Airdrie Thunder finalizes roster for opening night

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With the 2017-18 Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) season around the corner, the Airdrie Techmation Thunder has a roster in place for opening night.

Like every new season, there are new faces on the team. New head coach Derek Stamp said he feels the Thunder will be a top competitor with the roster he and the management staff put together.

“We’re in the early stages of forming what our identity will be,” Stamp said. “We have an idea – we want to be (a) fast, quick transition type of hockey team – but it will take some time to solidify those things.”

Of the 24 young men to make the opening night roster, 11 are returning from last year’s team, which fell in the Northern Division semi-finals to the eventual HJHL Champion, the Red Deer Vipers.

Among the returning players are talented forwards and leading scorers Clay Murray (77 points) and Rylan Plante-Crough (66), as well as mid-season additions Zac Giroux and Connor Boyd, who had a combined 43 points in 13 games.

Stamp said his forward core will be a big contribution to the team’s offence, but expects the rest of his forwards to produce as well.

On the point the Thunder will have a relatively new crop with just three returnees from last season, including 21-year-old Jesse Fischer and former rookie of the year Benjamin Orde.

Orde is now the longest-tenured Thunder rearguard and is expected to take on more of a leadership role this season.

“He is expected to contribute in all situations and take on that role of helping ensure our rookies on the back end get up to speed as quickly as possible,” Stamp said. “The way that he has looked in camp and the attitude that he has brought has shown (he has) every intention of playing hard.”

It will be a big change for the Thunder between the pipes, with last season’s netminder, Kade Taplin, aging out of the league and Joel Lepper not returning to the organization.

The void left in the crease will be filled by hometown netminder Ryan Simpson, who comes to the Thunder after an excellent rookie campaign with the Cochrane Generals.

“(Simpson) showed last year that he is a top goaltender in this league and our expectation of him coming to the Thunder is that he’ll continue that,” Stamp said. “He’s worked hard and fit in the locker room immediately.”

According to Stamp, Simpson was the clear-cut number 1 goaltender coming out of camp, but will have support from rookies C.J. Wedenig and Justin Fedoruk.

Defenceman Ryan Knapp and forward Nicholas Profetta from the roster two seasons ago will also return to the squad this year.

The Thunder kicks off its 2017-18 campaign Sept. 23 when it hosts the Blackfalds Wranglers at Ron Ebbesen Arena at 8 p.m.

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