The Williams Lake Stampeders have clinched second place overall in the Central Interior Hockey League and first place in the East Division heading into playoffs at the end of the month.
The Stampeders won twice — an 8-4 doubling Saturday and a 8-5 win Sunday — over the Omineca Ice to close out its regular season on a high note in front of many hometown fans.
“I thought the guys played very well,” said Stampeders general manager Don Hanson, who noted the wins secure home-ice advantage for the first-round of the playoffs. “We didn’t have our full team back [due to injury] but it’s progressively getting together again.
“It was good, clean hockey games with a near equal amount of penalties and shots — I just think our goaltending was a little stronger.”
Saturday, both Josh Lund and Tyson Hall put up two-goal performances for the Stamps, while league-leading scorer Nathan Zurak contributed with a four-point night. Nathan now has 46 points on the campaign (18 goals, 28 assists). Also lighting the lamp were Francis Johnson, Aaron Zurak and Tyler Fuller.
On Sunday Williams Lake thwarted a 4-3 third-period Omineca lead by scoring three times off the sticks of Nathan (3-1-4) — who potted two of a hat-trick, four-point performance in the third period — and Johnson. Rounding out the scoring for the Stampeders were Jason Hufty, Brent McIsaac, Matt Lees and Tyler Fuller.
Williams Lake netminder Justin Foote was between the pipes for both wins stopping 35 shots Saturday and 26 Sunday.
Those in attendance Sunday also witnessed an extremely scary incident involving an Omineca Ice player, Kalen Bird, who crashed awkwardly into the side boards while chasing after a loose puck.
Following the collision Bird laid on the ice, conscious but not noticeably moving, for close to 40 minutes while being aided by trainers from both teams before paramedics were able to get him off the ice, on a spine board and to the hospital.
Chris Reed, coach of the Ice, told the Tribune Monday Bird will be completely OK and thanked Stampeders trainer Stewart Bell for his on-ice assistance.
“He hit the boards pretty hard on the play and as a precaution they didn’t want him to move,” Reed said.
“He’s going to be pretty sore for a while but he got X-rayed and he was good to go home last night.”
With both weekend wins Williams Lake finishes the season with 13 wins and five losses. The Kitimat Ice Demons (11-4-2), who were contending with the Stamps for the second overall playoff seed, lost, 8-2, to the Terrace River Kings Saturday which gave Williams Lake the edge in the standings.
Williams Lake’s East Division rivals the Quesnel Kangaroos (10-5-2), after falling 7-3 to the Lac La Hache Tomahawks Saturday, have locked up second place in the East Division and likely the fourth-place overall seed headed into playoffs.
The other two teams rounding out the top four — the league-leading Smithers Steelheads (17-0-0) and the Kitimat Ice Demons (11-4-2) — each have one game remaining next weekend.
The bottom four teams making the postseason will be determined following next weekend’s games.
Williams Lake’s playoff run begins Jan. 28 against an undetermined opponent on the road for game one of a best-of-three series in round one. Game two and, if necessary, game three will be played in Williams Lake the following weekend, Feb. 4-5.