After a stop-start 2020-21, Airdrie’s AAA hockey teams are itching to return to seasonal play, which is set to kick off in October.
“We still have a couple tough decisions to make with five more releases to do here, but [the team] has been looking really good right now,” said Tyson Soloski, the Airdrie Xtreme U15 AAA boys team’s head coach. “I think it’s going to be a lot of learning to start, but it’s exciting to get back out there and playing some hockey.”
While in normal circumstances teams would build off of the previous season, with little to no hockey to look back on last winter, the Xtreme is coming into the upcoming campaign with a fresh perspective and new talent to coach.
“It’s just a restart,” Soloski said. “We only got a handful of practices in last year and a couple games. Coming into tryouts, we were looking for the best players available, no matter where they’re from or where they played. It’s a challenge.”
Heading into a new season, Soloski said the number-one focus for the Xtreme will be player development, as the team is comprised of 13- and 14-year-old players.
“We want to be able to push all of our kids to the next level,” he said. “We want to give them tools to allow them to be successful. With that, comes winning.”
The Xtreme’s last full campaign, which took place in 2019-2020, left the team with an 11-5-17 record, which put them in second place of the Ram South Division of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL). After the regular season, the team went out to the Medicine Hat-based SEAC Tigers in the first round of the AMBHL playoffs, just a week before the onset of COVID-19 shut down hockey in Alberta and the rest of Canada.
According to Soloski, the Xtreme will kick off their season with a home game on Oct. 4 at the Ron Ebbesen Arena.
Bisons ready for return
Separately, not only are the Airdrie CFR Chemicals Bisons coming into the 2021-22 season with similar circumstances as the Xtreme, but the U18 AAA boys’ team will also have a new face behind the bench.
New head coach Brad Bourke said he is feeling good about the character and culture the team has built in the lengthy offseason.
“We are beyond excited to get rolling here,” he said. “The mentality of these young athletes is something that we can really help. That is my biggest passion.”
While the Bisons are coming off a number of tough seasons since relocating to Airdrie from Strathmore in 2017, Bourke hopes to bring a different perspective and philosophy as the “Herd” takes on a fresh start after getting to play very little hockey last year.
“We have been trying to take advantage of a COVID-19 season with not much hockey,” he said. “We are trying to do our best with the things we can control.”
The Bisons’ 2019-20 campaign was a struggle, and didn’t bring the sort of results that fans, players, or the coaches were looking for. The young team finished bottom of the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League’s Dodge (South) Division with a record of 6-2-24, meaning the team did not make the playoffs.
While the roster for the Bisons had not yet been finalized as of press time, Bourke said he looks at the new squad as a potential playoff team.
“We are looking to come out of the gates playing playoff hockey,” he said.
Since the 2019-20 season, Alberta’s AAA hockey leagues have rebranded, and currently all fall under the Alberta Elite Hockey League (AEHL) banner. For the Xtreme's and Bisons' schedules, visit aehl.ca