The Stettler Lightning, coaching staff and fans had high hopes for the final game of 2015, played on Tuesday, Dec. 22, but those hopes were dashed in a 4-1 loss to the Blackfalds Wranglers.
The game started off on a positive note, with a goal by Derek Muhlbach in the last minute of the first period, putting the team ahead 1-0. The second period didn’t go quite as well, with the Wranglers scoring two goals, including one while the Lightning were shorthanded due to a cross-checking penalty.
The teams headed into the third period with Stettler trailing 2-1, but several missed opportunities, including a few shots ringing off the net posts, set the crowd to groaning. A third goal by the Wranglers early in the third widened the deficit, and in the dying minute of the game, a second one guaranteed a Stettler loss.
“Morale is OK,” Doug Smith, the team’s general manager, said. “It takes a beating but everyone’s still at it, they’re showing up to practices and they’re giving it all they’ve got.”
Smith, who stepped down as head coach at the end of the 2013-14 season, ended up coaching the following season with a new coaching staff, former players who had aged out and wanted to give back to the team they played. One of those coaches, Gavin Brandl, is now head coach. This is the first year in many that Smith has been hands-off in coaching.
“They’re doing well,” Smith said of the coaching staff. “I’ve no concerns. They’re coming into their own and the few things I might have done different are due to experience.”
Smith also said he had no urge to return to being behind the bench.
The Lightning currently are in last place in the Northern Division of the Heritage Junior Hockey League, trailing the Ponoka Stampeders by two points. Only the first six teams of the seven-team division will make it to play-offs at the end of the season, so Stettler’s looking to make some gains in the new year and secure a place in the play-offs.