For the fans of Junior B hockey in Alberta chances are they’ve seen what’s been going on with Ponoka Stampeders of the Heritage Junior Hockey League.
What started out as a routine offseason for the Stampeders quickly became complicated once players didn’t show up to training camp. This has led Ponoka to lose games by unusual deficits such as a 25-1 loss to the Red Deer Vipers, a 20-0 loss to the Three Hills Thrashers, and most recently a 23-1 loss to the Mountainview Colts.
Head coach of the Stampeders Tyler Friesen told the Advocate in the offseason that they struggled to put a team together.
“Just some circumstances that came up about bringing guys to camp and not showing up. We basically had like two, maybe three weeks to put a team together on short notice,” he said.
Friesen explained there were some players who were committed to the team that didn’t show but they built a team with what they could.
Because of this, the quality of players hasn’t been up to par Friesen said they have seven players who are making the transition from playing pond hockey or recreational hockey where there’s no bodychecking.
“Even in a short month of experimentation, I’ve seen a lot of growth in a lot of those guys, and they’re players that add a lot of value to our team. There are a few others that are just hit and miss and maybe they just need a little bit more time to develop which happens,” he said.
This week they’ve got the word out looking for players in pursuit of improving the team and have had some interest from players who have been cut from other HJHL teams. The Stampeders have also received support from the league and the other teams that have helped them spread the word.
“It’s been good to see the support coming in lately with the number of players that have read our comments and read our posts to say ‘hey we want to come to play’ and make our team better and we’re looking for that to continue to grow. I know Ponoka said as a board they’ve got lots of sponsorships and stuff and they want to keep that going and keep people involved,” he said.
They’re looking to add anyone who may be interested and have junior hockey experience more specifically forwards and defencemen. Friesen explained they’ve gotten a lot of interest from goaltenders but fortunately they’re solid in that position.
They’re hoping the work they put in this season and looking ahead to next season continues to build upon that to get back on their feet.
The process has been hectic but is slowly putting the pieces together to put a solid team on the ice. He added this whole process has been challenging for the players and staff as well.
“Obviously you don’t want to see scores like the ones we’ve had in our first three regular-season games but I brought it up with the players and said look I’m dedicated myself coming from Red Deer and Olds and continuing to grow this team,” Friesen said adding he explained to his players this is going to be a process and not an issue they can fix overnight. “But by continuing to promote it and continuing to bring the best players we can on the team some guys take it a little harder than others and I think as a collective group we understand that we need to improve within first before.”
There was a possibility the HJHL was going to shut down the team for the year due to the slow start Friesen said but the coach vouched for his team and the league allowed them to continue their season.
“I vouched we will get better but we need the caliber of players, we need the skill of players just to help improve our team to make sure it doesn’t happen,” he said.
“I think Ponoka is a team that’s desperate for that type of hockey and I feel in this new wave that we can promote that and we can start to grow a program and work with Ponoka minor hockey just to grow local.”
The Stampeders did not play last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made putting a team together more challenging coming into this season. Friesen said there was a possibility the league might have told them to just take this season off but with sponsorships and team interest at stake, it was important for the team to continue.
For those looking to contact the Stampeders to play for them in the future can contact Friesen at email@example.com.
The Advocate did reach out to the HJHL but they decided not to comment as it is an internal matter.