With snow falling and minus temperatures prevalent outside the Stettler Recreation Centre on Sunday night, winter was very much alive and well.
And so it goes for the Stettler Lightning, who are still in winter/hockey mode in an extended Heritage Junior Hockey League season.
The Lightning defeated the Mountainview Colts 6-4 at home Sunday night to win their best-of-seven Northern Division semifinal 4-1.
In Round 2, they’ll face the pennant-winning Blackfalds Wranglers, who swept the Three Hills Thrashers 4-0 in the other Northern Division semifinal.
Blackfalds hosts Game 1 tonight at 7:30, and Stettler is at home for the second game at the same time Friday night.
Game 3 is slated for 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Blackfalds, with the fourth game set for Stettler at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Making their first appearance in the playoffs since 2010, the Lightning’s season is running even longer than Mountainview goaltender Connor Slipp’s hair (he’s nicknamed Locks).
Stettler won the first three games of the opening round, including a 5-2 decision at home a week ago Tuesday, before dropping a 1-0 decision last Friday at Didsbury.
Stettler goaltender Simon Thieleman, who gave up just eight goals in the first four games of the series, has been a constant as he continues to make the most of his final junior B season.
Early in the third period, Stettler broke open a 3-3 game Sunday with two goals 42 seconds apart from captain Landon Potter and Jacob Hamel. Wyat Haustein added an empty-netter, during a late power play, before Mountainview’s Curtis Smith scored with 15 seconds left in the Colts’ season.
Veteran forward Jake Schwarzenberger had a goal and two assists for Stettler, which also got goals from Mark Dietz and Dylan Houston and two assists each from Kyler O’Connor and Logan Davidson.
Jason Edwards, with two, and Rick Gundlock had the other Mountainview goals.
“It was a quiet confidence” coach and GM Doug Smith said of the Lightning’s approach to Sunday’s final period. “We knew that if we played our game under control, it would work out our way, because we’re a little bit stronger in certain areas. We kept our discipline, and we knew that as things got tighter, there was more pressure on (the Colts), so they start to do things out of character.”
The Colts lost a key veteran late in the first period when defenceman Kevin Vandenhoven fought with Stettler’s Derek Muhlbach, and both were ejected.
The Wranglers and Lightning were 2-2 against each other in the regular season, and that parity is expected to continue.
“We won two there and they won two here, so I don’t think either team is worried about home ice too much,” Smith said.
“The big key in this series is that Blackfalds has so far played teams where they’ve been able to score a lot of goals. (But) I think it frustrates them somewhat when you can play a solid defence against them and they can’t free-wheel.”