Youth and optimism filled the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex last week as yet another Junior B hockey season took to the ice.
The Ponoka Stampeders training camp saw about 45 players lace up the skates, culminating in the Black and White intra-squad game Sept. 7 which left second year bench boss Matt Williams with tough roster choices.
“A lot of guys showed up this year and they all played well, which makes things hard on the coaching staff,” Williams stated.
“But you know, hard decisions have to be made and we’ll go from there.”
Once the intra-squad game was complete and an exhibition match the next night versus Leduc from the Capital Junior Hockey League, Williams will have more difficult decisions as he expects some more players showing up and wanting to tryout.
Camp saw a lot of players from the surrounding area, but also a number came from B.C.
“It’s good to see and hopefully our reputation is starting to get better where guys are willing to come play in Ponoka,” he added.
“That was our number one goal last year. This year, we want to compete a little better and put a really solid team on the ice.”
What had Williams so positive about the camp this year was the excellent competition many of the younger players were giving the 10 players eligible to return from last year.
“We got 10 guys obviously still trying to make the team. They’ve showed up in shape and been great leaders for the young guys and we are looking forward to the group we can put on the ice with that core group,” he explained.
“It’s amazing what young kids can do when they want to be there and bring that intensity. All of a sudden now, our returning players have to work a little harder. All of them are playing phenomenal, so I like that I have some hard decisions to make.”
Williams added the goaltending is looking good with one returning being pushed hard by a pair of younger puck stoppers.
The Stampeders have a pair of exhibition contests left before the chute swings out on the regular season. The team will host the Mountainview Colts tonight (Sept. 12) then are home to the Stettler Lightning on Sept. 14. Start time for both contests are 7:30 p.m.
“There are going to be some really big tests coming up for this young core. Our veterans are going to have to continue to lead by example, on and off the ice, and we need to be ready right out of the gate,” Williams said.
“We can’t do what we did last year, losing 10 out of our first 11 games.”