Although Ponoka Junior Stampeders lost their last game of the season 6-4 to Airdrie on Sunday Feb. 8, the players still managed to put up a good battle and end on a high note.
“I was very proud with the way they finished off that game. We got a little fire in us and we played hockey the way we should have,” said coach Blair Grant.
The first period of the home game was an even, back and forth battle, but Airdrie Thunder still managed to score twice from the team’s 13 shots on net. Ponoka had 10 shots on net by the end of the first period.
“Even the shots were very indicative of a very even period,” said Grant.
In the second period, Airdrie managed to strengthen its position to a 5-1 lead. “I think they just ran out of gas,” said Grant, referring to the Stampeders players.
He says the Stampeders began to fall back into the bad habit of chasing the puck rather than holding their positions.
“We wanted to use a strong forecheck and dump it into their zone,” Grant explained.
The third period picked back up for the Stampeders as they played with more energy and aggressiveness. Multiple brawls resulted in players from both teams being sent off the ice.
Grant says the boys have grown to be a close family over the season and despite no gain to be had from fighting at the end of the season, they continued to stand up for each other.
“I think it was a good way to end the year. I think the boys showed a lot of pride and character,” said Grant.
During the game against Airdrie Cody Lemon scored first. Brendan Scott, Willie Mulligan and Chandler Knibb all scored within minutes of each other during the third period.
During the season, the Stampeders played 38 games with two wins and six overtime losses; which Grant is proud of. “The highlight for me is when we took some of those top teams into overtime,” he said.
He feels it shows the boys that if they stuck to the system for the full 60 minutes, they would be able to compete with any team in the league.
Grant feels sticking to the game plan and confidence were the biggest challenges the team faced. “They need to learn how to win, and that’s not something you learn overnight,” he stressed.
Stampeders captain Cody Lemon and goalie Zane Steeves also feel confidence posed a problem for the players.
Steeves says the one lesson he is taking to next year is learning how to win. With younger players, he feels they collapse in the last period during rough games. “You have to stay in the game . . . have the mentality to win.”
Lemon feels the team had many slow starts, which resulted in them having to battle the entire game and not thinking about winning but focusing on not losing again. “It’s a huge difference.”
“When you’re thinking to win, it means you have confidence,” Steeves agreed.
When the boys focused on not losing they stopped making the plays for a fear of mistakes and costing the game. “It’s a huge mental thing,” said Lemon.
A simple lack of experience compared to some of the other teams in the league was another issue the Stampeders faced. Grant says the team was comprised of approximately 60 per cent veterans and 40 per cent rookies.
Next year could be a young team. “A lot of this team is going to be the core of next year,” said Grant.
The Stampeders also had to deal with a short bench. “That can be a detriment when it starts getting rough. But you’ve got to play through that adversity,” said Grant.
“We had to work for every inch we got. Not one game was handed to us this year,” he added.
“We had our ups and down. We’re not giving up on games,” Lemon agreed.
Feb. 2 loss
The Stampeders played the last away game on Feb. 2 against the Red Deer Vipers. They were defeated 10-1, which Grant says is what happens when players do not stick to the system.
Brendan Scott scored in the third period with an assist from Tyson Crampain and Scott Bailey.