By CHARLES TWEED
The Ponoka Stampeders squared off against the Blackfalds Wranglers to close out the regular season on Feb. 16.
The game had no impact on the standings but was anything but a nothing game for either team.
It served as preview for the first round of the playoffs — it’s games like these where coaches don’t reveal their full game plan, players send messages both on the scoreboard and in the trenches, looking to gain any psychological advantage over the other team.
A good start for the Stamps was imperative.
They got it, courtesy of a seeing eye shot from Jared Kambeitz who is riding a hot hand with eight points in his last three games entering the contest.
The rest of the period flowed back and forth. Ponoka made a conscious effort to chip pucks out of their own end to keep the high-powered offense of Blackfalds at bay.
In the second, the Wranglers dominated the play. Stellar play by Garret Montour, making stop after stop, kept the Stamps on top through the first 10 minutes.
Ponoka had a golden chance when Gage Rosie used his speed to back up the Wranglers defense and made a nifty drop pass to Kambiez who walked into the slot and rang one off the iron.
The failed opportunity to widen the lead, caught up to the Stamps. Montour could only quell the Blackfalds forwards for so long. The Wranglers put up blank in the period, none of which could be blamed on the Stampeders’ keeper.
The lone bright spot, a Gage Rosie goal, after he walked out of the corner and snapped one glove side on the Wranglers’ goalie.
The second ended 3-2 for Blackfalds.
In the third, the Stamps just about caught Blackfalds’ sleeping. On the first shift, Ponoka worked the puck deep, when the puck squirted into the slot, Tyler Poskus got a quick shot away that was just barely kicked out by the Blackfalds’ netminder.
As so often happens in hockey, the save at one end quickly turned into a goal at the other. From there the Wranglers took control, potting five more before the period was out. Ponoka did get markers from Rosie and Kambeitz, but it was too little too late as the Wranglers won 9-4.
Coach Randy Rook was pleased with the way the teamed played and thought they ran out of gas in the third. If they are going to beat Blackfalds in the playoffs, the coach knows they’ll have to do a better job keeping the Wranglers star players off the score sheet.
“The one thing you have to do to beat Blackfalds is key on a couple of players. Maas and Fraser, you have to keep in check and know where they are at all times. We let Maas go for three shifts and he got three points — we’ve got to keep that player in check for the playoffs. He’s the guy that makes them click,” said Rook.
Ponoka played a very disciplined gamed, giving up only two power play opportunities to a team that scored 50 regular season power play markers.
“We were very disciplined, and will have to be if we are going to pull of an upset,” said Rook. “The refs deserve a lot of credit for letting us play.”
The series will start Feb. 23 in Ponoka due to scheduling conflicts in Blackfalds.
The Stampeders welcome the seven days’ rest, as it will give some key pieces a chance to get healthy.
Captain Scott Bowkett (leg) will skate on Sunday and hopes to be ready for game 1.
“Game 1 is the most important game of this series. We’ve got the advantage if we can take this one here, then we go to Blackfalds and we have the possibility of stealing one. We want a big crowd, cheering the boys on and it encourages the guys to go extra hard. We aren’t going to roll over and play dead, we’re coming at them full guns a blazing,” said Rook.