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Ponoka Stampeders to return to the HJHL this season

The franchise was shut down in 2022
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Ponoka Stampeders’ new head coach Joe Gidari talks with players during a spring camp held in Ponoka earlier this year. (Photo by Ponoka Stampeders/ Facebook)

The Ponoka Stampeders are back.

With a new coach and general manager, the Stampeders are set to return to the rink for the upcoming Heritage Junior B Hockey League (HJHL) season.

Nearly a year ago the Stampeders were shut down by the HJHL after a slow start to the 2022-23 season.

The team struggled right out of the gate losing 25-1 to the Red Deer Vipers, 20-0 to the Three Hills Thrashers, and 23-1 to the Mountainview Colts.

The losses came after the Stampeders had a hard time putting a quality team together.

Due to no players showing up to training camp, the team had only weeks to find players to put on the ice.

General manager Andrew McNichols, who was hired earlier this year, said the team has done a complete 180-degree turn since he joined the franchise.

He hired new head coach Joe Gidari, who coached Junior A in Ontario, as well as new assistant coaches. He also explained no players from last year’s team will be back on the roster this year.

“We’re looking at a completely different talent pool… We’ve held two camps already and both were pretty successful,” he said adding a tryout camp will be held on Aug. 19 and 20 at the Ponoka Multiplex.

Ponoka has signed just a handful of players to a letter of intent but is essentially the only organization in the league with roster spots available in multiple positions.

“We’ll hopefully sign another 15 players and then we’ll wait for some subsequent cuts after that whether it’s within the HJHL or even the AJHL.”

The clean slate is part of a new mentality they hope to build to turn the Stampeders around.

“It’s got to be a new look not only from within the organization but projected outward,” he said.

McNichols was hired back in February of this year and has an extensive background in hockey as the founder of Central Alberta Goaltender Excellence and Development.

“We first started talking for me to maybe start working with their goaltenders but that meeting blossomed into another meeting… By the end of it, I was taking over as the general manager,” he said.

The Stampeders in his eyes have become a team that the community has forgotten about. He hopes to change that by bringing in fresh faces with new perspectives. Not only with the players but within many team staff positions.

“It’s obviously a big challenge but someone had to do it and I was happy to,” he said.

The Stampeders have a historic past and this upcoming season will be their 25th anniversary since joining the HJHL.

They’ll begin the preseason on Sept. 9 and 10 before the start of the regular season on Friday, Sept. 22 in High River against the Flyers.

“Given the fact we’re doing the clean slate we can basically come in as if it’s a whole new team because it is,” he said.

“It might be a historic name and logo but outside of that, it’s an entirely new look, new team, and new everything.”