By Dale Cory
It’s crunch time for those players still on the bubble in Ponoka Stampeders camp.
Second-year head coach Randy Rook is counting on game action against Rimbey Sept. 11 to add a bit of clarity to the issue of which players will begin the season in a Stampeders uniform, and which players may be forced to go back to minor hockey for more seasoning.
Rook had 52 players begin training camp with the junior B team Aug. 28.
That number had been cut to 31 after two days of weekend workouts, and was dropped to 30 last week when Chance Abbott left Ponoka for a tryout with Humboldt of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. If Abbott doesn’t make the grade with the Broncos, he will be back in a Stampeders jersey.
When the two-day training camp ended, Rook had 12 camp invitees still at junior A camps, of which four had confirmed they would join the Stampeders if they don’t make the grade one level above junior B.
As for the veterans in camp, forwards Gage Rosie, Scott Bowkett, and Cody Hagg. defencemen Kenton Siegle, Wayne-Joe Swampy and Bob Goodship and goaltender Garret Montour will be counted on heavily to lead the team in the early going this season.
As for the rest of the lineup fans will see in the regular season opener Oct. 2 against Stettler, jobs are on the line as the Stampeders continue to workout at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex.
“As far as practice goes at this point, I’m looking at each player closely to see who is able to read plays and react to different situations,” says Rook. “All the players in camp have the skills part. Now I need to find out if they have the desire, the passion, the drive, and the vision to play at this level. This to me is crucial as there is no room in my dressing room for a weak link. In order for any team to be competitive, it is imperative that all players buy into the team concept.”
During a workout Sept. 1, Rook’s skaters focused on special teams play, an area of the game that can easily separate the upper-echelon teams from the bottom feeders.
And after a six-win season in 2009-10, Rook has no desire to stay at the bottom of the standings when the 2010-2011 Heritage Junior Hockey League season begins in three weeks.
“We’ve worked a little on power play and penalty kill to show what my system is and who may be some of the players I can rely on to implement it,” added Rook. “Many games are lost or won with the special teams, as that is really the only advantage or disadvantage between two teams.”
The Stampeders continue to workout during the week, and will host the Rimbey Rock in their first exhibition game Saturday, Sept. 11 at 8 p.m.
Ponoka will also host exhibition games against Blackfalds Sept. 15 and Stettler Sept. 18.