It wasn’t pretty most of the night, but in the end the Red Deer Vipers were 6-4 winners over the Airdrie Thunder in game one of the best-of-seven HJHL North Final.
Twenty-year-old veteran Declan Johnston opened the scoring 3:45 into the game, beating Ryan Simpson on a partial breakaway off an Airdrie turnover. Mack Differenz made it 2-0 Vipers minutes later on a Red Deer power play.
The Thunder caught a fortuitous break at 6:50 as rearguard Jack MacCready’s point shot deflected off Red Deer defencemen Dalton Angeltvedt and past Brandon Bilodeau to cut the lead to 2-1. Johnston would find twine again, however Ben Shushkovsy also added a shorthanded tally for good measure to make it 4-1 Red Deer after one period.
The Vipers were badly outplayed in the second period, getting out shot 20-10. Bilodeau was able to hold the fort making several big saves. Zach Giroux found the net twice for the Thunder to bring the visitors within a single goal headed into the 3rd period.
The Vipers found their legs in the third period, outshooting and outscoring their opponents. Lane Sim restored the Vipers two goal lead after he capitalized on an Airdrie turnover at 2:57. The Thunder gained some hope back less than 60 seconds later as Dylan Wenzel’s wrister deflected off Viper d-man Connor Sullivan and into the top corner of the net. Viper forward Bailey Lawson scored at 7:15 to bring the score to its final of 6-4 Red Deer.
It was an on-again, off-again game for the Vipers who only found consistently good play in portions of the 1st and most of the 3rd. The difference for Red Deer was the solid play of Branden Bilodeau in goal and the penalty kill which went a perfect 7-for-7.
The Vipers will need a more consistent effort on the road on Friday night in Airdrie if they hope to bring a 2-0 lead home on Saturday. You can tune into the live play-by-play broadcast from Airdrie on Friday, the puck drops at 8p.m. The full 7-game schedule was finalized early this week and can be found below.
Vipers vs Thunder North Final (*if necessary)
1. March 7 @ Red Deer, 8:30pm, Servus Arena (Vipers win 6-4)
2. March 9 @ Airdrie, 8pm, Ron Ebbesen Arena
3. March 10 @ Red Deer, 8pm, Servus Arena
4. March 12 @ Airdrie, 7:30pm, Ron Ebbesen Arena
5. *March 14 @ Red Deer, 8:30pm, Servus Arena
6. *March 16 @ Airdrie, 8pm, Ron Ebbesen Arena
7. *March 17 @ Red Deer, 8pm, Servus Arena
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