Thunder hitting their mark

Pre-season results are like election promises. They’re significant at the time they happen, but usually mean little when all is said and done.
So keep the victory parade plans for the Borderland Thunder on hold for now.
But don’t shrug off the squad’s championship performance at last weekend’s annual SIJHL “Showcase” tournament here too quickly, either.
Entering the season with a cast of new faces on the ice and a new man behind the bench in head coach Dave Allison, a degree of uncertainty surrounded the local Junior ‘A’ club.
True, their appearance in April’s league final in their debut season in the fledgling SIJHL was reason for the Thunder to adopt a positive perspective for the upcoming campaign.
But team chemistry is one of those intangibles whose success can’t be predicted, especially by a squad sporting a changed cast of characters. Sometimes, the mixture can produce gold. And sometimes it can blow up in your face.
Consider the Thunder experiment an early success.
Playing without veteran defencemen David Lloyd and Ryan Hampton, as well as highly-touted recruit Aaron Grynol up front, the Thunder barely missed a beat in tearing through the four-day tournament undefeated.
The blueline corps looked rock steady for the most part. Their imposing physical presence kept the front of the net clear, and ensured opposition forays into the Borderland zone were mostly brief and painful.
Offensively, the Thunder sport two potentially lethal scoring lines—a key ingredient to any team that wants to be serious championship contenders.
The trio of Kyle Prystupa, A.J. Tucker, and Matt Johnson were dangerous every time they stepped on the ice. Meanwhile, last year’s leading scorer Kevin Webb looked right at home matched up with linemates Chad Baldwin and Ian Lockman.
The club’s scoring depth was displayed throughout the weekend as different players stepped up to the plate and delivered at important times.
Chris Schaen had the game-winner in the Thunder’s opener against Nipigon last Thursday afternoon. Drew Fisher netted a pair of third-period markers to break a 3-3 tie against Dryden on Saturday night.
Then there was Josh Baxter deftly tipping the puck in front of the Dryden net for a 2-1 Thunder lead in Sunday afternoon’s final versus the Ice Dogs.
The forwards, as a unit, drove their opponents to distraction with a steady stream of forechecking pressure that created multiple turnovers in the defensive zone.
The goalies also were on their game over the weekend as the Thunder look to replace last year’s starter Rob Hrabec.
Tom Iwaniec came up with the big saves when he had to against Dryden on Sunday, while the tandem of A. J. Schneidermiller and Chris Cain made the most of their opportunities on the net.
The only noticeable sore spots for the Thunder were a power-play unit that went just 1-for-11 and 2-for-16 against Nipigon and Dryden during round-robin play, and their penchant to spend time in the sin bin that gave their penalty-killing units far too much work throughout the tournament.
But even those concerns were ironed out by the final, as evidenced by the Thunder’s three power-play goals and only six short-handed situations Sunday.
There’s much work to be done before the SIJHL playoffs and the Dudley Hewitt Cup – which the Thunder will vie for as the host squad next spring – roll around.
But the message has been sent. The roar of the Thunder should have opponents on a season-long storm watch.

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