A relatively inexperienced team rode off with their first victory of the season on Friday, when the Ponoka Stampeders began their two-game road trip with a 4-1 win over the Thrashers in Three Hills in a game, which head coach Tyler Fiveland said greatly improved their defensive play.
“The team played pretty well and we made some adjustments from the week before,” Fiveland said.
Those adjustments included ensuring better work at clearing opponents from in front of the goal and taking care of the second chance opportunities.
“We got much better in our defensive end, clearing out the front of the goal and making sure the rebounds are not there. We definitely needed to shore up that part of our game,” he added.
“Our goalie (Lanny Blitt) also really stood on his head, so all in all it was a good game for us.”
The Stampeders opened the scoring with a power play marker by Cody Lemon about three and a half minutes into the second period.
Mik Doell scored about five minutes later to increase Ponoka’s lead and followed that up with his second of the game with just under seven minutes remaining the middle frame to put the Stampeders up 3-0.
Three Hills managed to get one back partway into the third, but Lemon potted his second of the game into an empty net to seal the deal.
The Stampeders couldn’t carry forward the momentum into Saturday’s contest in Strathmore as they fell 5-3 in spite of Ponoka outshooting their hosts 50-37 on the night.
“We only played about 25 minutes of that game,” explained Fiveland.
“We didn’t start out strong and our intensity level wasn’t there. We just got off to a slow start and we need to play a full 60 minutes.”
Strathmore scored twice in the first and got another early in the second before Stampeders rookie Kyle Skogen notched his first junior hockey league goal just past the halfway mark of the game. Teagan Colonna cut the lead to 3-2 when he scored with just 45 seconds remaining in the middle stanza, but any momentum Ponoka gained was quickly shut down as Strathmore regained their two goal margin with only 22 seconds left before the intermission.
Things didn’t get any easier for the Stampeders as they had to kill off a seven-minute power play that began very late in the second and carried through into the third period, but Fiveland was impressed with his team’s effort in the final frame.
“We had a strong third, especially after we killed off that seven minute power play, but we needed to have that for the entire 60 minutes. Lanny played really well and gave us an opportunity to win and Kyle’s goal showed he is gaining more confidence at this level” he stated.
The team will continue to be road warriors for another week as they head to High River on Friday and then to Medicine Hat Saturday with Fiveland hoping they can keep on improving.
“If the team can start out the way they have been finishing, then we should have no issues… we need to keep getting better in clearing pucks out and maintaining our intensity the entire game in order to win.”
The Stampeders return to home ice on Oct. 14 when they face off with Blackfalds.