Stettler takes bantam A final to shootout

The bantam A Stettler Storm’s first foray into tournament play this season came with a silver lining.

Jordan Lee of the Stettler Storm faces off against Mark Patzer of the Chestermere Lakers during the final of the bantam A hockey tournament Sunday at the Stettler Recreation Centre.

Jordan Lee of the Stettler Storm faces off against Mark Patzer of the Chestermere Lakers during the final of the bantam A hockey tournament Sunday at the Stettler Recreation Centre.

The bantam A Stettler Storm’s first foray into tournament play this season came with a silver lining.

The host Storm lived up to their name with three wins in as many round-robin games before falling by the narrowest of margins in Sunday’s dramatic final at the Stettler Recreation Centre.

The Chestermere Lakers outscored Stettler 2-0 in the shootout to win 4-3 in the championship game, avenging a 4-2 loss to the Storm in the preliminary round.

“I’m not even disappointed with the loss in the shootout,” Storm coach Rory Rost said after a post-game chat with his players.

“We said, ‘This isn’t the banner we want to be winning.’ It’s a couple of banners in March — league banner and provincial banner.”

Stettler, the top team in the North Central Minor Hockey Association, has already punched its ticket to the provincial championship as the host of the March 14-17 tournament.

The Storm showed their moxie in the final, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period to force a five-minute overtime period that saw Stettler hold a 7-1 edge in shots.

“I was very proud of the kids — the way they came back and battled back and tied it up,” Rost said. “I think if we would have had another five minutes of overtime, we probably would have won it.”

The teams were tied 1-1 after the opening period, but Stettler fell behind in the second period because of a cluster of penalties that left the Storm shorthanded for an extended stretch. They were short two skaters for back-to-back sequences in a period during which they were outshot 17-7.

“We had a couple of selfish penalties,” Rost said. “We talked to the boys in between the (second and third) periods and we said, ‘You’ve got to think of the team first.’ That cost us that period.

“As long as we keep learning a lesson, I’m happy. And our boys are very receptive. They listen. We said we had to stay out of the penalty box in the third period, and we did.”

Stettler received third-period goals from Quade Cassidy and Brendan Pederson, who netted the equalizer with just 2:46 left in regulation time.

Brett Coleman also scored for the Storm, and Ben Bauman made 27 saves in the Stettler net.

The Storm fired 36 shots at Kenton Stoye.

Alex Rideout, with a pair, and Ryland Mills scored for Chestermere in regulation time, and both of those players tallied in the shootout.

Each team had a would-be goal called back in the shootout, as officials ruled against Stettler captain Matt Sylvester and Chestermere captain Jaydon Sommerfeld.

“Matt Sylvester, apparently he took a shot, sort of fanned on it, the goalie made the save and Matt scored on the rebound,” Rost replayed. “I didn’t think he actually took (an initial) shot. I thought he fanned on it completely.

“And apparently (the Lakers’ no-goal) hit the crossbar.”

The scheduled five-round shootout ended after Stettler’s fourth shot, because Chestermere had already scored on two of its three shots.

“In practice, we do shootouts, but it’s a little different,” Rost said.

“This is our first tournament this year. We’re not going to really go to a tournament, other than this one. It’s just the way it turned out this year, and it’s maybe going to be a good thing by the end of the year. We’re hopefully going to have some energy and some momentum, and that’s what we want. We don’t want to be peaking in January. We want to be peaking in March.”

The Storm are in fine form in league play, sporting a 11-2-2 record atop the Tier 1 division in the North Central circuit.

After a strong performance in their home tournament, they’ve erased “a mini slump,” by their standards.

“We lost one exhibition game before Christmas, and then had a bit of a break,” said Rost, whose hockey-playing sons include bantam forward Ethan. “We lost a little of our conditioning and timing, and we started off with two ties and two losses (after the Christmas break). If you want to call that a slump, we had a mini slump, but it was probably one of the shortest slumps in hockey history — that I can recall — because we’re back playing the same kind of hockey we did before Christmas.

“The way this game (the shootout final) turned out, I don’t consider it a loss. We accomplished exactly what we wanted to this weekend.”

Sandwiching their 4-2 round-robin victory over Chestermere on Saturday, the Storm defeated Cochrane 9-4 on Friday night and blanked Lloydminster 7-0 on Saturday night. Lloydminster goalie Austin Morrison was a gamer in blocking 65 shots, while Bauman faced just 10 shots for the Storm.

Bauman has capably carried the mail in Stettler’s net. He’s the team’s lone goaltender, though he’s expected to have backup support for the final part of the season.

“It’s something we’re going to have to address here in the next month or so — maybe bring up a goalie from the B team and give Ben a break,” Rost said.

“When it comes to provincials, we’re going to have to have at least a backup goalie. Probably, Ben will be our No. 1. Obviously, he has been all year. But I don’t want him to be tired coming into playoffs and provincials, too.”

As the fan support indicated last weekend, the momentum is starting to build in advance of the provincial championship in Stettler.

“We’re looking forward to it, for sure,” Rost said. “We should have a little bit of an advantage, because we’re not going to be staying in hotels. There’s going to be some teams staying in Red Deer and possibly Camrose, so it takes a toll, travelling back and forth, staying in hotels and eating restaurant meals.

“We’ve got 17 skaters and a good little goalie. We’re happy with the group we have, and we’ve had great support from the fans. It’s been a lot of fun.”