Nearly three months after winning their first-ever Junior B provincial championship, Airdrie Thunder players and coaches gathered at the Ron Ebbesen Arena June 19 for the hockey team’s annual awards ceremony.
The year-end banquet allowed players to catch up, thank sponsors and reflect on the 2018-19 season that saw the Thunder claim its first Heritage Junior Hockey League championship since 2000, before wrapping up the season in April with the provincial title.
“It was a really fun night,” said Brett LeGrandeur, who was honoured with the team’s Rookie of the Year Award. “We were a pretty close group of guys that all got along really well, so it was nice to see them again.”
Eleven members were recognized with individual awards, and the players were surprised with championship rings. They also marked their names on the two banners that will hang from the Ron Ebbesen Arena rafters.
“It felt special to sign my name on the provincial banner, beside all my best friends,” said defenseman Jason Wenzel. “[Last season] is right up there for the most fun year of playing hockey I’ve had, since I was little.”
While the players continue to celebrate their remarkable effort, the coaches are already thinking of next year. The 2019-20 campaign will no doubt be a rebuild for the Thunder, considering many of the players are moving on to other teams or aging out of junior hockey.
Wenzel, who earned the team’s Defenseman of the Year Award, is one such player. The Calgary native received a hockey scholarship to play for the University of Providence – a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II team in Great Falls, Mont.
“It’s a new program – this past season was its first year of having a hockey team, and they did quite well,” he said, adding the team’s coach scouted him at a game last season.
“I kept getting more and more interested [after speaking with the Providence coach], and just thought it was a good opportunity for me to continue my education while still being able to play hockey.”
Other key players departing include forwards Rylan Plante-Crough, who earned the team’s Dedication Award; goaltender Ryan Simpson, who will play university hockey for the Boise State University Broncos next year; and Tristan Paquette, who is aging out of junior hockey.
LeGrandeur, 19, signed a contract to play for the Yorkton Terriers, of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, and has found memories of his time with the Thunder.
“It was a super fun year and I’m really happy I chose to play last year,” LeGrandeur said. “It was great and I just hope they’re able to do the same thing next year and have the same success.”
Goaltender Jackson Little earned the Top Playoff Performer, Cooper Page took home the Best Defensive Forward Award, Paquette claimed the Unsung Hero Award and Jackson Gibson was recognized with the Most Improved Player Award.
Zach Giroux received the President’s Award, Kirkland Spencer took home the Sportsmanship Award and Brayden Dunn – who scored the provincial-championship-winning goal in overtime – was honoured with the Heart, Pride and Sacrifice Award.
Forward Jordan McConnell, who set a new HJHL scoring record with 125 points during the regular season, was honoured with both the Top Scorer Award and the Most Valuable Player Award.