With the Stettler Lightning and the Ponoka Stampeders only one point apart and with only four games left in the season, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will advance to the playoffs and who will be left behind.
Stettler currently leads Ponoka by a point in the standings, due to Medicine Hat’s forfeiture of a game earlier this season. When the team folded and announced it wouldn’t complete its season, the game — yet to be rescheduled — ended up in a forfeit, with the win awarded to Stettler.
Wins on Stettler’s part would guarantee a place in the playoffs, whereas losses would then leave who advances to the finals in Ponoka’s hands and whether or not they win their last games of the season.
Stettler’s games this past weekend didn’t let the team bring home any extra points to pad the distance between them and Ponoka, as on Saturday, Jan. 23, Stettler lost 5-1 to the Three Hills Thrashers, and on Sunday, Jan. 24, dropped the game against the Coaldale Copperheads 9-1.
The Thrashers on Saturday scored first, but was quickly answered by Matt Johannson, tying the game 1-1 before the halfway point of the first period. Before the buzzer signaled the end of the period, the Thrashers had struck again, bringing the score to 2-1.
Even with aggressive play and several opportunities, Stettler couldn’t tie up the game, and in the second, three more Three Hills goals brought the score to 5-1.
The next day, short-handed due to injuries and players who were unable to make the game due to work schedules, the Lightning faced off against the third-place team in the Southern Division of the Heritage Junior Hockey League, the Coaldale Copperheads.
Coaldale was first on the scoreboard less than a minute into the game, though Steven Fletcher tied up the game, and a goal by Kieran Rost put Stettler ahead 2-1. Three more goals by the Copperheads, however, had Stettler heading into the second period with a 4-2 deficit.
The second period didn’t treat the Lightning kindly, for despite several opportunities, the team wasn’t able to get the puck past the Copperheads’ netminder. By the end of the second period, the deficit had grown to 7-2, and another two goals in the third brought it to 9-2.
Despite the great gap between scores, the Lightning were determined to not go down without a fight, and Dylan Houston managed to get another goal for the home team. However, his was the last of the game, and the buzzer rang on a 9-3 loss for the Lightning.
“One thing we’re working on is keeping a lead,” Doug Smith, Stettler’s general manager, said. “We’ve gotten to the point where we’re consistently able to get a lead early in the game, but unable to keep it. So now, we’re working on having the team realize how the game changes when you’re in the lead — the other team becomes sharper, step it up, to tie it up.”
Stettler’s next game is this Friday, Jan. 29, at 8 p.m. at the Beaverdome in Castor, and will be helping raise money for the community. On Monday, Feb. 1, Stettler will head to Red Deer for their final away game, before returning home for the final two games of the regular season, Friday and Saturday, Feb 5-6, against Three Hills and Airdrie. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. in both games.