By CHARLES TWEED
The Ponoka Stampeders had an opportunity to make up some ground on the third-place team, Stettler Lightning, this weekend. The Stamps, who are four points back of Stettler, played a home and home against the Three Hills Thrashers on Jan. 22 and 23.
Saturday’s game was played on the road in Three Hills and the Stamps didn’t get off to the best start. Aaron Shukin got the start in net and stopped 14 of 15 in the first period to go to the break down one.
In the second, the Thrashers extended their lead going up two on a Zachary Bauer goal. Ponoka battled back, getting a power play marker from Gage Rosie, his 10 of the year, to cut the deficit to one. But Bauer would get his second of the game before the period was out to restore the two-goal lead.
The third started poorly for Ponoka. A bad bounce led to a shorthanded goal, and less than five minutes later the Thrashers scored again to make it 5-1.
But give the Stamps some credit, a lot of teams would have quit down four with half a period to play. Cody Hagg cued the comeback, scoring his eighth of the year to narrow the gap to three. Then, with just under three minutes to go, Gage Rosie netted his second of the game to pull the Stamps within two.
Kenton Siegle then got into the action with just over a minute left to make it a one goal game. The final minute was chaos as Ponoka pulled their goalie for the extra attacker and controlled the puck but couldn’t manage to get another past Thrashers’ goalie Cody Boeckman.
An empty-netter sealed the victory for Three Hills making the final 6-4.
“We played a really solid game, a competitive game. A few bounces, here and there, and that game goes to overtime. We haven’t been getting the bounces around the net lately which is too bad because we were buzzing all around them in the final minute,” said coach Randy Rook.
No problem, Three Hills held serve at home, now it was up to Ponoka to do the same at The Complex on Sunday afternoon.
The game was tied at two apiece when Ponoka took a timeout to discuss the game plan.
“We wanted to work the puck down low to make sure we went to overtime, unfortunately we had a bit of a defensive breakdown. Our D-man thought he could get a shot through to maybe win it and it was blocked. It goes the other way, a two on one, and with four seconds left they score to win it. It was a heartbreaking loss.”
Rook felt like the team was starting to take on some real accountability in the dressing room and stressed the importance of starting to get into the ‘playoff frame of mind.’
“We’ve got a different mindset in the room right now, we’re going to compete. Instead of worrying about results, we’re going to give it 100 per cent every shift. We’ve got to start thinking that every game is a do or die scenario, have that sense of urgency. And if we play like that for the next month, we’ll be fine,” said Rook.
The Stamps spend the next week on the road, first in Cochrane to take on the Generals at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 29. Then right back at it the next day, an afternoon game at 1:15 p.m. in Okotoks to face the Bisons.
“This is going to be a tough weekend for us, we’re going to get back late on Saturday and then have to turn right around and go to Okotoks. It’ll be a good test for the guys and start to separate who is going to be in the fold come playoff time.”