Thunder meets Vipers in second round of HJHL playoffs
Thursday, Feb 16, 2017 05:28 pm
After enjoying a week without a regulation game, the Airdrie Techmation Thunder are geared up and ready for the second round of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL).
Beginning Feb. 14, the Thunder takes on a familiar foe in the Red Deer Vipers in the HJHL Northern Division Semifinals. The best-of-seven series is a rematch from the 2016 post-season, when the Thunder needed all seven games to knock off its division rivals.
“It feels a lot like last year,” Thunder head coach Randy Buckle said. “It’s going to be the same kind of series I think.
“I don’t expect anything different.”
In a not-so-surprising twist of events, the Thunder find itself in the same situation as last year, lining up to take on the same team as it did nearly 365 days ago. This time, Buckle said his team is prepared for the challenge the Vipers bring coming into the second round.
“The thing about Red Deer is it grinds the series out with you,” Buckle said. “If we beat them, we’re going to be worn down.
“That’s the type of hockey they play, to wear you down. Other teams we face don’t do that.”
In 2016, the Thunder survived the grueling series, but were drained and unable to perform in the Division Finals against the eventual HJGL Champions Mountainview Colts.
This time around, Buckle said his team is prepared to take on the Vipers, but still expects a difficult challenge in this series.
“We are more prepared this time around,” Buckle said. “If we’re not ready now, I don’t think we’ll ever be ready.
“It’s time to go now. It’s game time.”
This year the Thunder took three out of four matchups against Red Deer in the regular season, but the teams each scored 16 on one another through the season series.
In the most recent matchup between the two teams on Feb. 4, the Thunder defeated the Vipers 5-4 in Red Deer to secure the first round bye and home ice advantage in the second round, something Buckle said his team is going to have to use to its advantage this series.
With a home record of 14-4-1 this season, the Thunder has been one of the HJHL’s best on home ice this season.
“Home ice is what you play for through the season,” Buckle said. “We’ve got four games at home this round and we have to use them.
“Game 1 is extremely important and you just build off of that going forward.”
With the 2016 playoff series between the two teams proving to be an all-out battle, Buckle said he is hopeful to have it wrapped up sooner rather than later, but knows his team is going to have to perform against a relentless team like the Vipers.
“If we can make it a shorter series, we’ll be able to prepare for Mountainview or Blackfalds” Buckle said. “We just didn’t have it last year against Mountainview. It seemed like we were done after the series with Red Deer.
“We blew the whole thing against Red Deer and to bounce back against a team like Mountainview was tough.”
Games 1 and 2 concluded before press time on Feb. 14 and 15 respectively, but Game 3 happens at 8 p.m. at Ron Ebbesen Arena and Game 4 goes the next day in Red Deer at 8 p.m.
If the series requires more than four games, Game 5 is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Feb. 21 at Ron Ebbesen Arena, while Game 6 is on Feb. 22 back in Red Deer. The series’ final game could wrap up on Feb. 24 back at Ron Ebbesen Arena depending on if the series requires a Game 7.