It’s still the pre-season, but the Stettler Lightning are already getting down to business.
Sporting a relatively experienced lineup, the Lightning made short work of the Mountainview Colts in a home-and-home exhibition series, winning 7-2 on Saturday night at the Stettler Recreation Centre after posting a 6-1 victory Friday night at Didsbury.
Doug Smith, the coach and general manager of the Heritage Junior Hockey League team, believes the weekend results are a sign of things to come for the Lightning, who visit the Ponoka Stampeders tonight to conclude pre-season play.
Smith noted, however, that Mountainview was still early in its evaluation of prospective players, while Stettler was at a later stage in its season preparation.
“We were way more concentrated than they were at this point,” he said. “The one lineup, they only had four or five returning players. And the second night, they had probably 10 in there.
“In either case, I was looking for certain things from our guys — if there was a little bit of chemistry with some different line combinations, and we kind of saw that. We’re working really hard on establishing a forecheck right off the bat and working really hard on our defensive positioning from basically the centreline back to our net.
“That was kind of the real emphasis in both those hockey games. For a start, we picked up our basic concepts fairly well, other than a mental meltdown in the last minute of the first period at home here. Otherwise, it was pretty well-played.”
The Kid Line — newcomer Dylan Houston with twins Adam and Scott Ternes — has paid early dividends. They collected seven points Saturday as Houston scored two goals, Adam Ternes netted a goal and two assists, and Scott Ternes bagged a couple of assists.
On the previous night, the former midget linemates combined for eight points. Houston and Scott Ternes each had a goal and two assists, and Adam Ternes added one of each.
“Dylan (Houston) had good chemistry with Scott and Adam Ternes, because they played together all through midget, so there was that instant click right away,” Smith said.
Another set of twins — Derek and Dylan Muhlbach — has returned to the Lightning after playing senior hockey last season at home in Big Valley, giving Stettler more depth at forward and defence.
Dylan Muhlbach, Reese Anheliger, Kyler O’Connor and Randon Rankin also scored for Stettler on Saturday. Veteran goaltender Simon Thieleman made 28 saves.
Thieleman also played the third period of Friday’s game, stopping 10 of the 11 shots he faced. Jeff Skaley, trying out for a goaltending job, blocked all 29 shots he faced through two periods.
For tonight’s game at Ponoka, Smith plans to go with Skaley and midget-aged goalie Jordan McCallum. Smith said McCallum is in camp for the experience and that he would return to midget to play a leading role this season.
As for Skaley …
“We’ll just see if Jeff can build off of his really good play he had in Mountainview (last Friday), and we go from there,” Smith said.
“The goaltending has been solid … (but) I know we’ll see one or two more goaltenders come through as Red Deer and Blackfalds reduce their rosters. Everybody that’s played goal so far has played really well. That’s a good feeling.”
Anheliger, Dylan Muhlbach and Landon Potter scored the other Stettler goals in the opening exhibition game.
The Lightning were scheduled to host Ponoka on Monday night, but the Stampeders were unable to commit to that game early in their camp.
Stettler has been practising since late August. The Lightning are carrying 24 players, and Smith plans to keep extra bodies on board because the reality of junior B hockey is that work commitments make some players unavailable on some nights.
“We’ve got a good base returning from last year, and a couple of guys returned from a couple of years ago, and then we have some new faces that had played together before at other levels,” Smith said. “That really makes a difference in that they know each other well.
“On defence, it’s nice to see that we have eight very usable defencemen. It’s a nice luxury to have — that we have solid guys back there. If we have injuries, we’re able to adapt quite quickly from game to game.”
Among the familiar faces on the blue-line are Cam and Cody Wright, Steven Fletcher, Mark Dietz, Dylan Muhlbach and D.J. Kistner.
Some of those defencemen can also pitch in at forward, as Kistner will do in tonight’s game, Smith said.
“That’s a real plus. We have a couple of D-men back there that can play forward, as well as defence.”
The Lightning begin their regular season on the road Sept. 20 against the Three Hills Thrashers.