Watch Bucket Cup, help food bank

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  • Aug. 24, 2011 12:00 p.m.

The Ponoka Stampeders junior B hockey club invites fans to come out and watch this year’s prospects vie for the coveted Bucket Cup and help raise money for the food bank.

Tryouts for the Heritage Junior Hockey League team will be held Aug, 27 and 28, culminating with the annual Red vs White Bucket Cup rookie challenge at 7 p.m. Sunday evening.

“They’re fighting for possession of the Bucket Cup — which is filled with fried chicken,” explained coach and general manager Randy Rook, back for a third season behind the Stampeders’ bench.

Fans are also invited to watch intra-squad practices and scrimmages between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Aug. 27, and beginning at 8:45 a.m. on Aug. 28.

“We invite everyone to come out and see how the team’s going to shape up for the year,” Rook said.

“We’re going to be a lot faster, we’re going to be bigger and we’re actually going to be more skilled.”

Admission to the Bucket Cup game is a toonie for fans six years of age and older. All proceeds with go to the Ponoka Food Bank.

With about 60 players registered for tryouts, Rook expects the Red vs White game will feature 20 rookies on each team.

After the game, Rook will trim the roster down to about 30 players who will attend six practices and four exhibition games prior to the home opener Sept. 28 at 7:45 p.m.

One to keep an eye on One player Rook expects to crack the lineup this year is goalie Josef Babrnak, a Czech player born in 1995. Babrnak, 6-2 and 170 lbs, played junior A hockey in Toronto as a 14-year-old and received some training from Dominik Hasek’s goaltending camp. Rook said Babrnak’s family is relocating to Ponoka to give him the opportunity to play high-level hockey.

“People should come to see him specifically,” Rook said. “He’s a phenomenal, phenomenal goaltender.”

He expects Babrnak to play in the Western Hockey League or for a junior A team next year. “He’s that good.”

Several Ponoka midget players are expected to tryout for the team, an indication that the Stampeders are growing in popularity and competitiveness compared to teams in the Highway 2 corridor.

“We’d like to keep our guys here,” Rook explained. “If they’re good enough to play junior B, why shouldn’t they be playing at home?”

The Stampeders have a few returning veterans to challenge for a spot on the team and at least three players from last year are expected to catch on with junior A teams. Rook said that’s great advertising for the Stampeders’ program.

“The message has gotten out that the Ponoka Stampeders are a team that runs a first class organization. We have a lot of things to attract players,” Rook said. “We’re not a bottom-feeder anymore.”

“I really believe that this year is going to be a really good, competitive year.”

The Stampeders will have to be competitive, they’re playing in the North Division of the Heritage league against the likes of Western Canadian champion Blackfalds, Red Deer, Three Hills, Stettler, Mountain View and Airdrie.

“We’re going to be right in the thick of things, that’s for sure.”

Game on: The Stampeders will play eight of their 19 home games Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m., hopefully a time slot more attractive to families with young fans. The Stampeders will play a home-and-home series against Stettler Sept. 9 in Stettler and Sept. 10 in Ponoka starting at 8 p.m. There is one more home-and-home series with Blackfalds before the regular season opens Sept. 20 in Ponoka at 7:30 p.m. and then Sept. 21 in Blackfalds.