By Dale Cory
There’s no question the Ponoka Stampeders are an improved hockey team from last year.
Three wins in their first five games signaled to fans that Randy Rook’s game plan for the Stamps was falling into place. His off-season recruiting paid off with more than 50 players attending training camp — and the Stamps came out of the gate with an impressive win on opening night.
But the team, which played with so much confidence in the first two weeks of the Heritage Junior Hockey League season, has fallen on hard times.
Ponoka lost its sixth-straight game Monday, falling 7-2 to the Vipers in Red Deer.
The game was closer than the score would indicate, with the Stamps trailing 2-1 after one period, and 3-2 until late in the second, when the home team scored two goals in the final 61 seconds of the period to put the game away.
“We couldn’t capitalize on our chances but we played well considering all the bodies we did not have in the lineup. Gage Rosie, Scott Bowkett, Brandon Tebb, Mason Milgate, Zach Giles and Cale McBeath all missed the game,” said Rook, who is far from jumping off the bandwagon just yet. “We showed a lot of grit and character Monday night. We never quit and kept working hard. Now we need to carry this over for Saturday.”
The Vipers improved to 9-2-1 with the victory, and lead the North Division with 19 points, four better than Blackfalds — although the Wranglers now have three games in hand.
The Stamps fell to 3-8 with the loss.
Jared Kambeitz led the Stamps with a two-goal effort, and according to Rook, was the best Stampeder on the ice against Red Deer.
“Kambeitz has been one of our best players every night, Tyler Poskus is gaining confidence and will be hard to contain, and Cody Hagg is playing a leadership role by example on and off the ice — and the team needs that,” said Rook.”
Garret Montour was in net for the Stampeders, and stopped 36 of 43 shots directed his way.
It was Ponoka’s second-straight loss suffered at the hands of the Vipers, who invaded Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex Nov. 3 and skated away with an easy 11-2 victory.
Red Deer held a 5-2 advantage after 40 minutes, but exploded with six-unanswered third period goals to put the game out of reach.
Poskus, with his second of the season, and Milgate, with his first, scored for the Stamps, who were outshot 77-32.
The night before, Ponoka travelled to Blackfalds, and came up with one of its best road efforts in a long time. Although the Stamps fell 3-2 to the Wranglers, the defending league champs, Ponoka was in the game to the end, and would have stolen at least one point had Kyle Maas not beaten Montour with the winning goal with just 2:51 remaining in the third period.
Jordan Duthie and Anthony Pickering scored for Ponoka.
“The season is a 36-game preparation for the real hockey in February and our goal is third place,” says Rook. “If we keep getting better every game — we should be there.”
Next up… The Stamps host Airdrie Saturday, Nov. 13 at 8 p.m., and travel to Banff Nov. 14.