Whether it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Stettler Lightning, no hockey team puts too much stock in pre-season results.
At the same time, Stettler’s junior B team is optimistic about the looming Heritage Junior Hockey League regular season after going 4-0 in exhibition play, including back-to-back 4-3 wins over the Mountainview Colts last weekend.
“It’s 4-0 and it means nothing,” Lightning coach Doug Smith said with a laugh. “But that’s a nice surprise. It’s good to see we have some offensive punch this year. And our defence is like we thought it would be, fairly solid through the lineup.”
Smith has been around hockey long enough to know that the biggest tests are yet to come, beginning with the Lightning’s season-opener next Wednesday (Sept. 28) in Ponoka against the Stampeders. In fact, Stettler has four straight road games before its Oct. 7 home-opener against Ponoka.
“We’ve seen them twice (in the pre-season), so we kind of know what to expect,” Smith said of the Stampeders. “High River will be a long road trip (Sept. 30). They’ve been really competitive so far this year, I see by the scores in the pre-season, so that’ll be a tough one.”
The Lightning visit the Flyers on a Friday to begin a stretch of three games in as many days, including dates with the Red Deer Vipers on Oct. 1 and the Blackfalds Wranglers on Oct. 2.
“By the time we get to Saturday and Sunday, we’re probably going to start to get a little banged up, so it’s a big challenge for the guys right off the bat, but I think it’s one they’re kind of looking forward to,” Smith said. Stettler whittled its pre-season roster down to “approximately 24 players” after edging the Colts at home Friday and Saturday in Carstairs. Most of the local midget-aged candidates have been released in time for their midget AA tryouts. The Lightning plan to keep the talented Muhlbach twins — defenceman Dylan and winger Derek — this season, and the junior B team is also still evaluating another midget-aged prospect, forward Lyle Wooden.
“He had a high ankle sprain after the first game, so he hadn’t gotten a chance to play since,” Smith said. “So we’ll evaluate him over this next couple of weeks. We’ll probably take him into the start of the season with us and see how it goes there.”
In Saturday’s win at Carstairs, Tyson Glazier scored the winning goal while the Lightning were shorthanded. Brad Voice, Brett Ouellette and Reese Anheliger also tallied for Stettler, which connected twice on power plays and twice while shorthanded.
The Colts got goals from Taylor Olsen, Tyson Taylor and Ryan Thomson.
The previous night in Stettler, the Lightning received power-play goals from Dylan Muhlbach and Shayne Luikkonen. Defenceman Luca Bozzetto added a goal and an assist and Landon Potter scored late in the second period when he made a nifty deke and put a backhander upstairs.
Olsen, Braeden Anderson and Jay Peischel replied for Mountainview.
NET GAIN: In both weekend games, the Lightning auditioned new goaltender Steven Altman of Strathmore. He joined Stettler after his junior A tryout with the Weyburn Red Wings of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Last season, Altman played in the Calgary junior B league.
Altman relieved Josh McCallum on Friday and started Saturday’s game before giving way to Jeff Skaley. Now the newcomer is poised to open the season in Stettler and partner with returning goalie Simon Thieleman of Castor.
“Both times, in relief or starting, he was quite solid,” Smith said of Altman. “He seems to have good ground work with his legs. Like most of these young goalies, the bottom end is quite good nowadays. But like all of them, it’s just reaction time upstairs when the puck goes up.”
“It seemed like he was able to move the puck and control things when he was out there. It was good to see. It’s basically what you’ll see from an older goaltender. He’s 19.”
“It was a nice thing to finally get some (experienced goalies). There are rumours of a couple of other goalies that might become available, so we’ll just have to cover that ground when they come to us and see how that turns out. But at least we have two that are capable of playing right now, so that’s good.”
Thieleman was banking on a fall tryout with the junior A Grande Prairie Storm, but a lingering knee injury has pushed that option off the table, at least for now, Smith said.
“Unless they have a real wreck in Grande Prairie, he’s probably going to start here and do a major chunk of (our goaltending). I think Grande Prairie is looking for an older goalie, like a 20-year-old, to fill their bill up there. They’ve got some time with Simon. He’s only 18.”
Thieleman’s pre-season with the Lightning has been limited to a couple of practices.
“After he practised last week, his knee kind of puffed up a little bit and he went and got it checked again,” Smith said. “But I guess it’s still good. It’s normal that it swells up a little bit. We’ve got 10 days now (before our season-opener), so we can probably go a little easy with him and by next week see who’s ready to go next Wednesday.”