The Williams Lake Stampeders opened the 2018/19 Central Interior Hockey League season in the win column Saturday.
The Stampeders, hosting the Quesnel Kangaroos on opening day, gave the packed house at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex something to cheer about on ‘Team Spirit Night,’ picking up a 7-3 victory.
With somewhat of a new-look roster, and after several longtime, notable players decided to call it a career prior to the season, Stampeders head coach Dave Lauzon said he wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
“I think we performed well the other night,” Lauzon said Monday. “I thought we were going to miss having that presence in the room — guys like Stu [Sasges] and Aaron [Zurak] — and all the other guys who have retired but the boys really clicked.
“We still have some guys that didn’t dress the other night but the guys that did performed well. It’s not easy to start the year being on the same line with players you’ve never played with.”
Prior to the game both teams paid their respects to the Humboldt Broncos as Stampeders and Kangaroos players formed a circle at centre ice in a show of hockey solidarity.
But when the puck dropped moments later, the gloves came off in an instant as both teams were chomping at the bit to renew their always heated rivalry on the ice.
Williams Lake wasted little time lighting the lamp, much to the fans’ delight, as Kurtis Bond notched the opening marker just two-and-a-half minutes into the opening frame. Quesnel answered back with five minutes left in the period on a goal from Tommy Grant but, seconds later, Danny Merth gave the home squad a 2-1 lead heading into the second.
There, the Stampeders continued to pile on the offense as Andrew Fisher made it 3-1 moments into the period. Grant added his second of the night just prior to the midway point of the period, before Wilfred Robbins tallied his first of the season moments later to give Williams Lake a 4-2 lead. Halfway through the second Fisher scored his second of the game, before new Stampeders captain Dan Cohen gave the Stamps a comfortable 6-2 cushion heading into the third.
Robbins closed out the scoring for Williams Lake with 8:36 left in the third, before Grant added his hat trick marker under a minute later to close out the scoring in the 7-3 Stampeders win.
Asked what he liked about the team’s opening contest, Lauzon said speed played a major factor in the decision.
“We definitely have the speed this year and we are going to be a force to be reckoned with when we get all our pieces together,” he said.
“This team has some really good combinations we can throw out on the ice and be some of the best lines in the entire league. I truly believe that.”
He pointed to a combination of experience and youth as the team’s biggest strength this season.
Following the game, the Stampeders hosted a meet and greet and autograph signing with the fans and player Dylan Richardson — something they plan to do after each home game with a different featured player.
The Williams Lake Stampeders will be back on the ice this weekend for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop Saturday at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex when they host the Terrace River Kings. The River Kings dropped their opener 8-7 to the Prince Rupert Rampage on Friday night in Terrace.
Sunday, the Stamps take on the Kitimat Ice Demons, also in the lakecity. Puck drop for Sunday’s game is at 1:30 p.m.