Out of the frying pan and into ... the next round
By SCOTT FISHER
The Airdrie Techmation Thunder may have started off on the wrong foot, losing Game 1 of the post-season on home ice, but they more than made up for it with three consecutive wins over the Blackfalds Wranglers.
The winning streak gave the Thunder a 3-1 series win and puts the club into the Heritage Junior Hockey League North Division final.
Thunder bench boss Derek Stamp said his squad needed to shake off the rust quickly. Falling behind two games in a best-of-five series wasn't an option.
“It was the energy level and the focus and the attention to detail,” Stamp said. “That first game, we struggled a little bit and didn't have the energy we knew we were capable of.
“Whether that was because we were coming off a (first-round bye) break, we don't know. But in that second game, our guys really seemed to be energized.
“We found a flow and it carried on into the next two games beyond there.”
The 3-2 setback in Game 1 proved as a wakeup call for the Thunder, who finished the regular season with a 23-9-4 record.
“We really thought we controlled the second and third games,” Stamp said. “Our guys really committed to the gameplan.
“There were some guys on Blackfalds that we were keying on because we knew they were talented enough to impact the game.
“In Games 2 and 3, the guys we asked to take on that role really embraced it and we were able to manage their offence.”
Here's a wrap-up of the four-game series:
Game 1: Wranglers 3 at Thunder 2
Thunder blueliner Jason Wenzel scored both goals for the hosts, but it wasn't enough as the visitors overcame a 2-1 deficit.
Airdrie was hurt by its inability to cash in on a five-minute powerplay in the third period.
The shots were 37 apiece.
Game 2: Wranglers 1 at Thunder 6
Thunder captain Clay Murray sniped a hat-trick and added an assist as Airdrie evened the series with an emphatic win.
“That was probably the best game we played since Christmas,” Stamp said of the lopsided victory.
“It was definitely the most complete game we played since the Christmas break.”
Matt Thomson potted a pair and added a helper while Jacob MacDonald rounded out the scoring.
The Thunder, who outshot Blackfalds 47-26, went 2-for-8 on the powerplay and killed off all five shorthanded situations.
Game 3: Thunder 5 at Wranglers 4
Murray was the offensive catalyst once again with another four-point (two goals, two assists) night as the series shifted to Blackfalds.
The visitors held a 4-2 lead in the final frame but the Wranglers struck twice, scoring the equalizer with just 1:27 to play in regulation time.
But before anyone began to think about overtime, Thunder forward Rylan Plante-Crough responded with the game-winner just 10 seconds later.
“It was wild,” Stamp said. “That really showed the character and the development of this hockey team.
“One of the things we really preached during the season was how, as a group, we handled adversity. There were times during the season where we didn't handle adversity well, where a late goal or a bad bounce derailed us.
“But after that late goal they scored to tie it, the calmness on our bench and the focus our guys played with when they went on the ice for the next faceoff, it was a really nice surprise for our coaching staff.”
All-stars Ben Orde and Dante Raposo also scored for the visitors, who held a 33-32 advantage on the shot clock.
Game 4: Thunder 4 at Wranglers 1
Blackfalds opened the scoring 4:20 into the game but goaltender C.J. Wedenig put up a brick wall the rest of the way, kicking out 27 of the 28 shots he faced as the Thunder wrapped up the series in four games.
“We were down a couple of key players (suspended MacDonald and Brett Campbell),” Stamp said. “Those guys are two key contributors, especially on the defensive side of our game.
“We asked other guys to step up and they did.”
Raposo had a goal and an assist to pace the offence while Jared Bainbridge, Dylan Wenzel and Murray also found the back of the net.
The Wranglers took 114 penalty minutes, the majority of the carnage coming in the final minutes as their season came to an end.