By SCOTT FISHER
Ryan Simpson played for his brother.
And it was quite a show.
The Airdrie Techmation Thunder goaltender played with a heavy heart just a week after losing twin brother Morgan in a tragic accident.
But he stood tall time after time, booting out 39 pucks to lead the Thunder past the Red Deer Vipers 6-4 to even the Heritage Junior Hockey League North Division best-of-seven final at a game apiece.
Simpson said he dedicated the win to his brother.
“All the way through the rest of the playoffs,” said Simpson, who wore his brother's Coaldale Copperheads jersey during warmups and a pre-game moment of silence.
“He really liked wearing the orange jersey for Coaldale,” Ryan said. “He thought it was really cool.
“It was the only way I could think to honour him. I was honoured to wear it.”
The Airdrie hockey community rallied behind the young goaltender as the emotional, jam-packed Ron Ebbesen arena crowd gave Simpson a heart-warming ovation when he skated onto the ice.
His saves - and there were a number of big ones - were appreciated a little bit more on this night.
“I felt the support,” Ryan said. “I have great friends here in Airdrie. I love each and every one of them.
“I know that they're here for me.”
Ryan said his brother was an unselfish player.
“He was a tenacious, pass-first guy,” Ryan said. “He never liked to shoot.
“When he did, he had a rocket but I don't think he ever knew it.”
The twins moved to Airdrie in 2010 and played on the same team for most of their lives.
Only recently did they find themselves on opposite squads.
“I liked it,” Ryan said. “When his bus came in, I got to see him smile and we joked around.
“And when we went to Coaldale, we talked before the game. On the ice, he always had a big smile on his face.”
Ryan kept his sibling off the scoresheet in the two meetings.
“No, he didn't (score),” Ryan smiled. “But he did hit the post in Coaldale. I'll give him that.”
Thunder head coach Derek Stamp credited his 'tender for coming through under the most difficult of circumstances.
“He made some great saves,” Stamp said. “He kept us in it when he had to and kept momentum on our side.
“We couldn't be prouder because you can only imagine how emotional it was for him.
“But he stood tall.”
Simpson didn't have to wait long for his first big test as he turned aside Vipers forward Declan Johnston on a clear-cut shorthanded breakaway less than two minutes into the game.
Kristopher LeClair, Dante Raposo and Clay Murray dented the twine at the other end as the Thunder took a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes.
Less than a minute after the visitors tied it, Airdrie blueliner Jason Wenzel restored the one-goal advantage.
Murray's second of the night early in the final frame held up as the game-winner while Zachary Giroux found the empty net in the final seconds.
Game 3 goes Saturday in Red Deer (8 p.m.) with Game 4 back at the Ron Ebbesen arena on Monday (7:30 p.m.).