Thunder finishes fourth in HJHL North, will face Colts in round one
The Airdrie Thunder will open the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) playoffs with a best-of-three elimination round series at home against its division-rival Mountainview Colts on Feb. 12.
With Airdrie’s 5-5 tie with the Stettler Lightning, Feb. 3 at the Ron Ebbesen Arena, the Thunder officially locked into fourth place in the HJHL’s North Division with 45 points, and will play the fifth-place Colts. The winner of that series will face the No. 1-seeded Red Deer Vipers in a best-of-seven series.
Game one against Mountainview will be at the Ron Ebbesen Arena at 3:45 p.m. on Feb. 12. Game two will take place in Didsbury on Feb. 15 at 8:15 p.m., with game three, if necessary, set for Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Ron Ebbesen Arena.
The Stettler game was Airdrie’s regular-season finale, while third-place Blackfalds, which has 46 points, still had a game on Feb. 8 (after press time) against Ponoka.
“We still technically could have made it into third place if Blackfalds lost two of their last three,” said Thunder assistant coach Gareth Barley.
“Probably highly unlikely that would have happened but there was still a chance. But we know what kind of game they (Mountainview) play, we know they’re going to attack us and we know they’re physical. We’re going to have to prepare for that.”
Airdrie, which had a 20W-13L-5T regular season, held a 4-1 lead heading into the third period against Stettler. Brandon Esposito and Aidan Crothier had first period goals, while Alex Diduch and Alex Hustad, on a lovely deke and top-shelf shot, added second period markers.
“It was a lucky move,” said Hustad, who was involved in a fight and was ejected seven minutes after his goal. “I passed him and put it upstairs because he gave me a bit of room. The fight – I don’t know. The guy asked me if I wanted to go and I thought I’d just get the team going a bit, as we seemed a bit sluggish.”
The Lightning was outshot 45 to nine by the Thunder through 40 minutes, but scored three straight in the third. Kristian Petit scored his 31st goal of the season, on a two-on-one with Travis Wallan, to put Airdrie back ahead with 7:27 remaining. Stettler tied the game with 28 seconds left, when Derek Mulback put one past Thunder netminder Cody Boeckman.
“I think these guys came out and think they had the game won,” Barley said. “There was no intensity, no hitting and no one stuck to the gameplan. We had four turnovers on the first shift of the third period and it didn’t get any better from there.”
Barley said he knew Stettler would put up a fight, as it was the Lightning’s last game of the regular season as well, and because they were already out of the playoff race.
“We tried to make them aware this was Stettler’s last game of the season,” he said. “They have five 21-year-olds playing their last game of junior hockey and they’re not going to want to go out with a loss. They probably took them too lightly.”
“I’m sure (head coach) Mike (Carlsen) will crank it up in practice,” said assistant coach Brandon Miller. “It will be an interesting couple weeks.”