The Airdrie-Cochrane (AC) Avalanche will enter the new year with 20/20 vision.
The Cochrane-based AAA minor midget hockey team is in the midst of a great season, capping off the calendar year in second place of the South Division of the Alberta Minor Midget Hockey League (AMMHL) with a 17-4-1 record.
“We’re a really deep team and we work hard,” said the squad’s captain, 15-year-old center Riley Westlund, of Beiseker. “We have four full lines, and they’re just rolling.”
With 15 games left in the regular season, peaking in time for the AMMHL playoff tournament in early March 2020 will be a focus for the squad, according to head coach Terry Sydoryk.
“Our league has the one tournament to end it all, and it’s anyone’s game,” he said.
“You have to win at that point of the season. It’s more important to have the team building and being ready to go for the playoff tournament than where you end up in the league.”
The Avalanche, which caters to high-level 15-year-old hockey players in the Cochrane and Airdrie area, began its Christmas break Dec. 17, after comfortably downing the Calgary Northstars Blazers 7-1, at the Max Bell Centre in Calgary.
An easy night for the @ACAvalancheAAA, as they overcome the Calgary Northstars Blazers 7-1 at Max Bell. Last AMMHL game of 2019 for the Avs, who currently sit second in the South Division behind Okotoks. pic.twitter.com/hoqtncVw57— Scott Strasser (@scottstrasser19) December 18, 2019
“I felt we had a pretty good game – we were going hard,” Westlund said.
Sydoryk said his players’ consistently strong effort has garnered the Avalanche plenty of success in the first half of the campaign – in 22 games, the team has registered 90 goals, while conceding just 42.
“We have a hardworking team,” he said. “We don’t necessarily have natural goal scorers, but we have guys who work hard and have been able to put the puck in the net – versus last year, when our guys worked hard but couldn’t [generate as much offence].”
However, finding motivation when playing against other top teams in the south division will be the Avalanche’s focus in the remaining fixtures, according to Sydoryk.
“Right now, the wins are coming too easy,” he said. “Right now, it’s Okotoks, Lethbridge and ourselves at the top end of the league. The challenge is making sure we’re ready to play against those teams, because some of the other teams, over a 60-minute game, it’s just not that competitive.”
While league play is on hiatus until Jan. 11, 2020, the Avalanche is staying sharp over the break by competing in two tournaments. The squad returned to the ice Dec. 19 to 22 for Hockey Calgary’s Midget 15 Winter Blast, and won the AAA minor midget tournament with an unbeaten record, overcoming the Northwest Calgary Athletic Association Bruins in a penalty shootout in the championship game.
The squad will head west Jan. 2 to 5, 2020, for the Okanagan Classic Minor Midget Tournament in Kelowna, B.C.
Sydoryk said the tournament in Kelowna will allow the team to fine-tune its game before resuming the regular season with a crucial battle against the first-place Okotoks M15 Oilers.
The Oilers, the only unbeaten team in the AMMHL this season with a dominant 17-0-3 record as of Dec. 18, will be the benchmark for the Avalanche, Sydoryk said. Okotoks has shown its opponents little mercy, scoring 134 goals and conceding just 36.
“They’re a fast team and move the puck quick,” Westlund said.
The last time the Avalanche took on the Oilers, Oct. 4, the Okotokians skated to a 6-2 victory.
“There are five guys who are high-performing, goal-scoring players,” Sydoryk said. “They haven’t lost a game in the league and went through the [Western Sport School Challenge] without losing. There’s a lot of talent on that team.”
Puck-drop for the tilt against the Oilers will be 7:30 p.m. at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre, in Cochrane.