The Stettler Lightning continue to make the most of the franchise’s 20th-anniversary season.
The Lightning won their 10th straight Heritage Junior Hockey League game last Sunday when they defeated the Coaldale Copperheads 5-2 at the Stettler Recreation Centre.
Dylan Houston scored two goals just 1:30 apart early in the third period to break open a 2-1 game in an afternoon contest on the eve of Remembrance Day.
The Lightning (10-3 overall) stretched their perfect home record to 6-0 and kept the Copperheads (7-9-2) winless on the road this season. Coaldale is 0-6-1 away from home.
Connor Doucette, with a two-point night, scored on a change-up from near the Coaldale blue-line to put Stettler ahead 2-1 with 3:45 left in an otherwise scoreless second period.
Derek Muhlbach and Jacob Hamel each scored their first goal of the season. Adam Ternes added a couple of assists to give him a team-leading 18 points in 13 games. His twin Scott is next with 15 points, including an assist Sunday, and their linemate Houston is third with 14 points.
Houston returned to the lineup Sunday after missing the previous weekend’s game at Medicine Hat with a shoulder injury.
Stettler goaltender Simon Thieleman made 29 saves, including a sequence with the Copperheads buzzing on a second-period power play, to post his ninth victory in 11 starts this season.
The Lightning are poised for a first-place showdown at home this Saturday (7:30 p.m.) with the league-leading Okotoks Bisons (11-4), who have two more points than Stettler but have played two more games. On a busy weekend, Okotoks defeated the Three Hills Thrashers 3-2 on Friday and blanked the Red Deer Vipers 6-0 on Saturday, but lost 8-3 to the visiting High River Flyers at home Sunday afternoon. The Flyers (8-6), who beat the winless Ponoka Stampeders 10-3 on Saturday, are 3-0 against the rival Bisons this season.
Ponoka (0-11) hosts Stettler a week from tonight and two nights before the Lightning visit High River (Nov. 22).
Sitting atop the league’s power rankings for the past two weeks, the Lightning have earned a reputation as a tough opponent.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” said Stettler coach and general manager Doug Smith. “We’re starting to add lots of little elements. Like, Wyat (Haustein) is starting to feel a little more comfortable now, so he gives us a physical element, and the D (defence) is always playing quite well. They’re getting so reliable in our own end that we don’t get running around a whole lot.
“And we play hard and we don’t give up the middle of the ice, so it makes it really hard for teams. They have to adjust and go places that they don’t want to go to, and it really slows them down.”
As evidenced Sunday in a feisty battle with the Copperheads, the Lightning held their own physically, with the likes of Haustein providing a presence in front of the Coaldale goaltender, notably on the power play.
The Lightning’s depth is also causing fits for opposing teams.
“It’s from top to bottom,” Smith said of Stettler’s multi-pronged attack. “It’s not like, ‘Well, that line is out (on the ice), so we’ll just survive against this line.’ All four of our lines play the same way. We get offensive chances from each line and we get strong defensive play from every line.
“Now, we’re scoring a few power-play goals. It’s starting to click a little bit, now that we’re getting more practice time, so that adds another element that makes teams a little bit leery. And our goaltending is super-solid right now. So even if they do get a chance, they come up with nothing. It puts them back on their heels.
“We’re not undisciplined in any way. We don’t take a big slug of penalties, so we don’t have to kill a lot.”
The likes of Doucette, Hamel and Derek Muhlbach emerged in Sunday’s game, illustrating that Stettler’s scoring can come from secondary sources.
“Other teams are looking at our stats and they can see two lines there that have gotten good offensive points, but they don’t know that our next two lines are just as offensive, but they just haven’t had it show on the scoresheet yet,” Smith said.
The veteran coach said Hamel, with three games under his belt, is finding his stride after missing the first month of the season because of a high school football injury.
“Jake Hamel is just starting to get his feet underneath him and it gives us another strong body,” Smith said. “He did some real strong-man moves in that game in Medicine Hat (two weeks ago) … and they couldn’t control him, just because of his strength and size.”
Hamel’s goal Sunday capped a six-point third period from Stettler’s high school contingent, including two goals from Houston, two assists from Adam Ternes and one assist from Scott Ternes.
All four of those players are in Grade 12 at William E. Composite High School, as is goaltender Jordan McCallum, who dressed as the backup in the absence of Jeff Skaley.