The Airdrie Techmation Thunder is just one win away from the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) Northern Division Final after bouncing back in Games 2 and 3 of its best-of-five series with the Blackfalds Wranglers.
Although the Thunder dropped its series-opener 3-2 to the Wranglers Feb. 21, the team took the loss in stride, regrouped and now has Blackfalds on the verge of elimination.
“(Game 1’s loss) helped us pull together more of commitment to the details of our game plan that we’re trying to execute,” said head coach Derek Stamp.
The team responded in a big way Feb. 23 after Stamp made alterations to the lineup for Game 2, changing his lines and opting for first-year netminder C.J. Wedenig between the pipes.
“After Game 1, we didn’t feel our team as a whole had the energy or was playing at the level we wanted,” Stamp said. “That wasn’t on any one individual player, we just wanted to make changes to inject some life into us as we came into Game 2.
“(Wedenig) was deserving of this opportunity and made the most of it.”
The switch to Wedenig from starter Ryan Simpson paid off as the 18-year-old stopped 25 of the 26 shots faced in the impressive 6-1 win.
Throughout the regular season, Wedenig proved he was a capable puck stopper, posting an 11-4 record with a 3.49 goals-against average and a 0.901 save percentage.
Stamp said Wedenig’s regular season play made the decision to switch up goalies between Games 1 and 2 a little less difficult.
In addition to solid goaltending, the new top line of Clay Murray, Matt Thomson and Brett Campbell stepped up in Game 2, scoring five of Airdrie’s six goals.
The Thunder followed up its bounce-back game with an imperative road win Feb. 25.
The game was back-and-forth through the opening two periods, but Murray, Ben Orde and Dante Raposo put the Thunder up 3-2 after 40 minutes.
Another goal from Murray early in the final frame spurred the Wranglers to a pair of goals to tie it up at four apiece.
Just when it seemed overtime was inevitable, Rylan Plante-Crough scored to give the Thunder the 5-4 victory.
Stamp said he was pleased with his team’s effort on the road, especially in the final minutes of the games.
“When they tied it up, our team could have gone in one of two directions, and our players buckled down, didn’t lose focus and knew we could still be successful,” Stamp said.
The Thunder had an opportunity to eliminate the Wranglers Feb. 27 (after press time) when the team traveled to Blackfalds for the second time in three days.
If the series needs Game 5 to decide who will move on to the Northern Division Final, the Thunder will return to action at Ron Ebbesen Arena March 2 at 8 p.m.