Lightning short of goalies, but high on team’s outlook

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JOHN MacNEIL

Independent editor

The numbers weren’t quite as high as hoped, but there were still plenty of prospects in town for the Stettler Lightning training camp on the weekend.

“Very good,” reported Lightning coach and general manager Doug Smith. “We had a couple of our distance kids that didn’t show up, but we had a few local kids that were a nice surprise, so it was kind of a win-win situation on both sides.”

A few prospective Ontario recruits “decided not to come at the last minute,” Smith said. “The (import) kids that did come out — two from Ontario and the fellow from Alaska — look like they’ll be very useful hockey players.”

The three-day camp was shortened to an early finish Sunday because the total number of participants was a modest 35.

“We’ve pretty well kept everybody around,” said Smith, who will continue evaluations this weekend when the Heritage Junior Hockey League pre-season begins with the Lightning’s home-and-home series against the Ponoka Stampeders — Friday in Ponoka and Saturday in Stettler (both 8 p.m. starts).

“We were expecting five goaltenders, and we only had three — all local. We’ll give them a good look, but we’ll see a few (other) goaltenders throughout the next two weeks, as they become available and other teams make cuts.”

“The goalies that were out for camp are young. They’re all still midget-aged goalies, so you definitely (also) need somebody with a little bit of age, to kind of take the weight a little bit.”

The trio of local midget goalies in the Lightning tryouts are Josh McCallum, Mack Schell and Jeff Skaley.

Stettler’s potential returning netminder, 18-year-old Simon Thieleman of Castor, sat out the weekend as he continued to recuperate from a knee injury and prepare for his junior A tryout with the Grande Prairie Storm.

“I talked to Simon and he’s maybe going to skate with us a little bit this week, and then he’s off to Grande Prairie,” Smith said. “We’ll have to wait a couple or three weeks to see what transpires for him up there.

“But, in the meantime, we’ll definitely go out and see what’s available. If we happen to luck out, maybe there’s an older goalie from a junior A team that becomes available and is somebody who we can count on and would gladly play 32 games, type of thing.”

Last season with the Lightning, Thieleman had a 3.66 goals-against average and an .894 save percentage.

Age is on Thieleman’s side as he heads to Grande Prairie, Smith said. “He should have a good shot up there. He has the ability to play at that level. He’s just trying to get his knee back in shape. He did some ligament damage there.”

The Lightning are scheduled to practise Wednesday night as they ready for the opening of the pre-season. They’ll welcome back sophomore forward Jacob Schwarzenberger, who was among the final Drumheller Dragons junior A cuts Sunday.

Before his weekend action with Drumheller, Schwarzenberger was at the Stettler Recreation Centre on Friday night for the Lightning registration and a light skate.

“I think we’re going to be really skilled offensively, but we may have some questions in goaltending,” said Schwarzenberger, who turned 18 on Sunday.

“There was only three out there to open camp. But offensively, we have four solid lines that can score goals. So, hopefully, it will be an exciting team to watch, at least.”

Schwarzenberger made the most of his rookie season with his hometown Lightning.

“I learned a lot playing at the junior level and learned to get my strength up to play in those kind of situations, and had a good year with the guys,” he said. “It was a pretty good learning experience.”

The Lightning iced three teams for scrimmages Saturday and opted for just two squads Sunday.

“There was a good mix of all ages,” Smith said. “We had some kids as young as 15 that were holding their own. It was nice to see.”

“Our older guys look like they’ve come back with an extra step in them this year. They’re healthy now. We had a few guys who were banged up pretty good through the middle and the end of last year, and they’re feeling better this year, so you can tell the difference in their skating ability and stuff like that.”

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