For the second season in a row, the Airdrie Techmation Thunder will have plenty of representation in the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL) All-Star Game, with five Airdrie players selected to compete in the Jan. 5, 2020 fixture in Medicine Hat, Alta.
Thunder players who will take to the ice for the North Division include second-year goaltender Jackson Little, forwards Jordan McConnell and Tristan Paquette, and defensemen Luke Jensen and Jonny Lake. Because the Thunder is in first place of the HJHL North Division, Airdrie will be the most represented team on the squad.
“When you have a roster as deep as ours, similar to where we were last year, you could make an argument for a great number of our players going and being able to represent our team,” said bench boss Derek Stamp, who will also coach the North team at the All-Star Game for the second consecutive season.
Team Captain McConnell will also compete in his second consecutive All-Star Game, while Paquette – who has taken on a leadership role among the Thunder’s forwards this season – will make his first appearance.
“[McConnell] and [Paquette], both 21-year-olds, are major drivers of our hockey team, both on and off the ice,” Stamp said.
Along the blue line, the coach said, 19-year-old Jensen and 20-year-old Lake will provide plenty of resolve for the North’s defence.
“Luke Jensen has taken a huge step forward in his second year with us, and really kind of anchors our back end,” Stamp said. “Jonny Lake started the season as a forward, but made the transition [to defence] out of necessity when we had some injuries, and just took to it. He’s been working hard and has quickly become a steady force.”
As one of two netminders for the North, Little,19, will need to continue playing the way he has so far this season – he currently boasts a .915 save percentage in 10 games.
“Little, in our opinion, is one of the top goaltenders in this league, and is probably the best goaltender in the North, so we’re happy he got the nod, as well,” Stamp said.
Now in its third year, the All-Star Game provides Airdrie’s junior B players a chance to meet members of other HJHL teams who are, for most of the year, bitter rivals.
According to Stamp, that animosity takes a back seat for the game, allowing the players to develop on-ice chemistry.
“I know in the past two All-Star Games… a lot of the comments from our players were about what kind of people these guys actually are, who they go up against game after game,” he said. “There’s been a lot of, ‘Oh, he’s great in the dressing room.’ ‘It’s neat to see that different side of him when you’re not competing against him.”
A new addition to the event is the HJHL Prospects Game, which will showcase the league’s top rookies. The fixture will be held at 1 p.m., before the All-Star tilt kicks off at 4.
Three Thunder players will skate in the Prospects Game, including 17-year-olds Nathan Fox and Dane Bennett-Nimijean, and 18-year-old Matthew MacDonald.
According to Stamp, the game is an opportunity for the junior B league’s brightest up-and-comers to not only represent their team, but also catch the eye of scouts from junior A programs from across western Canada.
“There were invitations sent out to scouts from the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Saskatchewan Junior Hockey league and B.C. Junior Hockey League, so there’s expectation to have good representation,” he said.