The Stettler Lightning came out on the short end of a power-play surge in the third period of their 4-3 loss to the host Cochrane Generals in Heritage Junior Hockey League action last Saturday night.
Cochrane prevailed on the strength of a Corey Goeson power-play goal midway through the third period, which began with Stettler defenceman Ryan Graff netting a man-advantage goal that evened the score 3-3.
The Lightning tried to even the score again in the final two minutes, with goaltender Simon Thieleman on the bench in favour of an extra skater, but they couldn’t put the puck past McKenzie Chalmers.
“We pushed hard at the end of the hockey game,” said Lightning coach-GM Doug Smith. “We pulled our goalie with close to two minutes left, and had three or four good chances. We just couldn’t manage to get our stick on the puck.”
It was Stettler’s fourth loss in five games since an 11-game winning streak had vaulted the Lightning into top spot in the 13-team league.
Stettler still ranks among the top teams in the Northern Division. The Lightning took a 12-7 record into Tuesday night’s road game against the Blackfalds Wranglers, who were atop the Northern side with a 13-5 slate.
That began a busy week for Stettler, which visits the 7-13 Airdrie Thunder on Friday, hosts the 13-6 High River Flyers on Saturday and returns to the road for a Sunday afternoon game against the Southern Division-leading Okotoks Bisons (15-6).
Austin Keller, on the power play, Brett Berndt and Andrew Bergmann, with a three-point night, also scored for Cochrane, which evened its record at 9-9-2.
Stettler trailed 3-0 in the second period before Wyat Haustein and Adam Ternes capitalized during four-on-four hockey and scored 12 seconds apart to make it a one-goal game.
Graff, a defenceman from Bashaw, had a two-point night for the Lightning, which outshot the Generals 35-30.
“Their goalie made three or four pretty good saves … when we had some good chances, but just didn’t elevate the puck or he managed to stop it,” Smith said.
With a busy week ahead, the Lightning tried to put their recent struggles in perspective as they practised Monday night.
“Everybody has kind of upped their game,” Smith said of Stettler’s opponents of late. “And everything is close. We’re just losing some close ones that you’d like to cash in on.
“No one is going to let us right our ship on their account, so we’ll have to bring our game and do it accordingly.
“It’s a long run of four games this week, and all pretty tough teams again, and three out of the four on the road.
“If we want to end up first place overall in our division, this week will be a key determinant.”
The Lightning’s lone home game this week is Saturday’s 8:15 p.m. date with High River, the team that ended Stettler’s 11-game winning streak with a 4-2 victory on Nov. 22.
The Flyers are coming off yet another win (4-3 last Friday) over their rivals from Okotoks, which leads the South but is 0-5 against High River this season.
“They have one real good line,” Smith said of the Flyers, whose lineup includes league scoring leader Alex Pronchuk, with 28 goals and 48 points after 19 games.
“Pronchuk and that line … when you play them on the road, you don’t get much of a (line) matchup. But definitely at home, you’ll make sure that you get a matchup that’s favourable to you.
“And they’ve got a couple of good-sized (defencemen) that seem to handle the puck really well. That’ll be something (to try to address). We’ll have to make sure we nullify their game a little bit.
“Penalties being a big part of that, because that’s kind of what (Pronchuk’s) specialty is — is power plays. It’ll definitely be one game where you’ll have to try to keep him on the bench as much as possible, and then when he is playing, you just have to make sure he doesn’t have a lot of room to operate in.”
Another key veteran with the Flyers is 21-yearold defenceman Keaton Lackten, who played with Okotoks before returning home in 2011 to skate with High River. The six-foot-four Lackten has 22 points in 19 games this season.
High River’s lineup includes Matt Pronchuk, younger brother of Alex, and Kade Bleackley, an older brother of Red Deer Rebels (WHL) captain Conner Bleackley. The older Bleackley has 30 points, including 21 assists, after 18 games.
Stettler went into this week’s action with a healthy lineup. Smith said some of his players might not be available for Sunday’s game at Okotoks because they’re writing college exams early next week.