By SCOTT FISHER
The season ended a few games shy of the ultimate goal.
But the Airdrie Techmation Thunder can hold their heads high.
Thunder head coach Derek Stamp gave credit to the Red Deer Vipers, who won the Heritage Junior Hockey League North Division final in six games.
“Red Deer is a very good hockey team,” Stamp said. “They're talented, they have an outstanding powerplay, they execute their gameplan well and they played us really tough.
“So full marks to them. They showed why they were the first-place team in the league all season long and we wish them the best of luck.”
The Vipers will face the Coaldale Copperheads in the best-of-three HJHL final.
The Thunder appeared to be in good shape after a strong first period in Game 6.
But the Vipers added to their 1-0 lead with a powerplay marker early in the middle frame. Then they struck twice in a span of 27 seconds to take control of the game.
“We came out and it was a good, even game,” Stamp said. “We were executing what we needed to.
“But they got a couple, the adversity started to mount and I don't think we handled it as well as we could have.”
The Thunder picked up 115 penalty minutes and several ejections in the game.
“From our end, there's lessons that we take from this,” Stamp said. “As a group, we want to identify how we deal with adversity going forward.
“It's something we worked on all year but we can learn from this and try to keep more of a level head as we go through games and not get sucked into the highs and lows.
“There's stuff to take away from it that will help the hockey players that come back next year and make us better prepared to win the types of games you need to in order to be successful in the playoffs.”
The majority of the Thunder players will be eligible to return next season but, as always, there will be holes to fill, starting with captain and leading scorer Clay Murray.
“Replacing the 40 goals and 75 points that Clay Murray had will be tough,” Stamp said “We'll have to do that as a group next year.
“Dante (Raposo) is going to school in the U.S. and Zach Giroux won't be back next year because his university schedule is too hectic.
“There's a handful of other kids who won't be coming back but there's a big bulk of the team that is eligible to come back. Through exit interviews and throughout the summer, we'll keep in touch with them and see what our core will look like.”