The Stettler Lightning hope for an offensive spark before their Heritage Junior Hockey League season begins in late September.
The junior B Lightning open training camp this weekend, with registration Friday night and on-ice sessions Saturday and Sunday at Stettler Recreation Centre.
For most of the recruits and perhaps a few walk-ons, it’s audition time as the Lightning try to fill holes in the lineup, especially up front.
“We knew we had to go find some goal-scorers,” said Stettler coach and general manager Doug Smith. “That was kind of our problem last year. We were a little short on goal-scoring talent, so we’ve hopefully recruited a couple of kids that will do that job.”
The Lightning have lined up prospective players from Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan to complement newcomers from across Alberta, as well as the returning crop.
“We’ve got quite a few kids from outside the province,” Smith said. “Some of the kids are going to do studies at Red Deer College, and some are coming here to start work, so they wanted to get into a trade of some sort. Stettler is a good place to do that, because there are lots of trades going on.”
“Some of these guys had good stats in their leagues last year, but it’s a matter of seeing whether it translates when it gets into our calibre of hockey.”
“We’ve got a few younger kids coming out as well — a few graduating midget kids locally and also from across the province. It’s a good mix of younger guys and older guys, hopefully.”
Smith expects between 40 and 50 players to participate in this weekend’s camp, enabling the Lightning to ice three teams for scrimmages.
Opportunity knocks for the fresh faces
“We have lots of holes to fill this year,” Smith said. “Just about everywhere in the lineup.”
“One of our returning goalies (Landon Schmidt) got accepted into U of A, so he’s gone. And two or three defencemen are gone, as well as four or five forwards.”
Returning goaltender Simon Thieleman is expected to be among five goalies in Stettler’s camp, with a sixth scheduled to join the tryouts next week. A knee injury kept Thieleman, 18, out of last week’s junior A camp with the Grande Prairie Storm, but the AJHL team still wants him to audition this fall, Smith said.
“He hurt his knee just before their camp, so I think he’s going to start with us and kind of get back in shape, and then probably go back up (to Grande Prairie) later …in the middle of October.”
Early this week, Smith was waiting for word on the status of 18-year-old forward Jacob Schwarzenberger, who was still in camp with the junior A Drumheller Dragons and slated to dress for an AJHL exhibition game Tuesday night.
Another sophomore forward, Reese Anheliger, and rookie centre Derek Muhlbach have returned from their junior A tryouts with the Olds Grizzlys.
“We’re looking for some big, strong guys, so Derek is definitely an asset,” Smith said of Muhlbach. “It’ll be a good challenge for Derek, as well, playing against bigger, stronger guys every night. It’ll help develop his game a little quicker.”
“Reese (Anheliger) is a returning guy that we’ll look at to give us lots of minutes. Lots of specialty minutes. Reese is a very good special teams guy, so we’ll use that as an asset for us.”
Smith believes that such young talents in the Lightning mix can bank on support from experienced players this season.
“We got a commitment from a young fellow from Alaska,” said the team’s fourth-year coach. “He’s an older forward, but that’s what we’re looking for — a guy who is a proven offensive talent. We also got an older guy from Ontario who has some goal-scoring ability.”
“That was our goal this year — to find some guys who had a passion for goal-scoring. To give our team some punch, so everybody else can feel a little bit more comfortable, instead of just playing one-goal games or even all the time. That really takes the load off a lot of players and frees them up to be more creative.”
The Lightning’s season-opener is a Sept. 28 road game against the Ponoka Stampeders.
After four road games, Stettler begins its home schedule with back-to-back games against Ponoka on Oct. 7 and the High River Flyers on Oct. 8.
The Lightning have scheduled four pre-season games — home-and-home series against the Stampeders (Sept. 9 in Stettler and Sept. 10 in Ponoka) and the Mountainview Colts (Sept. 16 in Stettler and Sept. 17 in Carstairs).