After a slow start to the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) season, the Ponoka Stampeders and the league have announced the team will be shut down for the season.
The team struggled right out of the gate and lost games by big margins such as a 25-1 loss to the Red Deer Vipers, a 20-0 loss to the Three Hills Thrashers, and a 23-1 loss to the Mountainview Colts.
The losses came after the Stampeders struggled to put a quality team together after players didn’t show up for training camp. Because of this, the team had weeks to find players to put on the ice, which led the coaching staff to dress players who previously played recreational hockey with no bodychecking experience.
Head coach of the Stampeders Tyler Friesen said earlier this week the HJHL phoned the team’s president to tell them in terms of competitiveness the league decided to shut the team down for the season.
“We had a late start and didn’t get a lot of help… What they’re allowing us is to take this time to get sponsorships, and get an action plan set in stone for next season,” he said.
“As I said we didn’t get the time to get everything settled down and organized so they want us back in the league next year. The league has approved and all the teams want Ponoka back in the league.”
Last week Friesen reported that he vouched to the HJHL that they were going to turn things around this season. This led to the team and the league working together to try and find players and put a competitive team on the ice this year. When asked what changed since then Friesen said he wasn’t sure but anticipated it was because of the negative publicity around the team from some well-known news sources.
“It was just a tough scenario that we couldn’t really escape in my opinion. There were a lot of intangibles that didn’t fall in our laps,” he added.
It’s important for the Stampeders to return to the ice next season because it will be their 25th anniversary since the organization was created. Friesen said they’re taking the situation on strides of positivity to bring the team back next year.
“Twenty-five years of Ponoka Stampeder hockey in Junior B that’s a huge milestone and that’s something we want to embrace for next year. The Town of Ponoka and the rink staff they’ve been very supportive in getting us ready for next season,” he said.
The Stampeders are hoping their players will come back next season and are searching for players to commit. At this point, all the players have been released and have an opportunity to play Junior B somewhere else or in another league. The overall mood he got from his players after the news came out is that they do want to come back.
“One of the things I’m tasked with for the next six to eight months while the season continues is promote, build packages, and talk to some local teams about what we want to build next year,” Friesen said adding he will talk with minor hockey teams to try and recruit players. “To get the word out because I think because of how late things were there were a lot of rumors that we were folding.”
President of the HJHL Ian Hall sent the Advocate an emailed response to the situation and said the Stampeders and the HJHL Executive mutually agreed that the Stampeders would no longer compete this season. The Stampeders and the HJHL will work towards the mutual goal of having the Stampeders return for the 2023-24 season.