Stettler Lightning built up confidence in the last three games of the season, all played on home ice, and have now started their playoff series with Red Deer Vipers.
In the first 5-2 game against Ponoka on Tuesday, Feb. 9, the Lightning have not felt threatened at all, despite the fact that it was the visiting side that opened the scoring early in the game.
Stampeders scored in the second minute but a relaxed Lightning took its time to first bring balance to the scoreboard and then to dominate the game until the end.
Clayton Herzog scored in the 10th minute of the first period, followed by Brett Muhlbach six minutes later.
Orie Spearing continued to build up numbers on the scoreboard in the second minute of the second period, Brett Muhlbach adding one more 10 minutes later and Ryan Traynor sealing the deal in 15th minute.
Although Stampeders scored once again at the beginning of the third period, there was not much they could do change the balance of the game.
On Friday, Feb. 12, the Lightning struck Rimbey Rock 8-3 with a well executed game plan.
While the visiting Rock tried to keep up its defensive effort intact particularly in the first half of the game, the Lightning came out in force with waves of attacks on the Rimbey net, forcing the opposition to drop their guard.
Of the eight goals the Lightning scored, six of them came in the second half of the second period and the third period.
Scorers for the Lightning were Robb David (2), Gavin Brandl (2) Clayton Herzog, Adam McDavid, Steve Blacklock and Ryan Traynor.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, The Lightning found a completely different Ponoka team from the one they had met earlier in the week.
Following the defeat of Rimbey Rock a day earlier, Ponoka hoped they could still have a chance to make it to the playoffs and put up a formidable defense from the beginning.
It took the Lightning a full 30 minutes to penetrate the Stampeders’ defense.
Brett Oulette scored the first goal for the Lightning in the 11th minute of the second period of the game. Derek Muhlbach followed suite in seven minutes and Jeff Kohut added one more within a minute.
The Stampeders did make an effort to for a comeback in the early third period and scored two goals but it was not enough to defeat the Lightning defense and the game ended 5-2 with Tyson Glazier and Clayton Herzog scoring the last two goals.
Head coach Doug Smith said he was staisfied with his players’ performances over the last five or six games and that they were going into the playoff series with Vipers with confidence.
But he said he was concerned that some of his players were injured over the weekend with one player possibly having closed off the season.
“One fellow hurt his pelvis quite bad, he may be gone for the rest of the year,” Smith said.
“But other than that we are ready to go.”
“We played with a good high tempo over the last seven-eight games, so that part has come around.”
“Playoffs seem to have come at the right time for us,” Smith said referring to his team’s better performance in the last week.
“Over the last three or four games we have also tried a couple of new line combinations and some players haven’t played together with others so we will be looking whether we can create some new chemistry,” said Smith.
“We want to let them worry about us rather than us worrying about them.
After first game on Tuesday, the series moves to Red Deer on Friday, Feb. 19 and Saturday and then if necessary a fourth game will be played in Stettler on Monday, Feb 22 and a fifth one in Red Deer on Tuesday.