Thunder loses first in Northern Division

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The Airdrie Techmation Thunder saw its bid for first in the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) Northern Division come to an end Jan. 26 as it dropped a crucial 7-4 decision to the Red Deer Vipers.

Coming into the final regular season matchup with the Vipers, the Thunder were five points back of the top team in the Northern Division. After losing its lone game and with the Vipers winning both its games this weekend, Red Deer increased its lead to nine points to secure first place.

“The Red Deer game is a perfect example of why we need to be structured defensively and need to maintain focus on our details,” said head coach Derek Stamp. “Any time you lose or you’re in a funk (like) we’ve been in over the past week to 10 days, (it) can be disappointing and frustrating.”

With the division title out of reach, the Thunder now focus its attention on regrouping after a disappointing January, where the team went 2-2-2.

The Thunder were on a major high to close out 2017, where it went 6-0-0, but since dropping four of its past five games, the team will need to get back to its winning ways to secure a first-round bye.

“Coming out of the (Christmas) break, our defensive structure has been well below what we expect of it,” Stamp said. “The focus is to get back to the process and make sure we’re playing the best hockey we can when the playoffs start.”

The two teams took awhile to get the offence rolling Jan. 26, but five minutes into the game it was the home squad that took the lead when Kris Leclair jammed home his fifth goal of the season.

The Vipers didn’t take long to reply. With Zach Giroux in the penalty box, the HJHL’s most potent power play struck just two minutes later to knot the game up at one apiece.

Red Deer scored a second goal midway through the frame to take its first lead of the game.

The Thunder and Vipers each scored twice more, ending the frame with the Vipers holding a 4-3 lead.

“We had really good flow and got all four of our lines skating and playing well,” Stamp said. “We were happy with the start and getting up 1-0. After that, it got more challenging as the first went on.”

The game continued to get away from the Thunder as the Vipers piled on a trio of goals. Thunder captain Clay Murray got the lone goal in the frame to set the score at 7-4 with one period remaining.

Stamp said he felt his team played its best period in the third, but the Thunder couldn’t overcome the three-goal deficit as both teams were held off the scoresheet and the Vipers earned a 7-4 victory.

“(The loss) was a learning experience. The game had its ups and downs and it was a test in how we handle adversity,” Stamp said.

With just two weeks and four games remaining in the regular season, there isn’t much time for the Thunder to regain its momentum. The team will host the Three Hills Thrashers at Ron Ebbesen Arena Feb. 2. Game time is scheduled for 8 p.m.

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