On Halloween, the Airdrie Thunder were treated to the sweet taste of revenge as they overcame the Mountainview Colts in the first game of the 2020-21 Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) season.
Playing at the Ron Ebbesen Arena Oct. 31, Airdrie’s junior B team skated to a 4-2 win over the visitors from Didsbury, who had ousted the Thunder from the second round of the HJHL playoffs earlier this year.
“It was pretty awesome to see the guys execute and buy into the process and program we’ve been talking about for the last six or seven weeks, and deliver on the ice,” said Chad Moore, the Thunder’s new head coach.
It took just 85 seconds for Jacob Cathcart to open the scoring for the Thunder following the initial puck drop. Airdrie held the 1-0 lead until the end of the first period.
Lucas Mulholland evened the score early into the second period for Mountainview, before Mathew MacDonald replied for the Thunder five minutes later, restoring the host’s lead.
Thunder newcomer Mason Ducharme doubled Airdrie’s lead halfway through the third period, making the score 3-1. With less than two minutes left, the Colts cut down the Thunder’s lead again with a shot from Paton Rothenbusch, before 20-year-old Jason Horn scored an empty netter in the final minute to earn Airdrie the two-point victory.
“The guys were thrilled – it was our home opener, and we’re going through some tough times globally and holistically,” Moore said. “There are a lot of challenges to playing sports these days, so it was awesome to see the guys come out firing on all cylinders and do a lot of the little things right.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, HJHL fans will have to contend with a shortened and modified season this winter. Each team will play 20 games, split into series of four consecutive games against the same divisional opponent. Teams will rest for two weeks between each series to comply with Alberta Health Services’ 14-day, 50-person cohort rule.
Moore said he enjoys the competitive atmosphere created by the modified format, likening it to playoff hockey.
“Playing the same team four in a row is going to create those battles and those challenges you play the game for,” he said. “We’re getting into that right off the bat. Every opponent is a mini-series, and that’s only going to set us up for when the playoffs come around.”
After Airdrie’s first series against the Colts, the Thunder will face other North Division opponents including the Three Hills Thrashers, Red Deer Vipers, Rocky Rams and Sylvan Lake Wranglers.
The Thunder roster is different compared to last season, Moore said, with nine returning players and six rookies.
“Some guys we brought in from B.C., other junior teams and we have a few younger guys coming from midget AA and AAA last year,” he said. “We have a great group of guys with all different skill sets and we’re capitalizing on that.”
With a mix of HJHL veterans and new faces, Moore added the coaches still have to decide who will don the C on their sweater this winter.
“Captain is a powerful position and you don’t want to set anyone up who is uncomfortable,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re picking the right guy when it comes to that. We have a lot of options – senior guys, young leaders, and we’re kind of taking our time as a group to understand what the best decision is.”
Based on the team’s performance in the season opener, Moore said he is excited by the Thunder’s prospects this season.
“If we play to our capabilities and our sets of standards, there are teams in this league that won’t be able to compare to us,” he said. “We set the bar, and we know where we’re at, what we’re capable of and where we can continue to improve.”
The Thunder return to the ice for Game 2 against the Colts tonight (Nov. 4) at 8 p.m. in Carstairs. The teams will square off again at the Ron Ebbesen Arena Nov. 6 at 8 p.m., before capping off the mini-series the following night in Carstairs.