in the Heritage Junior Hockey League.
The Stamps won just six of 34 games last season to finish dead last in the 15-team circuit. Ponoka had just three wins during the 2008-2009 campaign, nine the year before that, and just four in the 2006-2007 season.
Not impressive numbers — nor the type of results that will attract aspiring players to the program.
And, while there is still a long way to go in the 2010-2011 HJHL regular season, it would appear the rebuilding program instigated by Randy Rook during his first year as head coach and general manager is starting to come to fruition in year 2.
Ponoka won its third in five league games Oct. 17, scoring three second period goals in a 4-3 victory over the Medicine Hat Cubs at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex.
“If someone told me we would be 3-2 at this stage in the year, I would have taken it. Barring a night off, we could easily be 4-1. But it’s still early in the season and we have a long way to go to get where we want to be,” said Rook. “I’m pretty happy with our progress, the players have got a taste of what it feels like to win and that translates into better play on the ice. They are starting to believe in themselves and that confidence will take them to another level as well. Consistency is the key.”
The game was tight through the opening 20 minutes of play. Medicine Hat grabbed the early lead when Sean Swaren scored a power play marker at 6:39.
Ponoka got on the scoreboard at 6:24 of the second period when major off-season recruit Tyler Poskus scored his first HJHL goal. The power play effort gave the Stamps some much-needed life — and the team responded with a huge middle frame that spelled defeat for Medicine Hat.
Gage Rosie, with his seventh of the season, gave Ponoka the lead for good three minutes after Poskus tied the game. Ponoka struck again less than four minutes later. Scott Bowkett scored his second of the season while the Stamps were enjoying a power play opportunity. Rosie and Wayne-Joe Swampy drew assists to help Ponoka go up by a pair.
Medicine Hat pulled to within a goal before the period was out when Mason Sabo scored his fourth of the season on the power play at the 19:59 mark.
The teams played an even third period, with Stamps goaltender Garret Montour holding the Cubs off the scoresheet until late in the contest.
Ponoka regained its two-goal advantage with 1:09 left when Brandon Tebb scored his first of the year.
Kyle Funk’s power play goal with 10 seconds on the clock rounded out the scoring, and Ponoka had its third win in five games this season.
Montour finished the game with 24 saves, while the Stamps fired 30 shots at Medicine Hat’s Troy Wagner.
“I thought for the most part of the Medicine Hat game we dominated,” said Rook. “We were moving our legs and when we kept skating, they were caught flat-footed and took penalties. The game was a rough one, but that’s the Cubs style of play. So you either cower and hide or do like we did and take a stand and play tough hockey.”
In the scoring race… Gage Rosie’s eight points has him tied for 16th in HJHL scoring. Airdrie’s Andrew Bergmann has 10 goals and 14 points to lead the league.
Rosie’s seven tallies leave him second in the league behind Bergmann in that category.
“Gage has six goals and one assist over the last three games and is doing what we need him to do. He has taken leadership and elevated his play, and in turn that has picked up the team,” said Rook. “The goals he is scoring are highlight plays, things you see on TSN. It’s fun to watch. I just wish there was more people in the stands to watch this talented player along with the team, as this is the best group of players Ponoka has had in a long time. We are playing some very good hockey and any support we can get from the Ponoka hockey fans would just help this team elevate its game even more.”
Next up… The Stamps have a pair of weekend games to play. Ponoka travels to Stettler Friday to face the Lightning, who have just two wins in four games, and were dropped 4-3 by Ponoka on opening night. The Stamps will then host the Coaldale Copperheads Sunday, Oct. 24 at 2:30 p.m. at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex.