The kids are all right.
That’s the summation from coach and general manager Doug Smith as his Stettler Lightning turn the page from pre-season to regular season.
The Lightning (3-0-1) were unbeaten in Heritage Junior Hockey League exhibition play, including a 5-4 win over the Mountainview Colts at home Sunday night and a 5-5 tie with those same Colts last Wednesday at Didsbury.
Stettler begins the regular season Saturday night at the Didsbury Recreation Complex, one day after the Colts’ homeopener against the Banff Bears.
The pre-season performance of local midget graduates gave Smith early optimism for the Lightning in the 2012-13 season.
“I was really pleased with some of the local players, especially on defence,” Smith said. “Cody Wright, Steve Fletcher and Ricky Armstrong, all those guys are products of our local minor hockey association and they’re nicely stepping in there. They’re getting a feel for this (junior B) speed very quickly, and there’s a lot of confidence from the other guys on the bench that these young guys can step in and do the job.”
Twin forwards Adam and Scott Ternes of Stettler appear ready to stick with the Lightning at age 16. They played minor midget AAA in Red Deer last season, and became available this month after tryouts with the major midget AAA Red Deer Optimist Rebels.
The twins dressed for the Lightning’s final two exhibition games, and one of the brothers scored in each game.
“They’re going to stay with us, with the way they played both those hockey games,” Smith declared Monday. “I don’t know if the midget level that they would (otherwise) be playing at would help them too much.
“In both those games, they showed they’re more than capable of competing (in junior B). Their hockey sense is very good. I think they have to get used to not necessarily size but strength now, because they’re up against 20-year-old guys, most of them, so they’re quite a bit stronger in the body.
“But (the Ternes brothers) have handled themselves very, very well.”
The list of Lightning newcomers includes versatile Wyatt Haustein, who had 10 points in 27 games with the junior A Fort McMurray Oil Barons before finishing last season with the Canmore Eagles, also of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Haustein, an Erskine native who turned 19 on Sunday, checks in at six-foot-one and 205 pounds.
“Getting Wyatt back gives us a big-bodied guy that is able to control himself fairly well,” Smith said. “He’ll kind of be a target for a little while, I suppose. Guys will be trying to see how he’s going to react, but he’s pretty calm and cool. And that kind of helps everybody else, knowing that you have that type of guy there that’s willing to step in there, if he has to.”
Haustein, who has major midget AAA experience in Red Deer, played bantam AAA in Stettler, with Smith as his coach.
Smith believes the likes of Haustein can set the tone for a tougher team than last season.
“The difference or feeling this year, as a group, is even if we do get scored on this year, we’re confident enough that it doesn’t matter to us, where last year it kind of weighed on us a little bit,” said
Smith, in his fifth season as the Lightning coach. “So I think that little turning point is good.
“Physically, as a whole, we’re a little bit stronger, so when teams try to intimidate us a little bit with the body, we’re able to respond. And that has some other players feeling a little more free to do what they want to do out there.”
Haustein is listed as a forward, but he can also play defence, as he did in midget, Smith said.
“We’ve got a couple of D-men that we tried out on forward a couple of times, and they played really well up front, so we’ve got some flexibility. We’re still carrying eight defencemen, and we’ll probably carry eight, maybe even nine. But two of those guys can play forward quite easily.”
The Lightning received a pleasant surprise in the pre-season with the return of skilled defenceman Dylan Muhlbach, who didn’t plan to play in Stettler this season because he’s moved to Calgary for university.
He’s now expected to be available on a part-time basis, and Smith projected that Muhlbach, 18, might be able to play 80 per cent of the games.
Muhlbach scored two goals in Sunday’s victory, while singles went to Tyson Glazier, Scott Ternes and Kyler O’Connor.
Josh McCallum and Mack Schell — goaltending partners with the midget AA Stettler Legion Blues last season — split the Lightning netminding duties Sunday.
In last Wednesday’s tie, Haustein scored two goals and set up another for Stettler, which also got goals from Adam Ternes, Jacob Schwarzenberger and Gavin Brandl.
Coleman Waddell of Duchess and Jeff Skaley of Stettler tended goal for the Lightning.
OVERTIME: Stettler’s home-opener is scheduled for Sept. 28 against the Three Hills Thrashers … Lightning forward Tyler Bissett won’t be available for the first two months of the season, because of his cross-country running commitments at the U of A Augustana Campus in Camrose. … Among the veterans still mulling whether they’ll return to the Lightning are 21-year-olds Steve Blacklock and Wayne Twidale, Smith said.