For the second straight year, the Ponoka Stampeders are heading to the playoffs.
Unlike last season, this year’s edition seems to be on a slow trot instead of a gallop as the regular season is set to come to an end this week following three losses in the past week.
The Stampeders clinched their spot in the post-season by virtue of a 4-3 overtime loss at home Jan. 29 against Red Deer. However, even if they didn’t get a point out of that game, Ponoka still would’ve made the playoffs as Three Hills fell in Blackfalds later that night leaving the club too far back to catch the Stamps.
That said, the Stampeders certainly didn’t perform like a playoff-bound club for much of the game versus Red Deer, save about a five minute span in the third period.
Red Deer came out strong, pouring 19 shots on Robert Michetti in the Ponoka net, and leaving the first with a 2-0 lead. The second was fairly even, though scrambled at times, but no scoring.
Ponoka seemed to wake up about five minutes into the third and the pressure paid off as Jacob Sayler battled hard in front to bang home a powerplay goal at the 6:30 mark to cut the lead in half.
The momentum took a bit of a hit as the Stamps took a needless roughing penalty and Red Deer pounced by scoring off the faceoff, three seconds into the powerplay, at 6:41 to regain the two-goal advantage.
However, Ponoka’s hard work in the offensive zone a short time later earned them another powerplay chance and the club made good on it. Brendan Scott got a fortunate bounce on a pass from behind the net that went off a Red Deer defenceman and then trickled between the goaltender’s leg into the net at 7:54.
Then Ponoka caught another break just 31 seconds later, as Jordan Sears pounced on a rebound to tie the game 3-3.
Unfortunately, the Stampeders seemed to be content with that as the club recorded just one shot the rest of the period — six in total and none in overtime for 28 overall in the game — while Red Deer came on stronger, forcing Michetti to make several game-saving stops in the third.
The loss ran the Stamps losing streak to eight, after falling Jan. 24 in Stettler by a score of 6-2 and 5-2 in Banff on Jan. 28.
In Stettler, Toran Corbier opened the scoring for Ponoka in the first, followed by Stettler recording the next six goals. That stint included four straight on the powerplay with two of those in a 25-second span in the final minute of the first period.
Walker Guthrie had Ponoka’s other goal late in the third. The Stamps went 0-for-4 with the man advantage and were outshot 40-30.
Against Banff, it was Guthrie getting Ponoka on the board first with Nate Higgins scoring later in the frame to make it 2-1. However, penalties would once again be the Stamps downfall with Banff getting a pair of powerplay markers followed by two more goals in the third.
Assistant coach Gord Thomas was blunt in his assessment of the club’s play this season, “When the boys listen and play the game the way they’re told, they do well. However, it hasn’t been that way a lot this season.”
Thomas also explained the club can compete with the likes of Red Deer, which is likely to be their first round playoff opponent for the second straight year, but the team needs to stay on track with the game plan.
Hoof prints: The Heritage Junior regular season finishes up this weekend, leaving the Stamps with one game remaining. The club was in Blackfalds last night (result unavailable) and will conclude things at home this Saturday against Three Hills. Puck drop is set for 8:30 p.m…Dates and an opponent for the Stampeders opening round playoff series will be confirmed early next week.