Fourteen games into the regular season, the Airdrie Techmation Thunder find themselves in the middle of the pack of the North Division of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL), with a .500 win/loss record.
Airdrie’s junior B hockey team has won seven of its 14 games so far, after splitting a home-away series against the last-placed Three Hills Thrashers on Nov. 10 and 12. Perhaps ironically, the Thunder beat the Thrashers comfortably on the road, downing the Three Hills side 5-1, but they were shut out at the Ron Ebbesen Arena two nights later, suffering a 4-0 defeat.
Head coach Chad Moore said the 2021-22 season has already seen plenty of ebbs and flows for the new-look Thunder, who are looking to rebuild after being the top team in the HJHL North Division from 2018 to 2020.
“But that's the point of building a team and having a season to deal with,” Moore said. “[We want] to set ourselves up for long-term success. We've had some struggles, some roster changes. We've had a pretty thin roster at times, some injuries, COVID to battle with, and we've had some new players come in and out of the line-up. We've been battling and learning as a group.”
With a 7-7-0 record mid-way through November, Airdrie is in fifth place of the seven-team Northern Division. However, the Thunder does have multiple games-in-hand over their divisional opponents, including the Mountainview Colts, who have already played 18 games.
Moore said the lopsided number of games played by each team is due to some of the HJHL’s teams dropping out this season, including the Ponoka Stampeders and Stettler Lightning. He said it is advantageous to have games-in-hand, which bodes well for the Thunder in the coming weeks.
“We can use that as leverage and make sure we can use those to make the best of the situation,” he said.
Already more than a third into the HJHL season, one Airdrie player who has turned heads with his offensive output this year is Dylan Westlake, who leads in scoring for the Thunder with nine goals and six assists in 14 games.
Westlake is a Thunder newcomer this season, joining the squad from the Revelstoke Grizzlies junior B team in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League.
“He's a workhorse and I'm glad we got him,” Moore said. “He brings it every single night and every single practice. He gets better as an individual and makes his teammates better.
“He does the little things right, both on the offensive and defensive sides of the puck. He plays all aspects – powerplay, penalty kill, even strength – and really sets the bar and standard for what we're looking for from our players.”
Rookie Jeromy Jobin is another Thunder newcomer who has impressed this season, with five goals and 10 assists to his name in 14 outings. The 18-year-old forward is a native of Airdrie, having joined the Thunder following two seasons of U18 AA hockey with the Airdrie Lightning.
Next up for the Thunder is a home tilt with the third-place Sylvan Lake Wranglers on Nov. 19, with puck drop at 8 p.m. at the Ron Ebbesen Arena. The day after that, the team will head west for a game against the sixth-place Rocky Rams in Rocky Mountain House on Nov. 20.
According to Moore, Airdrie will be looking for a pair of wins to improve the team’s .500 record and climb a few spots in the standings.
“The Northern Division is full of good hockey teams, there's no doubt about that,” he said. “You can't take a night off. We learned that on Friday against Three Hills, and that was unacceptable.
“We know the parity in the North Division – all the teams are capable of winning and beating each other, but that's the nice thing about the division. It's very competitive.”