Thunder keep playoff hopes alive with wild win
By: Lucas Punkari
| Posted: Thursday, Feb 13, 2014 11:33 am
If the Airdrie Thunder succeeds in its quest of making it into the Heritage Junior Hockey League playoffs, players may look back on the game against the High River Flyers on Feb. 9 at the Ron Ebbesen Arena as the biggest moment of the season.
After coughing up a 5-0 lead to the Flyers over the second half of the game, the Thunder prevailed by a 6-5 score in a shootout, which allowed the team to keep pace with the Three Hills Thrashers in the race for the fifth and final playoff spot in the HJHL’s Northern Division.
“It was tough to see the lead go away like that, but to come away with a win in the end is always nice,” said Thunder Assistant Coach Brandon Miller, who filled in for Head Coach Kyle Havilland, who was suspended for a game as a result of a late game brawl between the Thunder and the Three Hills Thrashers on Feb. 8.
“Even though it went to a shootout, I felt pretty confident in how we would perform, as our shooters were very strong in those situations,” he added.
Although Aidan Crowther and James Price both scored for the Thunder in the shootout, the hero of the game was netminder Kade Taplin, as the 18 year old from Airdrie made a big pad save in the shootout on Flyers forward Shea Gallamore, which forced the HJHL’s leading goal scorer Alex Pronchuk to shoot the puck well wide of the net.
Taplin was rushed into action with just six seconds remaining in overtime, when Thunder starting netminder Connor Darowski was thrown out of the game after arguing a call with the referee.
“I was thinking that this can’t be happening,” Taplin said. “I had been sitting on the bench for the entire game, and then I had to go in cold like that and step up for the team in a big way.”
“I was pretty fired up about helping the team win, especially since this was a must-win game for us,” he added. “It may not have been the best way to win the game as we gave up five goals after having a 5-0 lead, but we are still happy about it.”
Darowski, who had made 38 saves up until his ejection, was furious with the decision by the referee and he made his displeasures known as he skated off the ice and headed back to the dressing room.
“I was shocked that I was given a penalty for interference with that little time left in the game, and especially because there were a couple of plays before that they didn’t call penalties on them for,” the 20 year old from Winnipeg explained. “I had some choice words for him, which led to me being thrown out, and at the end of the day, I have to contain my emotions a bit better.”
The leader of the Thunder on offence was forward Donavon Henrion, 21, who scored three goals.
“It was probably the greatest hat-trick that I ever scored in my life,” Henrion said. “All three of the goals just happened because I was able to bang home the rebound, but it’s still a great accomplishment no matter how you do it.”
As the Thunder’s 5-0 lead disappeared in the late stage of the game, Henrion was having a flashback to what he saw happen on Feb. 8 in Three Hills, when it allowed the Thrashers to score four goals in the third period to take a 4-3 win.
“It was pretty much déjà vu for me,” he said. “In that game we just got away from our systems and tried to do too much on our own, and the same thing happened to us against High River.”
With the win over the Flyers, the Thunder is just one point back of the Thrashers for the fifth and final playoff spot in the HJHL’s Northern Division, though the Thrashers have a game in hand on its divisional rivals.
For the Thunder to keep its playoff hopes alive, the team will have to win its final two games of the regular season this weekend, as it will host the Mountainview Colts on Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. and take on the Stettler Lightning in Stettler on Feb. 15 at 8:15 p.m.
“We just have to do our own job and not worry about what Three Hills does,” Miller said.
“If we win all our games and get in that would be great, but if we win all of our games and miss out, we can take pride in knowing that we did the best we could.”