A pair of weekend wins extended the The Airdrie Thunder’s lead atop the North Division standings of the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL).
After playing five consecutive games on the road, the Thunder was back at the Ron Ebbesen Arena Nov. 15 to take on the sixth-place Ponoka Stampeders.
“It was weird, and not something we’ve experienced in the years I’ve been here,” said head coach Derek Stamp, of the lengthy stretch of road games. “We were happy to not have to get on too many more buses this weekend, and play a home game again.”
Much like in The Wizard of Oz, the Thunder proved there’s no place like home, with a 4-1 victory. Just 54 seconds into the contest, left wing Cody Brodhagen scored his 12th tally of the season coming on an odd-man rush.
“It felt pretty good, for sure,” the 20-year-old said. “Usually, when my linemate – Kyle Bracko – and I get out there on a rush, it’s pretty hard to stop us once we get going.”
Airdrie had several chances to extend its lead throughout the first stanza, but Ponoka goaltender Geoffrey Drought, 18, came up big to keep the Thunder from doubling its advantage, making 23 saves in the opening 20 minutes.
“After [Brodhagen’s goal], there were times their goalie made some fantastic saves on pucks that probably should have been in the back of the net,” Stamp said.
Strong goaltending – from both teams – continued to be the theme of the night. Drought ultimately kicked out 49 pucks, while Thunder goaltender Justin Fedoruk made 19 saves at the other end of the ice, keeping the Stampeders to just a single goal.
With just three minutes left, the score was 2-1 for the Thunder.
Airdrie potted two late goals – from captain Jordan McConnell and an empty netter from Dane Bennett-Nimijean in the final seconds – to come away with the two points.
“We had a lot of chances in the second and third period that we wish we had capitalized on, but we’re still happy with the end result,” Brodhagen said.
The Thunder was back on the road Nov. 16, easily overcoming the Lomond Lakers 8-1 in Vulcan. Airdrie spread out the scoring, with Brodhagen, McConnell, Bennett-Nimijean, Arlin Schell, Carson McGinniss, Kory Zinck, Ty Petrie and Tristan Paquette all getting on the score sheet.
The weekend sweep means the Thunder now has a 13-4-0 record, and a five-point lead in the North Division over the second-place Mountainview Colts.
While last year’s HJHL and provincial junior B champion is starting to find its feet against its northern rivals, the Thunder has one eye on the South Division, where the Okotoks Bisons is off to a ferocious start, recording 18 wins on the bounce.
Half of Airdrie’s four losses this season have come against the high-flying Bisons, including an 8-1 hammering at home in September and a 3-1 loss in Okotoks Nov. 10.
“That [last] Okotoks game could have gone either way,” Brodhagen said. “We played a good game. There was a goal called off on us, and a goal that should have been called off on them. It should have been a 2-2 game, but at the end of the day, that stuff happens.”
With no more regular-season games against the Bisons, Brodhagen said he hopes Airdrie can earn redemption against Okotoks in the HJHL playoffs.
“We honestly hope they go 38-0 and then face us in the finals and there’s a huge upset at the end of the year,” he said. “That would be fun.”