The AJHL annual Showcase event is a spectacle in its own right. The scouts, the parents, the fans are out in full flight, even setting new records so far this year, according to AJHL brass. It is an opportunity for young hockey players to show their talents to scouts from the NHL, WHL and colleges around North America. If it isn't the biggest 3 days of an AJHL player's career, would be an understatement.
The Thunder came into their first game of the Showcase winless after the first 6 games. A disappointing start for a team looking to improve on their first round playoff exit last season. The first game for the boys saw them come up against the pesky Camrose Kodiaks. Five days earlier the Kodiaks walked into the Omniplex and picked up a victory over the boys 2-0. The Thunder were looking for revenge heading into Thursday.
The first period saw the boys come out with aggressiveness and determination to break the goose egg in the win column. Unfortunately the Thunder took two penalties in the period, killing all momentum from them early on. Kodiaks forward Luc Vandale got Camrose on the board first with a wrist shot from the blue line which seemed to fool Thunder goaltender Mitch Martell.
Once again the middle frame was not particularly nice for the Thunder, something that has plagued the boys so far this season. The Kodiaks poured it on in the period, outshooting the Thunder 10-3 and 25-9 after two periods of play. The Thunder however got on the board in the frame, with a power play goal from Calgary native Brandon Long. The Kodiaks countered later on a power play of their own, when reigning Rookie of the Year Tanner McMaster walked the circle and fired a snap shot passed Martell.
The coaching staff must have put a spark under the boys heading into the third. The pace of play was end to end, the Thunder kept stride with the Kodiaks and needed to tie it up badly. The boys threw 9 shots on the Kodiaks goaltender Matthew Zantner, the same total they had through 2 periods. The Thunder struck midway in the frame as Nathan Smith put home a rebound at the side of the net, a power play goal, tying the game at 2. It was an exciting game as the Thunder were forced to kill a late third period penalty, as Smith, the goal scorer, went off for a questionable tripping call. Huge shot blocks by Chandler Irvin and Adam Moghrabi kept the puck out of the Thunder zone and headed into overtime, giving the Thunder a point guaranteed.
Overtime brought fast paced 3 on 3 action, with the Thunder having to kill off the remaining seconds on Smith's penalty. The boys had a power play of their own in overtime, as Kodiaks Davin Stener went off for hooking. The boys could not capitalize on the man advantage and had to settle going to the first shootout of the season.
The Thunder went first in the shootout sending veteran Nathan Smith to kick it off followed by Brett Smythe, Dylan Bredahl and rookie Braden Jakubowski. Smythe scored a beautiful back hand and Jakubowski ended it, as Mitch Martell stopped 3 of 4 shooters to earn the boys their first two points of the season.
The Thunder travel back to the showcase tomorrow to play the hometown Spruce Grove Saints at 8pm before heading home for a quick turnaround 2:30pm matinee Sunday versus the Whitecourt Wolverines.