Thunder keeping pace in playoff race
By: Lucas Punkari
| Posted: Thursday, Jan 23, 2014 12:23 pm
With just six games remaining until the end of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) regular season on Feb. 15, the Airdrie Thunder is doing everything it can to make sure that the team is in the mix for a playoff spot.
The Thunder earned two big victories on Jan. 17 and 18, as it defeated the Mountainview Colts at the Ron Ebbesen Arena in Airdrie by a score of 5-1 on Jan. 17, and followed that up with a 6-3 win over the Red Deer Vipers on Jan. 18 in Red Deer.
With the wins, the Thunder improved its record to 12-16-2 for the season and is tied for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Northern Division with the Three Hills Thrashers.
“This has been a really big turnaround for the guys,” Thunder Head Coach Kyle Havilland said. “We faltered a little bit in our last couple of games, especially when we lost to Medicine Hat here (on Jan. 12), so we just needed to stick to our systems and stay out of the penalty box.”
“That was something that we really focused on in practice all week long, and it really showed in our two wins.”
One of the key players for the Thunder in its two wins was 21-year-old Crossfield forward Dylan Johnston, who scored his first goal of the season against the Colts on Jan. 17 and followed that up with a goal and three assists one day later in Red Deer.
“Everyone was pretty much clicking in those two games, and my teammates were a huge help to what I was able to do,” Johnston said. “To be in the playoff race like we are right now is pretty exciting, and everyone’s doing what they can to get things done.”
“Kyle made it clear to us that we hadn’t been doing that well in staying out of the penalty box and sticking to the game plan in the last couple of games before this weekend, and we made sure to do exactly what he told us to do in our wins,” he added.
In goal, Connor Darowski made a successful return to the lineup after being sidelined with a left shoulder injury for the last month.
The 20-year-old from Winnipeg made a total of 68 saves in his two victories over the weekend, which improved his win-loss record to 6-6 for the season.
“I actually injured my shoulder while snowboarding in December, so it’s been a long wait for me to get back into the team and playing in goal once again,” Darowski said.
“It’s a pretty good feeling to get back in action again, and to see the guys have a strong team effort is really exciting.”
“We’re all cutting down on our mistakes at the moment, and we have been doing all of the little things right.”
As the Thunder prepares to host the Blackfalds Wranglers on Jan. 24 in an 8 p.m. contest at the Ron Ebbesen Arena in Airdrie, Havilland says that his message to the team will be the exact same as it has been over the last couple of weeks.
“Everything is going to be the same for the rest of the way here, and this is playing smart and disciplined hockey,” he said. “Our systems will be the exact same from here on out, and we will be doing whatever we can to get into the playoffs.”