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Stamps enter break in third spot

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As the Swan Valley Stampeders head into 2020, there are many similarities to last year’s run to the finals, and yet many differences as well.
The Stamps are in the top three once again with Portage and Steinbach – the true standard bearers of the MJHL.
Barry Wolff is on the bench. There’s lots of local talent on the team with Lane Kirk, Jackson Betcher and Carter Cockburn again in the lineup.
But, upon further glance, this team also is much different. They are not the high-flying Stamps of a year ago. They don’t have the league’s leading scorer in Josh Tripp or the ultra-skilled Bradly Goethals. In fact, most of the forwards are new to the team.
No, this team does it a different way. They spread out the scoring. They wear you down. And, despite an almost complete turnover of talent – and their head coach rejoining the team mid-season – the Stampeders are within striking distance of first place.
So what’s changed, and what’s the same? Lane Kirk, who joined the Stampeders in the second half of last season after recovering from an injury suffered with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL, said this edition of the Stampeders has true depth.
“Last year we were really top-heavy, with three guys sitting at the top of the scoring race,” said Kirk. “This year it’s more rounded, where we have four lines who can match any other team’s four lines, which can only help us in the long run.”
While the top three teams are the same, the way they got there isn’t. Portage isn’t invincible. Neither is Steinbach. Swan Valley isn’t as explosive. And, lurking behind this group are teams like Winkler and Wayway who are just a winning streak away from moving into the top three themselves.
“It’s crazy,” said Kirk. “I don’t remember even as a kid watching that there was a time that not even the top three, but the top six, were within striking distance of the top. “It’s good for the league and good for us to (force us to) be a better team.”
And while Kirk isn’t the leading scoring defenceman, he is chipping in with significant points and earning high praise for his play in his own zone for the Stamps this year. In fact, the Stampeder blueline is a force to be reckoned with this season.
“We have a couple of new faces this year, and I think they’re gelling well with the team,” said Kirk. “We’re also a lot bigger this year, and that opens up things for us.”
Last week
The final week of 2019 action saw the Stamps split a pair of games, ending their 2019 with a 3-1 home-ice loss to the Portage Terriers.
The Stamps missed a chance to pull even with the Terriers, who are now four points ahead of Swan Valley in the standings, now tied for top spot with Steinbach, each with two games in hand.
The Terriers scored once every period, including a pair by Kolton Shindle. The lone Stampeder to score was Frazer Dodd, who put home his 15th of the year with less than a minute left in the opening period to tie the game at 1-1. Tyler Lees gave the Terriers the lead back 5:55 into the second period. But it was Shindle scoring two minutes into the third, that gave the visitors enough comfort to go into lockdown mode for the rest of the game.
Mikael Foucher stopped 29 shots to take the loss for the Stamps – the first for head coach Barry Wolff since he returned to the team.
The Stamps started their week in fine style, laying a 7-2 pasting on the visiting OCN Blizzard last Wednesday. The victory, which evens the season series between the two clubs at 2-2, comes two weeks after the Stamps shut out the Blizzard 5-0.
Five unanswered goals in the first and second period were enough to put the struggling Blizzard away. Seven different Stampeders hit the scoreboard on this night – Daunte Fortner (fourth), Ryley Lanthier (third), Luke Beerman (12th), Tommy Cardinal (12th), Josh Maucieri (fourth), Frazer Dodd (14th), and Nathan Carl (16th).
Mikael Foucher turned away 27 shots for the win.
Up next
The Stamps break for Christmas, but are back in action early in the New Year with weekend games at home on Jan. 3 and 4 against Winkler and Neepawa respectively.
“A break at Christmas is good for any player whether you are hot or cold,” said Kirk. “It gives guys time to heal a bit and get ready for the second half.”
The Flyers have had the Stamps’ number this year so far, going 3-0-1 in their first four meetings to clinch the season series. The Stamps split their last two meetings in mid-November against the Flyers, winning in a shootout and losing 5-4 in regulation.
The Natives’ struggles are well known this year, but they are actually coming off a win against the Stampeders in late November – one which snapped a lengthy losing streak.
Swan Valley still holds a 2-1 season series edge over Neepawa and, in fact, will wrap up their regular season encounters in the next couple of weeks. The Stamps will face the Natives three times in a 13-day span in January.
Stamps stuff
Nathan Carl’s goal against the Blizzard came while the Stamps were short-handed, giving the team five so far this year. That’s fourth best in the MJHL – three teams have scored six times. The Stamps only allowed a short-handed goal against for the first time on Saturday against Portage. Only the Terriers and Virden Oil Capitals have not given up a shorty this season… The Stamps have a record of 23-11-3-0… They went 7-1-1-0 in the month of December.

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Derek Holtom
REPORTER
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