New faces at Lightning bench

Since announcing his retirement as head coach at the end of the 2013-2014 season, Doug Smith hasn't been able to get free of the team.

Since announcing his retirement as head coach at the end of the 2013-2014 season, Stettler Lightning General Manager Doug Smith hasn’t been able to get free of the reins of the Junior B hockey team.

This year is no different.

“I’m really bad at (retiring),” Smith said with a laugh.

This year, though, he’s managed to get a bit freer than the previous year, stepping out of the role of coach of any sort, stepping into the shadows to handle off-bench managerial work.

Gavin Brandl, who coached alongside Smith last year and is a former Lightning player himself, will be joined by two of last year’s most solid players, Reese Anheliger and Mark Dietz.

Both players have aged out of the junior league and have decided to stay with the team in a coaching capacity.

“I’m quite excited about the younger voices at the bench,” Smith said of the new coaches and Brandl. “It’s a fresh new look.”

There’s some hard decisions for the Lightning coming up as it firms up its roster for the 2015-16 season. With a large number of their overage players indicating they want to return, the coaches and Smith must narrow the number to four, the amount of overagers they’re allowed to keep on their team as per the league bylaws.

There’s also some gaps to fill where players have aged out. Not only are top-scorers Anheliger and Deitz out of the picture – as players at least – goalie Simon Thieleman is also gone.

Thieleman, who played almost every game last season, made some incredible saves to keep the Lightning on the winning side of the tally, including a desperate flying leap across the net that somehow deflected a puck.

“We definitely have some big skates to fill,” Smith said.

However, the new coaches seem up to the task, Smith noted.

“We’re getting a good response from the small towns (around Stettler),” he explained. “Towns like Forestburg, other junior hockey folk.”

The Lightning have the first of its tryouts this weekend.

It’s going to be a tough year for the Lightning. All teams have the same sort of growing pains at the start of the season so Smith said he doesn’t expect anything different for the others. Instead, he looks to the end of the season, where Red Deer hosts the provincials.

Since Red Deer hosts the provincials, one of the berths filled by Central Alberta will be filled, Smith said. Instead of a North division and a South division going to provincials, North and South will most likely have to battle it out to find out who goes to provincials.

“It definitely makes it harder (to get there),” Smith said.

Exhibition games start in September with the regular season starting in October, though before that, Smith noted there’s one more task to complete – rally up members for the board.

“It’s getting to a point where it’s been hard filling some of the executive positions,” he explained.

By the league bylaws, each team must have a board of executives. The board must, at its smallest, consist of six people, so its votes can be ratified. Currently, the Lightning board is down to three people, Smith said.

People who are interested in joining the board can contact Smith. There’s one meeting a month, and Smith noted the board can be flexible for the schedules of its membership.