Kicking off the HJHL campaign at the Ron Ebbesen Arena on Sept. 17, the Thunder left the ice disappointed following a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the visiting Red Deer Vipers. While the hosts finished strong with two unanswered goals, it wasn’t enough to come back from a sluggish start and a 5-0 deficit.
“We dug ourselves a hole and unfortunately it was a hole we couldn’t climb out of,” said head coach Chad Moore. “The positives are the third period. We played our game more so in the third period than we did in the first and the second. That’s the position we put ourselves in.”
Thunder goaltender Joshua Hager faced 39 shots from the Vipers, registering 34 saves. Airdrie’s goals came off of unassisted efforts from Dylan Westlake and Trey Stovin, two new additions to the Thunder’s roster this season.
Though disappointed with the defeat, Moore added he was pleased to see a pair of newcomers open their scoring accounts for the Thunder. Westlake joined the team from the Revelstoke Grizzlies in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL), while Stovin joined from the Fort Knox in the Prairie Junior Hockey League.
“We’re looking for a little more of that natural offence and we’re getting it from the new faces, which is awesome,” Moore said. “That’s going to trickle down through the team.”
Airdrie shook off the loss quickly, downing the Ponoka Stampeders 2-1 the following day to record their first win of 2021. Westlake tickled twine to record his second goal in a Thunder jersey, while Airdrie AA product Luke Doyle registered his first goal for the junior B team.
The Thunder enjoyed plenty of offence in Ponoka, outshooting the Stampeders 66-16.
“We struggled with burying the puck, but that’s OK,” Moore said. “We were giving ourselves opportunities to create and generate that offence. Next to come is putting them in the back of the net, but it was definitely a confidence booster after a lacklustre performance the other night.”
Next up for the Thunder will be a home tilt against the Kainai Braves on Sept. 24, followed by a rematch on the road against Red Deer the following day.
This season is Kainai’s first in the HJHL, and the expansion team has already taken a few lumps – for example, a 17-2 season-opening defeat against the Cochrane Generals.
But Moore said the Thunder can’t take a lopsided result like that for granted, adding his players will have to bring their best against every team they line up against this season, regardless of previous results.
“We do have a little intel on them,” he said, of the Braves. “They do have some good players – guys who can shoot and score, right off the bat – so we’ll keep an eye out for them, but it doesn’t matter who we’re playing each weekend. We don’t change our style of play, lower our expectation or play down to the level of our competition. If we show up and play our game, we’ll be successful more often than not.”
The head coach added Airdrie’s players are also eager to seek redemption in the tilt against Red Deer on Sept. 25.
“That’s another tape-measure game for us,” he said. “That’s the first team we’ve played outside of Didsbury and Ponoka in the last 18 months. We’ve gotten to see some of the calibre of the last of the league and we’ll be more prepared to play them in their rink on Saturday.”