That moniker not only has a nice ring to it, but it’s also new territory for the Stettler Lightning in contemporary times.
The Lightning extended their winning streak to seven games with an 8-4 win over the host Red Deer Vipers on Saturday, one night after Stettler posted a 3-1 home-ice victory over the Three Hills Thrashers.
The Lightning woke up Sunday as the front-runners not only in the Northern Division, but in the entire Heritage Junior Hockey League.
A month into the franchise’s 20th season, the Lightning sport a 7-3 record going into this Saturday’s home game against the Medicine Hat Cubs (8:15 p.m.).
“It’s been a long road for most of these guys,” said Stettler coach and general manager Doug Smith. “We haven’t seen this (winning) part before, so I think they’re enjoying it.”
The Lightning accented their Saturday victory with an offensive surge not previously seen during the team’s winning run.
“We’re scoring now — that’s the next step,” Smith said. “We had been worried about the offence, or at least the (lack of) finish.
“But all facets chimed in at once in Saturday’s game.”
Landon Potter led the way with a hat trick. Dylan Houston added two goals and an assist. DJ Kistner, Connor Doucette and Joel Meredith also scored for Stettler, which broke open a 2-2 game and outscored Red Deer 6-2 in the final period.
Lightning goaltender Simon Thieleman made 33 saves. Red Deer starter Anthony Hamill, who was replaced after the fifth Stettler goal, and Klay Munro faced a combined 35 shots.
“In the third period, we came out and (Doucette) scored — boom — in that first minute, and that just seemed to defl ate (the Vipers), because they knew they weren’t getting many chances before that,” Smith said.
“And then when the fourth one went in, they really started to unravel. It was good to see we banged in that many in that period. When the opposition starts to take chances, it really opens up our guys offensively and we were able to capitalize quite well.”
The game featured an oddity as two penalty shots resulted in goals — Red Deer’s Connor Einhorn scored in the first period and Stettler’s Potter tallied in the second.
The Lightning have seen three penalty shots in as many games. Kyler O’Connor cashed in last Wednesday for one of two goals in Stettler’s 4-2 victory over the last-place Stampeders at Ponoka.
Houston and Jake Schwarzenberger, with a shorthanded tally, also scored for the Lightning. Backup goalie Jeff Skaley blocked 30 shots for his first regular-season win with Stettler’s junior B team.
Facing the rival Thrashers, the Lightning showed up in style Friday night in front of a big crowd at the Stettler Recreation Centre. The play was spirited and the fans — for both teams — were boisterous through the final buzzer.
Adam Ternes settled the score when he netted an empty-netter with 15 seconds left. Tyler Newsham had pulled the Thrashers to within a goal with three minutes remaining.
After a scoreless first period, O’Connor redirected a Dylan Muhlbach point shot late in the second. Scott Ternes gave the Lightning a 2-0 lead at 13:13 of the final period. His linemates, Adam Ternes and former Houston, drew the assists on what proved to be the winning goal.
The Lightning atoned for a season-opening 2-1 loss to the Thrashers at Three Hills.
“Both teams are pretty equal and alike in the way they play the game,” Smith said. “Overall team speed got us in good stead on Friday night and it really showed up on Saturday night — if we keep our pace up, it seems to wear other teams down.
“Our positional discipline on the ice really gets teams aggravated. It’s something you don’t see a whole lot of at our level, because it’s a little more free flowing.”
Thieleman made 27 saves, including a second-period breakaway stop, to beat the Thrashers, his original Heritage league team. Brady Hoover stopped 30 shots for Three Hills.
The Thrashers (4-2-0-1) bounced back Saturday with an 11-2 rout of Ponoka
At the Red Deer Arena, the Lightning played the second half of Saturday’s game without bruising forward Wyat Haustein, who was forced to leave because of a blown skate boot. He had been part of a strong forechecking line with Doucette and Reese Anheliger.
Also earning praise for their defensive play was the line of Kistner, Meredith and the unheralded Logan Davidson.
“Logan was solid every shift,” Smith said. “He brings a lot of power. He’s not big in stature, but solid on his skates. His line also played well.”
Meredith, a Lightning newcomer, was a teammate of Lightning veteran Anheliger in their midget 15-year-old season.
Blake Johnson, another fresh face in Stettler, showed his versatility in dropping back to play defence Saturday. Veteran defenceman Cam Wright returned to action after being away for work.
This weekend, the Lightning expect to be without Castor defencemen Mark Dietz and Steven Fletcher, who soon finishes his college apprenticeship in Calgary.
“But all the forwards are available for Saturday,” Smith said. “Derek Muhlbach will be back. And we might try to work Jacob Hamel into the lineup.”
Hamel hasn’t played this season because of a football injury suffered last month.
One of the Red Deer scorers last Saturday was rookie forward Kale Lapointe, a scoring machine last season with the Rimbey midgets. The Vipers take a 2-4 record into tonight’s game at Ponoka against the Stampeders (0-6).
CAPTAIN’S CORNER: In what’s shaping up to be a promising season for the Lightning, they have named Landon Potter as captain and Dylan Muhlbach, Jake Schwarzenberger and Cam Wright as the assistants.
“They’re all really good voices in the dressing room,” said coach-GM Doug Smith. “Dylan Muhlbach, even though he hasn’t been with us as long as the others, is a calming voice in the dressing room. He’s on point and well-spoken.”
COACH’S COMPANY: Smith now has three assistant coaches as Lloyd Larsen and former Lightning player Terry MacPherson have joined Brett Nixon behind the bench.
Larsen is no stranger to the Lightning, and MacPherson is expected to provide a fresh perspective.
“He’s a nice, new voice on the bench,” Smith said. “It seems to be readily accepted by the guys.”
HOME-AND-HOME: The Lightning have just one game this weekend as they entertain the Cubs (6-4) on Saturday night, a week before the same teams face off Nov. 2 in Medicine Hat.
The Cubs are host the Banff Bears (5-4) tonight and Thursday night.
“Medicine Hat is very offensive, but they give up a lot of goals at the same time,” Smith said. “If we’re solid defensively … “
“Their top guys seem to have a lot of penalties, too.”
NUMBERS GAME: Stettler is one point ahead of the Southern Division-leading Coaldale Copperheads (6-6-0-1) and two points in front of Okotoks (6-1) and Medicine Hat. The Lightning are five points ahead of their nearest Northern Division challenger, Three Hills. … Stettler’s top scorer, Adam Ternes, is sixth in league scoring with five goals and 15 points in 10 games.