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Skating into 2022, the Pontiacs win their first match of the new year

Taking on the Drayton Valley Thunder on Tuesday evening, the Bonnyville Pontiacs marked their first game of 2022 with an overtime win.

BONNYVILLE – Hosting the first game of 2022, the Pontiacs took the win in a close matchup against the Drayton Valley Thunder, winning in overtime. 

Both teams saw successes and missteps in equal fashion as the game remained neck-in-neck through all three periods. However, the Pontiacs’ conditioning and stamina played a large part in the team's ability to maintain pressure and intensity while wearing down their opponents in overtime. 

JR Ashmead, with a pass from Sebastian Tamburro, scored the overtime goal, which also happened to be Ashmead's first regular season AJHL goal. 

The final score saw the Pontiacs win 5-4 against the Thunder.  

Unassisted, Pontiacs’ forward Charlie Russell was the first player to light up the score board part way through the first period. The Drayton Valley Thunder would come back to score the next two goals in the first period. 

With an assist from Kash Rasmussen and Will Hilfiker, Noah Heinrich was the first to earn a point in the second period. The goal was also Heinrich’s first regular season AJHL goal and a moment to remember for the 16-year-old hockey player.  

Shortly after, the Thunder scored once again and took the lead for a short time. Less than a minute later, Trey Funk would answer the goal with the help of the Pontiacs’ team captain Rasmussen. The Thunder and Pontiacs finished the second period tied at 3-3. 

In the third period, the Thunder struck first, finding the back of the Pontiacs net early on. Alex Power would answer the goal with the assistance of Russell and Tamburro. The rest of the period was an intense back-and-forth stalemate as each team pushed to break the 4-4 tie. 

By maintaining pressure and holding on to possession of the puck for much of the overtime play, it gave the Pontiacs the edge they needed to win the match. 

After the game, Head Coach Rick Swan told Lakeland Today that he was proud of how the team responded to the pressure brought by Drayton Valley, noting that the Pontiacs were able to rise to the challenge when it was needed. 

“The pressure is so intense after Christmas break,” said Swan, while acknowledging that attention will need to be paid to conditioning players to handle a high level of pressure while performing at their peak and reducing the number of puck turnovers.  

“If we hang on to pucks, then we won’t manage it very well because of the pressure, and that’s how turnovers are caused. Our young D-core, in a sense... has to evolve and learn that the quicker they move a puck, especially from our back end, the less turnovers and the less time we spend in our defensive zone,” Swan explained. 

He added once players feel confident and comfortable under pressure it will reduce the impact on how players handle the puck. 

“Drayton Valley works hard, they pressure hard, and they were causing turnovers as a result of us handling the puck for too long,” he said. 

With the playoffs quickly approaching, Swan added, “The tough part of our schedule is just about to come, it's ahead of us and every game is going to be really difficult.” 

“(The upcoming games) are all going to have a playoff atmosphere like we did against Drayton Valley. I think it's going to be exciting for the fans, but from a coaching perspective, maybe not so much. If we work, we have a chance to be competitive and have a chance to get success every game.” 

Areas of improvement that Swan noted included sustained pressure carried out by the Pontiacs in the third period and the overall reduction in penalty minutes incurred by players.  

“It's not only tough to play shorthanded, but the momentum of your bench – they don't get into it as much and we are not as effective in doing that. So today is all about guys buying in and really making a concerted effort to play disciplined within the lines and fair plays so that we can play these guys 5-on-5.” 

For Tamburro, who assisted in two of the evening's goals against Drayton Valley, Tuesday’s game was a huge win. “Especially coming off of a tough loss against Lloydminster,” he said.  

“I think we definitely had control of that game, but sometimes we get into a little bit of penalty trouble and that hurts us a bit. But tonight, we found a way to work past that and we came back to capitalize on our chances,” said Tamburro. 

The highlights for the Pontiacs' left winger were the pass he made in the third period that led to a goal, and the opportunity he was able to help create for Ashmead in overtime, leading to the winning goal.  

Preparing for play offs 

As of Jan. 10, at 4:30 p.m., the Pontiacs will have to declare a final roster of 25 players that will carry them into the North Division Championship and if successful, the Alberta and possibly even National Junior A Hockey Championships.  

“Currently, we have 23 on our roster, but because of where we sit in the standings, and we think that we've got a really good chance this year to go far, we need some help on the front-end part of it. We are as an organization, doing our due diligence to make sure we add some real high-end kids before the Jan. 10 deadline, which will bring us up to that 25 that we can carry for the rest of the year,” said Swan. 

The idea is to incorporate strong players from other Jr. A teams ranked lower in the standings, Swan explains. Offering other players an opportunity to potentially play in a championship match and strengthening the Pontiacs’ bench and the team’s chances to advance through the playoffs.   

"We will be different come Monday... and the players that come in will be special impact guys that will help this group become even better,” he said. 

For the next two games, the Pontiacs will be heading south.  

The Bonnyville team will play the league's top Jr. A team in both Alberta and Canada – the Brooks Bandits – on Friday. Swan anticipates the game will be “electric.”  

On Saturday, the Pontiacs will play the Drumheller Dragons. The next home game will take place on Jan. 12, against the Spruce Grove Saints at 7 p.m. 



Jazmin Tremblay

About the Author: Jazmin Tremblay

Jazmin completed a minor in journalism at Hanze University in the Netherlands and completed her Communication Studies degree from MacEwan University with a major in journalism.
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