By SCOTT FISHER
There wasn't much separating the two teams during the regular season.
And if Game 1 was any indication, the gap may be even tighter in the playoffs.
The Blackfalds Wranglers twice overcame one-goal deficits to beat the Airdrie Techmation Thunder 3-2 in the Heritage Junior Hockey League North Division semifinal series opener Wednesday night at the Ron Ebbesen Arena.
Thunder defenceman Jason Wenzel provided both goals for the Thunder, who will look to rebound Friday night in Game 2 back on home ice (8 p.m.).
Trailing 3-2, the Thunder had a glorious opportunity to find the equalizer when Wranglers forward Zane Bennett was handed a slew-footing major.
“I thought we were OK on the powerplay,” Stamp said. “They just got some big saves on that five-minute kill.
“It was definitely a momentum switch. Our inability to score there definitely impacted things.”
Wenzel put the hosts on the board just 2:06 in and, after the Wranglers tied things up, scored again with a powerplay blast from the point.
“It was great,” Stamp said of getting a pair of goals from a defenceman. “Any time we can get offensive production from our back end, it helps.
“Wenz has been great all season long.”
The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder said he was eager to chip in at the offensive end.
“It's playoff time and it's time to step up our game,” Wenzel said. “A few guys had opportunities, I just managed to capitalize on mine.
“We know we're a highly skilled team. We just have to keep it simple, stick our game and see how it goes.”
The Wranglers tied the game on a powerplay of their own early in the second and then potted the winner early in the final frame.
After failing to score on their five-minute powerplay, the Thunder penalty kill also came up big by killing off a two-man disadvantage for 1:29.
But despite constant pressure in the final two minutes, the hosts came up short.
The Thunder weren't at full strength as offensive star Dante Raposo (51 points in 26 games during the regular season) was forced to sit out with an injury.
“We miss him a ton,” Stamp said. “He's a guy who can play 200 feet.
“He's responsible in his own end and gives us some offensive punch.
“In a game like this, we definitely could have used him.”
The shots were even in every period and ended with each team putting 37 pucks on net.
Stamp said he'll reinforce the positives from Wednesday's outing to keep his players loose as they prepare for Game 2.
“I think we'll focus on the good things,” he said. “We did a lot of really good things in this game.
“Five-on-five, I thought we were the better hockey team the majority of the time.
“If we can build off of that, we'll be OK going into the game on Friday.”