Thugs and snipers

Horse Lake Thunder's Theo Fleury reacts during their game with the Lloydminster Border Kings during...

Horse Lake Thunder's Theo Fleury reacts during their game with the Lloydminster Border Kings during Allan Cup action at the Civic Arena in Lloydminster, Alta., Wednesday. (Edmonton Sun/Walter Tychnowicz)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

LLOYDMINSTER -- Nobody ever said they were pretty.

And, to the best of our recollection, nobody ever said they were nice.

Pretty intimidating, sure.

Nice and mean, absolutely. But if you're looking for a friendly little game, steer clear of the Horse Lake Thunder.

Through two lopsided wins of an Allan Cup championship that seems theirs to lose, the Thunder have lived up to their reputation as the hardest 60 minutes in senior hockey - a stacked team that can either beat you with skill or pound you with brawn, and often takes great delight in doing both.

"It depends on how the game is going," said Horse Lake defenceman Kip Noble. "If teams are going to come out and be physical with us, then we're going to be physical. If teams aren't going to take the body, we have speed everywhere on our club. We can either play the intense hitting game or the skilled skating game ... but we're going to be hard to play against."

Their ability to change from thugs to snipers, and be overwhelming in both disciplines, was painfully evident in their first two starts.

On Wednesday against Lloydminster they ran the home team out of their own rink - sending two opponents to the hospital in a 9-2 whitewash. Horse Lake defenceman Steve Parsons was ejected for knocking Scott Hood unconscious with an elbow; Misko Antisin's wicked two-hander sent Jeff Rosner for X-rays on his arm and defenceman Paul Fisher was suspended two games for spearing.

The only thing missing was the Hanson Brothers.

Horse Lake's next opponent, the St. John Cobras, watched the carnage from the stands and wondered what the heck they were in for.

"We joked about it for 24 hours, that we'd have an ambulance lined up outside," said Cobras coach Meryl Stewart. "We didn't come here scared, but we saw what went on and they have some big guys."

But a funny thing happened on the way to the mayhem. The Thunder stuck entirely to hockey last night, and proved, in the form of a 7-2 triumph, that they can whup you that way, too.

"It was kind of a no-hitting game out there," said Horse Lake forward Jerry Cunningham, who had two goals in the win. "The atmosphere was a little different. When you're playing the home team in your first game, you come to play, not that we didn't come to play today, but we played a little bit to their style."

The kinder, gentler Thunder even took their foot off the gas when the contest was out of reach (5-1 after 15 minutes).

"Our game plan is never to go out and beat up the other team," said Horse Lake assistant coach Rod McDonald. "But we like to play a physical style of hockey and combine that with our speed. That's the way we've played all year. It doesn't matter who we play, we play our game plan and if we need to make changes (to a more rambunctious style) we make changes."

The Cobras, largely unscathed except for the sunburn on goalie Aaron Tozer's neck, were breathing sighs of relief afterward. "They let us play hockey and we respect that," said Stewart. "They didn't try to run us out of the rink, didn't try (cheap shots) on us. They played physical but they played clean and I respect that."

With only two losses all season when their full team is together, and two dominating, and entirely different, performances in the Allan Cup, the Thunder are commanding everyone's respect.

"We never expected to win like this, that's for sure," said Noble, adding anything short of the national championship will be a major disappointment. "We kind of controlled our own destiny throughout the whole season and we want to keep that mindset going. There's no question we think it's ours to lose."

- Oilers winger Tony Salmelainen, who spent last season with the Edmonton Road Runners, has signed with Finland's HIFK Helsinki.


Videos

Photos