Ponoka Stampeders have now put their playoff chances at risk after losing three games in a row last week, slimming down their advantage over the last place Stettler Lightning to a single point after losing to that team in the final seconds of their game in Ponoka last Wednesday, Jan. 13 and losing twice to Cochrane in as many days over the weekend.
The game on Wednesday tasted like flat beer at first but turned into a nailbiter at the end with Stettler Lightning, fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot, extracted a hard-earned win from the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex defeating hosts 5-4.
With both teams equally clumsy in moving the puck and executing plays, the first period of the game looked more like a practice session for roughing and slashing, as players of both teams between them accumulated almost as much penalty time as play time and scoreboard showing no points for either side.
In the second period, boarding, roughing and slashing continued with players of both teams, particularly the larger sized ones, missing no opportunity to get entangled with opponents at either end of the rink. Things started to change, however, when Lightning took the lead in the sixth minute of the second period with a mid-range shot. Stampeders took less than a minute to respond to get on the scoreboard with the equalizer by Chase Staldeker. Six minutes later Lightning scored once again, but just 12 seconds from the end of the second, Stampeders made sure they would not finish the period behind when Brendan Scott put another point on the board for the hosts.
When Scott scored once again in the second minute of the third for the Stampeders to take the lead for the first time in the game, the focus of the teams turned noticeably, and inevitably, to the game of hockey away from skirmishing as time started to get shorter and shorter to win the two points. As the Lightning tried to respond, Teagan Colonna scored yet another one for the hosts rendering the task of a comeback even more difficult for the visitors. But the Lightning were not going away.
Two minutes after Stampeders’ 4-2 lead was placed on the scoreboard, Lightning reduced the lead to a single point with a short range shot. That goal raised the quality of the play even more with both sides stepping up good puck movement. When the last two minutes of the last period arrived, Stettler bench called a time-out with the hope of at least taking the game to overtime with an equalizer, and it paid off. Towards the end of the 19th minute, another close range score for the Lightning made overtime play a strong possibility. But the visitors had more up in their sleeve: Just 12 seconds from the end of regulation, Steven Fletcher of the Lightning made the optimum use of the chaos in front of the Stampeders’ net to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive: 5-4.
Stampeders did very little hope or chance of winning against the Southern Division leaders Cochrane Generals on Saturday, Jan. 16 for their away game and they returned to Ponoka with a 9-1 loss and on Sunday, when they hosted the Generals at home, the result was even more disappointing, 11-1 for the visitors.
Coach Tyler Fiveland of Stampeders was almost stoic about last week’s games, especially the one versus Lightning. “We didn’t want to win that game, we did everything to lose that game,” he said complaining about players’ lack of discipline. He added that after the second period, they had a realistic chance of winning over Stettler but that his players started playing selfish and forgot about team play and tried to score points for themselves.
Fiveland said at this point it was up to the players whether they wanted to make it to playoffs or not.
Stampeders play at home against Red Deer today, Wednesday, Jan. 20 and they must win a minimum of one point by taking the game to overtime to maintain their playoff chances.