There was lots of scrambling on the arena ice during the Stettler Lightning’s first game of the 2014-2015 season, but in the end they not only outshot the competing High River Flyers, they outscored them 3-1.
The game got off to a tentative start as both teams sussed each other out. Stettler played hard, shooting repeatedly on net but coming up empty handed until the last three minutes of the period, when team captain Mark Dietz snapped one past the Flyers’ netminder.
“I thought we brought some good enthusiasm and jump,” Doug Smith, general manager, said, but added that the enthusiasm sometimes left the Lightning out of position.
The Flyers opened the second period about five minutes in, scoring against rookie goalie Jordan McCallum.
The team, as the game wore on, settled some of that nervous, first-game energy and began playing better together, turning the game from an individual with a puck to a team game.
Though the Lightning didn’t score in the second, they had several key opportunities to do so as the Flyers’ goalie scrambled to-and-fro, at one point even losing his helmet.
Going into the third with a tie, the Lightning burst out of the box and scored a mere 40 seconds into the period, bringing the score to 2-1 for the Stettler boys.
It was a nail-biting period as the team held on to their lead for the rest of the period, despite several scary moments at net, including one point where McCallum, in an effort to get to the other side of the net, ended up flat on his back and had to scramble to get back to his feet.
Frustrated at their inability to score, Flyers’ No. 11, Terry Twigg, brawled with the Lightning, earning himself a 10-minute penalty and giving the Lightning a leg up against the away team.
With less than a minute to go in the game, the Flyers pulled their goalie with the hopes that a sixth man in the game would let them tie up the score, but instead the Lightning burst past their defence, adding another goal to the tally with about 40 seconds left in the game, ending the match 3-1.
After the game, Smith said that at times, he does miss the players that didn’t return this year, noting that he, “definitely miss(es) some of the physical size, the speed of the old guys.”
He was quick to praise the team’s rookies, especially goalie McCallum, who, “did great.”
Smith said he felt the game would have been different if Ponoka’s Tyler Ekeli had been able to play. Ekeli, who was cut last minute from the Wetaskiwin team, made it onto the Lightning roster but his transfer papers hadn’t come through in time for him to play in the season opener.
Next week, the Lightning play in High River, facing the Flyers on their home turf, and then will face Strathmore, who return after a year absence from the league, on their Olympic-size ice surface.
On Oct. 4, the Lightning will play host to the Cochrane Generals.
“They’re a team we perennially butt heads with,” Smith said. “They struggled a bit last year, (but I expect) they’ll have a bit more polish this time around.”