Thunder secures second with four-point weekend
Thursday, Feb 15, 2018 06:00 am
The Airdrie Techmation Thunder have secured a first-round bye in the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) playoffs after finishing second in the Northern Division.
In one of the most balanced HJHL seasons, the Thunder had to wait until its final game of the regular season to officially lock up second – with the Blackfalds Wranglers still within striking distance Feb. 10.
“This year, top to bottom, this league was fairly strong and not as top-heavy as it’s been in the past,” said Thunder head coach Derek Stamp. “If you look at the Northern Division…there are a lot of competitive teams that can beat anybody on any given night.”
After missing out on a chance to solidify second place Feb. 6, in its final regular season matchup with the Wranglers, the Thunder bounced back with a strong showing against division-rival Mountainview Colts Feb. 9.
It didn’t take long for the Thunder to take an early advantage on home ice when Clay Murray opened the scoring a minute and a half into the first frame.
Although the team had a handful of opportunities throughout the first period, it was the Colts who struck next with a power-play marker to knot the game up at 1-1.
The Colts pressured Airdrie in the second, scoring 83 seconds apart to take a 3-1 lead. The Thunder would not be denied, as Murray found the back of the net again just three minutes later. Dante Raposo scored a goal in the final minute of the frame to tie the game up 3-3.
“(Raposo’s) goal was huge. It allowed us to carry forward the momentum that we were building and to have those opportunities moving forward,” Stamp said. “(He) was awesome this weekend. He elevated his game and that’s what you’re best players need to do in situations like that.”
Goals from Raposo and Jacob MacDonald took the lead for the Thunder in the final frame for the 5-3 win.
Despite the victory, the Thunder was not guaranteed second place. Had the Wranglers won its final two games, the teams would have been forced into a tiebreaker.
Fortunately, the Thunder put the uncertainty to rest Feb. 10 when it won its regular season finale with a strong 8-3 showing against the Ponoka Stampeders.
The team finished the regular season with a 23-9-4 record for 50 points, four points clear of the Wranglers and 11 points back of the first-placed Red Deer Vipers.
The second-place finish earned the Thunder a bye through to the Northern Division semi-finals. It is not yet known what team the Thunder will go up against in the second round, but it will be one of the Wranglers, Colts or Stettler Lightning, depending on which teams win in the quarter-finals.
With all three potential opponents having given the Thunder fits this season, Stamp said he knows his team has to be prepared for a tough series when it returns to action in the second round.