A game that tasted like flat beer at the beginning turned into a nailbiter at the end with the Stettler Lightning, fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot, extracted a hard-earned win from the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex on Wednesday, Jan. 13 defeating host Stampeders 5-4.
With both teams equally clumsy in moving the puck and executing plays, the first period of the game looked more like a practice session for roughing and slashing, as players of both teams between them accumulated almost as much penalty time as play time and scoreboard showing no points for either side.
In the second period, boarding, roughing and slashing continued with players of both teams, particularly the larger sized ones, missing no opportunity to get entangled with opponents at either end of the rink. Things started to change, however, when Lightning took the lead in the sixth minute with a mid-range shot by Linden Heidecker. The Stampeders took less than a minute to respond to get on the scoreboard with the equalizer. Six minutes later Lightning scored once again as Matt Johannson found the back of the Stampeders’ net. Just 12 seconds from the end of the second, hosts scored to equalize once more: 2-2.
When the Stampeders scored in the second minute of the third to take the lead for the first time in the game, the focus of the teams turned noticeably, and inevitably, to the game of hockey away from skirmishing as time started to get shorter and shorter to win the two points. As the Lightning tried to respond, the Stampeders scored yet another one rendering the task of a comeback even more difficult for the visitors. But the Lightning were not going away.
Two minutes after the Stampeders’ 4-2 lead was placed on the scoreboard, Lightning reduced the lead to a single point with Dylan Houston. That goal raised the quality of the play even more with both sides stepping up good puck movement. When the last two minutes of the last period arrived, Stettler bench called a time-out with the hope of at least taking the game to overtime with an equalizer, and it paid off. Towards the end of the 19th minute, Braydon Whiteford scored from close range for the Lightning, at least securing the overtime. But the visitors had more up in their sleeve: Just 12 seconds from the end of regulation, Steven Fletcher of the Lightning made the optimum use of the chaos in front of the Stampeders’ net to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive: 5-4.
The Lightning didn’t fare as well in their weekend games, though, losing both to Mountainview and Blackfalds.
Stettler got themselves on the scoreboard first during their Saturday, Jan. 16 game in Mountainview. Three minutes into the first, Heidecker snuck the puck past the Colts’ netminder. After that, though, the period belonged to the Mountainview Colts, who scored a blistering eight goals, including two powerplay points.
After a breather between periods, the second saw Stettler recover some of their momentum, with a goal by Johannson and another from Derek Muhlbach narrowing the score gap to 8-3. Stettler’s defence picked up and the Colts were kept out of their net.
Penalties hurt the Lightning in the third, as two back-to-back Colts goals came courtesy of the Lightning being shorthanded. Muhlbach snatched another goal, bringing the tally to 10-4, but a final Colts goal brought the game to a close 11-4.
The following day, the Lightning travelled to Blackfalds, where a nail-biting game ended in a 4-4 tie, forcing overtime.
By the end of the first period, the Lightning trailed the Blackfalds Wranglers 4-1, with Muhlbach sneaking in Stettler’s sole goal. The second was a mad scramble as Stettler worked to even out the game, first through a powerplay goal by Whiteford, and then a regulation goal by Kieran Rost.
Starting the third 3-4 for Blackfalds, it was a desperate scramble to keep the Wranglers from scoring while trying to tie up and pull ahead. With five minutes left in the game, DJ Kistner tied it up, but the Lightning couldn’t manage to pull ahead.
The game went to a three-round shoot-out, with Stettler scoring once to Blackfalds’ twice.
The Lightning return home this Friday, Jan. 22, to play Mountainview, and then again next weekend to play Coaldale. The game scheduled for Friday, Jan. 29 in Castor has been cancelled as the Medicine Hat Cubs will not be completing the season.