Stettler Lightning failed in their attempts to capture the last playoff spot of the Nerthern Division of the Heritage Junior Hockey Legaue after incurring back to back losses over the weekend, first 7-6 versus Three Hills Thrashers on Friday, Feb. 5 and 7-3 against Airdrie the next day.
In the first game, although the Stettler boys started off on a wrong footing against Thrashers, going down 3-0 in the first period, they stepped up their game significantly in the second as the scoreboard showed 6-3 for the visitors as the buzzer went off to declare the end of the second frame. DJ Kistner scored the first goal for Lightning, assisted by Dylan Houston, followed by the second from Logan Davidson with a pass from Kieran Rost, with the third goal being undersigned by Logan Spady assisted by Cody Wright.
The hosts were not in the mood to let the game slip away as they continued solid offensive play to bring the score to 6-5 in the early stages of the third with Logan Davidson and Kieran Rost doing the honors.
The visitors were not going away, either. The Thrashers scored a quick one to fatten their cushion from a one-point lead to a two-point difference. The spirited Lighning responded in kind through Dylan Houston just one minute from the end of regulation, but it was too little too late.
“I honestly don’t think there’s a lot that can be said about our final two games, because the boys worked their tails off in an effort to save their season and make playoffs,” said head coach Gavin Brandl. “I’m proud of the effort they put forth and it’s heartbreaking to see them work that hard and not get the results that we were looking for.”
As for their second game against Airdrie Thunder, Lightning struggled from the beginning as the first period ended with the Stettler boys trailing 2-0.
In the second, there was no respite as Thunder broke through Lightning defence with successive shots, opening their lead to 5-0 deep into the second period.
Tyler Wagner. assisted by Jacob Bottomley and Matt Johannson scored the first point for Lightning soon after, followed by a second from Dylan Houston with a pass from Bottomley.
Thunder scored yet with another goal at the end of the second period taking the score to 6-2.
In the third period, Thunder maintained the pressure on Lightning with another goal in the first couple of minutes as the score moved to 7-2.
It was Chase McGonigal who scored the third point unassisted for the Stettler side taking the final score to 7-3.
“I want to make something clear, as I explained to the players after Saturday’s game, we didn’t miss playoffs because we lost these two games, we missed playoffs because in the heart of the season, we had too many passengers,” explained Brandl. “Too many guys that were content to just say they were on the team instead of being focused on contributing something to the cause on a seven day a week basis.”
According to Brandl, Lightning had a very young team this year.
“The largest rookie class this organization has seen in quite some time, and I’m confident that every single one of those guys realized what it takes to be competitive at this level,” added Brandl. “We faced all kinds of adversity after Christmas, with injuries, guys being away at work, and losing players who went to pursue higher levels of hockey, but making excuses is not the way Lightning rolls, so we know that we weren’t good enough in November and December, and that is what cost us the chance to make playoffs.”
Brandl and fellow coaches are going to get right back to work prepping for next season as they organize a spring camp to identify prospects and will be hitting as many midget games as they possibly can to talk to kids and get out invites for that spring camp.
“I’m incredibly excited about the group of players we will have returning and I think there’s a tremendous amount of local talent that we should be able to surround our returning players with,” said Brandl. “I want to make sure we get a thank you out to every one of our volunteers, sponsors and fans who stuck by us all season long.”
Brandl and his team also congratulated the retiring players – Cody Wright, DJ Kistner, Derek Muhlbach and Steven Fletcher on four very impressive careers with the organization.
“We can’t wait for August and the beginning of the next season and a new opportunity to pursue a Heritage League and provincial championship,” concluded Brandl.