GLENS FALLS — Despite winning their second consecutive North Division title and finishing with the third-most points in the Eastern Conference, the Adirondack Thunder didn’t even get a whiff of the ECHL’s regular-season awards.
That’s fine with them. Because as they enter a first-round playoff series against the Worcester Railers on Friday night at Cool Insuring Arena, they know that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
“I believe we are the tightest team in this league,” Thunder coach Brad Tapper said. “These guys love each other, we go to war for each other every day. Those individual awards: the coach’s awards, the sportsman of the year, the MVP, those are individual awards, who cares? People remember those championship teams. People remember those teams that fought hard for each other during the playoffs.”
The Thunder have no choice but to fight hard in this series because they’re facing a team that was unquestionably the league’s hottest at the end of the season. On Jan. 25, the Railers were in sixth place in the division, 16 points behind Wheeling. They went 22-8-1-2 the rest of the way, including winning 11 of their last 14 games.
Not only that, but Worcester had its share of success against Adirondack this season, winning eight of 12 games (three by shootout) and going 5-2 in Cool Insuring Arena — a hard feat, since the Thunder won 22 of 36 home games.
“We had a couple good days of practice and this building is going to be electric. We’re thankful for our fans, the seventh man. We need them to be really, really loud (Friday),” Tapper said.
Thunder forward Terrence Wallin said it boils down to will and want.
“We need to find a way to will our way to offense and want it more than them,” he said. “It’s playoff hockey and all the numbers go out the window; it’s how bad we want it.”
But along with wanting it, the Thunder have to address some technical issues. The biggest of those, Tapper said, is making things difficult for presumed Game 1 starting goaltender Mitch Gillam, one of those aforementioned individual award winners as the goalie on the league’s all-rookie team.
“We have to get our heels in the paint and we have to be a nuisance around their goaltending. We’re excited to get in there and get a little dirty,” Tapper said.
GLENS FALLS — Just as the Adirondack Thunder hope to fill Cool Insuring Arena to the rafters for the upcoming playoff series against Worcester…
“I think we just need to win the pits, the corners and the net front,” defenseman and captain Mike Bergin said. “They’re a pretty good defensive team and they controlled those areas pretty well throughout the regular season. That’s what we’ve got to focus on: getting to the hard areas and winning those battles.”
At the other end, Mackenzie Blackwood will get the start in goal. He had AHL playoff experience last season with Albany.
“His attitude has been amazing here the last few days, he’s practiced really hard,” Tapper said of Blackwood. “He’s a great kid, he’s ready to compete and we’re going to need him to help us win these hockey games.”
Offensively, Shane Conacher leads the Thunder with 63 points (20 goals, 43 assists), while James Henry and Brian Ward are second and third in scoring with 54 and 53 points. But while Adirondack has seven guys with more than 40 points, it’s that cohesiveness that has marked the Thunder’s season. Third- and fourth-liners are equally dangerous as first-liners.
“That’s a sign of a good team, when you can rely on all three or four lines,” Wallin said. “Different times, guys have stepped up when guys got called up or hurt.”
The best-of-seven playoff schedule is stacked up front, with the Thunder playing three games in three days, as Games 2 and 3 will be played in Worcester on Saturday and Sunday.
“Not a lot of rest,” Bergin said. “That’s OK with us, we’ve been playing it all year, crazy schedule. This team is resilient. We overcome adversity, for sure.”
The Thunder played three games in three days nine times this season. They won 16 of 27.
NOTES: Forward Shane Conacher and defenseman Matt Spencer were recalled to Syracuse of the AHL on Thursday.