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   Heritage Junior Hockey League:
Lightning embrace youth movement
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If the decisions were easy, the end product wouldn't be as good.

With that in mind, Stettler Lightning head coach Trevor Wagner knows he'll have some tough deliberations ahead.

And he doesn't take the responsibility lightly as his staff hammers out the club's roster for the upcoming HJHL season.

"As a coaching staff, we have some hard decisions to make," Wagner said. "I wish I could keep them all, but we know that's not possible.

"We were an older team last year. We had the potential of having 10 returning 21-year-olds.

"We currently have six and we need to get down to four."

Sounds like gameday program will be a hot commodity in Stettler as there will be plenty of turnover in 2019-20.

"We'll probably be about 50 per cent rookies," Wagner said. "Some of them may be older but they're new to the organization."

But there will be a few key veteran returning to lead the way.

"We have some older veterans and I'll push more responsibility on them than they had last year," Wagner said. "They seem to be reacting very well to it, taking the younger guys under their wings and talking to them."

Quade Cassidy (19 goals and 46 points in 35 games in 2018-19) and Matt Sylvester (four goals and 13 points in just nine games) are expected to be two key cogs in the Lightning attack this season.

And both goaltenders — Indiana Kelly and Davin Nattestad — are back in the fold as well.

The Kightning finished the 2018-19 campaign at 17-14-7 (41 points), good for fourth spot in the HJHL's North Division.

But they were swept by the Blackfalds Wrangers in the opening round of the playoffs.

"We were about a .500 team last year and we thought that was a nice number to be at," Wagner said. "We're hoping to shoot for that same type of scenario.

"I think we'll be pretty similar to last year. I'd like to improve on it. We want to get past the first round of the playoffs this year."

With a solid group of incoming talent — largely from the Stettler area — Wagner has liked what he has seen through camp and the first pre-season tilt.

"It's been pretty decent," Wagner said. "We don't have that big of a draw area, but we seem to be getting some (players) coming out of the woodwork.

"We're getting a few that we hadn't anticipated. We're sitting on a good number right now – probably 22 to 25. It's coming together.

With the majority of the players graduating from the Stettler Minor Hockey program, it makes it easy for the community to get behind the home-grown product.

"We've always had good community support," Wagner said. "I've been around the organization for five years now.

"People might not have kids playing but know some of the boys or some of the families.

"So it's always been a pretty good crowd."

The Lightning dropped their exhibition opener, falling 8-5 to the (now) Sylvan Lake Wranglers.

But they'll have a shot at revenge on Saturday in the second half of the home-and-home pre-season series.

"It was a decent game," Wagner said. "I didn't expect a lot more than what we had. We really only had one practice session with the group leading into the game.

"We're hoping to get a couple more under our belt this week, go back into Sylvan on Saturday and see if we made any adjustments."

The Lightning open the season in Didsbury against the Mountainview Colts on Friday, Sept. 20.

The home opener goes a week later when they host the expansion Rocky Rams on Sept. 27 (7:30 p.m.).

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