It took almost two months, but the Stettler Lightning’s surge finally curtailed Friday at High River, where the Flyers won 4-2 to end Stettler’s 11-game winning streak.
It had been almost two months since the Lightning had lost a game in the Heritage Junior Hockey League.
And it was a tight battle in High River, as the Flyers needed an empty-net goal in the final minute to seal the deal.
Stettler took an 11-4 record into Tuesday night’s home game against the reputable Blackfalds Wranglers (10-4), who trailed the Lightning by just two points atop the Northern Division.
Lightning backup goaltender Jeff Skaley earned praise for his 22-save performance in Friday’s loss to High River.
“I thought he did a whale of a job,” Stettler coach-GM Doug Smith said of Skaley. “He kept us in the game early, when we weren’t getting out of the chute quick enough, and made three or four good saves in the first period to keep it close.
“None of the goals that went in were of his doing — a lot of other factors came into play before it went into the net.”
Skaley got the start in the absence of starter Simon Thieleman, who wasn’t available because of work commitments.
“We knew Jeff was going to shine,” Smith said. “It was just a matter of giving him a chance where we knew he could succeed. I think the rest of the players were more than pleased with his effort. They just wish they might have worked more efficient to let him come out of there (High River) with a win.”
Last Wednesday, Skaley tended goal as Stettler won its 11th straight game, a 10-2 victory over the winless Ponoka Stampeders (0-14). The same teams face each other this Friday night in Stettler, before the Lightning visit the Coaldale Copperheads (7-10-2) on Saturday night.
At High River, Jake Schwarzenberger and Wyat Haustein scored the Stettler goals. Sheh Gallimore tallied twice for the Flyers and singles went to Alex Pronchuk, on the power play, and Keaton Lackten, into an empty net.
The Lightning fired 31 shots at Tyler Fornwald.
“One thing or another, it just didn’t seem to happen that night,” Smith said. “They’re a good-sized hockey club and they play in a little smaller rink than the rest of the league, so your time and space (against High River) was taken away rather quickly, just by some of their size.
“I thought we handled ourselves quite well in a fairly difficult game. We kept in there. It was a good test from one of the better teams in our league. They’ll win a lot of hockey games if they stay focused.
“Again, it was another long trip down, too. We get off the bus after three and a half hours and go at it. We left at 3:30, and you can’t leave much earlier than that, because everyone is still in school or working or whatever.”
The Flyers sport a 10-6 record and sit four points back of the Okotoks Bisons in the Southern Division.
During their long winning streak, the Lightning received plenty of offence from a pair of skilled lines. Now, other players are contributing, too.
“The emergence of the line of Connor Doucette, Derek Muhlbach and Wyat Haustein, that’s a real plus for us,” Smith said. “We now have a third line that can score.
“And the other line, with Reese (Anheliger), Logan (Davidson) and Jacob (Hamel), is a hard-working unit and tough to play against. Their time will come offensively.”
In the Stettler rout at Ponoka, Kyler O’Connor netted two goals and two assists. Schwarzenberger, Adam Ternes and Dylan Houston each had a goal and two assists. The other Lightning scorers were Doucette, Hamel, Mulhbach, Scott Ternes and defenceman Steven Fletcher, with his first goal of the season.
Skaley made 17 saves for Stettler, while his teammates directed 51 shots at Eli Falls and Nathaniel Nickel.