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Season ends for Airdrie Thunder

The Airdrie Techmation Thunder ended its season earlier than expected, with the junior B team suffering a 4-2 defeat in its best-of-seven series in the second round of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) post-season.

The defending HJHL champion’s campaign came to a disappointing end Feb. 29, following a 4-3 loss to the Mountainview Colts in Didsbury.

“I think everyone was feeling the disappointment when that game wrapped up," head coach Derek Stamp said. "We felt good throughout all 60 minutes, and it wasn’t until right at the end when they scored the go-ahead goal and we couldn’t come back from it."

After enjoying a first-round bye, the Thunder – the top-seeded team in the north division – took on the fourth-seeded Colts in a heated series that demonstrated the teams’ hostility towards each other. An average of 18 penalties per game was called throughout the series, with several players from both teams receiving 10-minute stints in the box for misconduct.

Stamp said the fire was stoked by the excitement of playoff hockey, combined with an apparent animosity that has developed between the teams.

"There’s definitely an increase in intensity in the playoffs, regardless of which team you’re playing," he said. "For Mountainview, it probably dates back to [the north division finals] last year. Maybe it’s the beginning, or a continuation, of a rivalry between the two clubs. Last year, we came out on top and all throughout the regular season when we played Mountainview, they were tough, physical games.

"When the playoffs started, they definitely had a game plan of wanting to push us. Things got intense and there was definitely no love lost between the players. It’s a healthy rivalry, but it’s definitely intense.”

The Thunder took some time to find its form in the post-season, quickly going down 3-1 in the series. Game 4 was particularly bruising, as the defending champion suffered an 11-5 drubbing in Didsbury. The result marked the first time in more than three years the team conceded more than 10 goals in a game.

Airdrie’s regular-season scoring leader this season, Tristan Paquette, said the trouncing was the result of a team-wide collapse.

“It was just a little bit of everything – defensive breakdowns, guys not covering guys,” he said. “Once you start giving up a bunch of goals, it just keeps adding up and rolls from there.”

Airdrie was a completely different team two nights later, keeping the series alive with a spirited 6-2 win at the Ron Ebbesen Arena in front of more than 400 fans. Captain Jordan McConnell scored a hat trick, Ty Petrie scored twice and Kyle Bracko produced the sixth goal in the final few seconds.

“It was good to come out and bounce back,” Paquette said. “It’s never fun to lose like we did the other night, so to come out and have a full 60 minutes right from the get-go was awesome. It was a lot of fun and we just have to keep it going.

“We live to see another day.”

Unfortunately, Paquette’s statement proved more literal than he would have hoped, as the Thunder crashed out of the series the following night in Didsbury. The battle went down to the wire, with the sides tied 3-3 heading into the third period before Travis Gerrard sniped the winner for Mountainview.

While the Thunder didn’t defend its HJHL crown, Stamp said the early exit will be a lesson for the team.

“When you get into the playoffs, especially in this league, it’s a totally different game," he said. "For whatever reason, the intensity ratchets up and it gets really fast and physical. For some of our younger guys, that experience might have overwhelmed them this season. If you compare that to Mountainview, they primarily had the same team we beat last season in the playoffs and they looked a little more composed in key situations.”

Thunder players aging out of junior hockey this year include Paquette, McConnell, defenseman Jason Wenzel and forward Brayden Dunn.

"Our 21-year-olds were definitely down, knowing that was the last game of their junior careers," Stamp said. "For all the other guys, based on the season we had, to be going out in this round was not what we expected, but you have to give full credit to Mountainview in how they played throughout the series.”

Mountainview will take on the Sylvan Lake Wranglers in the HJHL north division finals. The winner of that series will take on the winner of the south division finals for the league championship.

Scott Strasser,
Follow me on Twitter @scottstrasser19