Thunder takes over first with perfect December

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Following an up-and-down November, the Airdrie Techmation Thunder found consistency in December, stringing together six-straight wins to close out the year and propel itself to the top of the Northern Division standings.

“We’re pretty happy with the overall effort and we’re hoping it was a solid step forward,” head coach Derek Stamp said. “We had some statement games over teams we definitely had to beat. Going into 2018, (this) puts us in a good spot.”

With four home games and two on the road before the Christmas break, the Thunder completed a perfect December, where it knocked off fellow division title-hopefuls, Red Deer and Blackfalds, and handed the Southern Division-leading Okotoks Bisons a loss.

“We believe we are one of the best teams in this league and we want to show that,” Stamp said. “We also want to know we can be successful in the game we’re going to have to be in when we get to the playoffs.

“To have success against teams like Okotoks and that great win to wrap things up before Christmas against Red Deer, shows us we’re moving in the right direction.”

In the six-game win streak, the Thunder outscored its opponents 41-15 and saw its powerplay percentage jump three per cent from 13.3 to 16.1.

Although the Thunder rattled off a perfect 6-0 record in December, the team did suffer a few hiccups through the games, including a tightly-contested contest with the Stettler Lightning Dec. 15, 2017.

The Thunder jumped out to a 6-1 lead over the Lightning after the first period and held an 8-3 advantage before seeing the Lightning score four unanswered goals in the final 22 minutes to bring a close 8-7 victory for the Thunder.

The Thunder managed to hold on for the win, but gained valuable experience about holding onto a lead and maintaining it against opponents lower in the standings.

“We knew we had been playing good hockey. We knew there may be a step backwards at some point and we started out great against Stettler, but we did take a couple steps backwards,” Stamp said. “Our play got loose, we lost our attention to detail and Stettler is the type of team that will make things close in those kind of situations.”

In its next game Dec. 20, 2017, the Thunder found itself in a similar situation against the Three Hills Thrashers, jumping out to a 4-1 lead after 20 minutes and having its offence explode for eight goals in the second period.

This time around, there was no comeback, as the Thunder kept up the pressure and went on to win 16-2 over the hapless Thrashers.

In its final game Dec. 22, 2017, the Thunder took on the Red Deer Vipers in a battle of two streaking teams.

The Thunder and Vipers exchanged goals in the first period and the Vipers took the lead off of a short-handed goal in the second.

A little more than four minutes into the third, a power play marker from Dante Raposo had the game knotted up again and a goal late in the game from Ben Orde put the Thunder up for the impressive 3-2 victory over the defending HJHL Champions, allowing the Thunder to leapfrog the Vipers into first in the Northern Division.

The Thunder returns to action Jan. 5 with a home matchup at Ron Ebbesen Arena against the Ponoka Stampeders after 10 days away from game action. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m.

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