The Airdrie Techmation Thunder bounded into second place of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) north division, thanks to a four-point weekend with wins over the Rocky Rams and Cochrane Generals on Jan. 20 and 21.
The Thunder started their weekend in fine fashion, beating the visiting Rams 4-3 in overtime at the Ron Ebbesen Arena on Jan. 20.
After the game ended 3-3, Jacob Cathcart netted the OT winner for the Thunder 47 seconds into the additional stanza. Airdrie's other goal-scorers were Jeremy Jobin, Reed Chalmers, and Aiden Moore. At the other end of the ice, goaltender Josh Fedemma made 19 saves for the hosts.
The players shook off any lingering tiredness they were feeling the next day, with a spirited 4-2 road win over the Cochrane Generals, who at the time were in second place of the HJHL's north division. The loss to Airdrie dropped Cochrane down to third place.
"It's a huge confidence-booster for us," said Kris Kennedy, a member of the Thunder's coaching staff, after the win over the Generals.
"It's always nice to go on the road and get a win. Some of the stronger teams, like Cochrane, tend to have the upper hand at home, so it does make the victory a bit sweeter. The guys showed up as expected, even with it being our second game of the weekend."
As he has been throughout the 2022-23 season, Thunder scoring leader Joey Haden was a key offensive generator for the Thunder, notching a first-period hat-trick to help Airdrie build up an early 3-0 lead.
"It's nice to see some of our production players show up and have the opportunity to get us on the board – not once, but three times," Kennedy said.
"Those first couple of goals really boosted the team's morale."
The Thunder's other goal-getter was Cathcart, who scored an empty-netter in the dying minutes of the third period, when Cochrane was piling on the pressure in search of a late equalizer.
It was a physical game that saw 14 penalties called – seven for each team. The bulk of Airdrie's penalties came in the second period, and the Generals were able to use the man advantage to claw their way back into the game.
"In the second period, we found ourselves on the penalty kill a lot, so that set us back a bit and gave them the opportunity to close that gap," Kennedy said. "In the third period, we came out much more disciplined and held them off."
Kennedy noted games between the Thunder and Generals are traditionally quite chippy, even though the two teams aren't in the same division.
"Both teams, I think there's a long-standing rivalry in minor hockey between Airdrie and Cochrane, so the boys come out with a lot of energy on both sides," he explained. "Frustrations tend to set in quite quickly. Before you know it, you're in the box. But we maintained and then took it to them in the third."
Thanks to their weekend wins, Airdrie now has a 19-12-2 record and is sitting in second spot of the north division standings with five games left to play in the regular season. The top two teams in each division earn a bye through the first round of the playoffs.
Kennedy said recent performances show the Thunder are peaking at the right time. He added quite a few players are back from injury or illnesses, which bodes well for the last few games of the regular season.
"We're getting our roster to the point we want to be," he said. "The second half [of the season] is always a push to land that first or second seed to look at opportunities for a bye in the playoffs.
"I feel the team is coming around and peaking at the right time – not too early, not too late. There's still some work to do, but I think this [past] weekend will instill some confidence in what we can do and what the north championships may have in store for us."
The Thunder will see out their January schedule this weekend, starting with a Friday home game against the Three Hills Thrashers. Puck-drop is at 8 p.m. at the Ron Ebbesen Arena. Afterwards, they'll travel north on Saturday for an 8 p.m. road game against the third-place Mountainview Colts.
For scores, schedules, and other info, go to heritagejunior.com