Airdrie’s U18 AA boys’ hockey team enjoyed the AAA treatment at the Western Canada Showdown in Calgary from Dec. 2 to 5.
Held for the first time in 2018, the three-day tournament provides U18 AA hockey players the opportunity to compete and get scouted in a tournament environment. The Airdrie Lightning, who played at the showcase two years ago, ended the tournament with a 3-1 record, finishing in seventh place.
Shaun Guest, the head coach of the team, said the Lightning played some good hockey against AA squads from other provinces over the weekend.
“It was actually quite nice to not play teams we play against in the league,” he said. “We got to play against teams from all over the place – good teams, too.”
The Lightning opened the tournament in fine fashion, defeating the Indigenous Sport Academy Eagles from Yorkton, Sask. 7-5 in their opening game. Airdrie followed that up with another win in their second outing, beating the Winnipeg Thrashers 6-3.
Unfortunately, the hot start came to an end in the third game; the Lightning fell to the Warman Wildcats 7-3 on Dec. 4, which bumped Airdrie all the way down to fourth place in their group.
That meant the Lightning’s final fixture was a consolation game against the other pool’s fourth-place team – the Regina Rangers. Airdrie overcame the Rangers 2-1 on Dec. 5 to close out the tournament and finish second in the Gold Pool.
Guest said playing at the Western Canada Showdown was a great opportunity, as it provided Airdrie’s players a glimpse into what life is like at higher levels of hockey.
One aspect of the tournament is the opportunity for players to be interviewed by tournament representatives before and after games, with the videos of the interviews broadcast on the tournament’s social media channels afterwards.
In addition to the opportunity to work on their media interview chops and play against sides from across western Canada, Guest said one of the main reasons to compete at the tournament is to provide the high-school-age players the chance to be scouted by junior A, B, and even major junior-level teams.
“I definitely saw a Saskatoon Blades scout there,” he said.
“It’s a good way for them to actually have some conversations with these [scouts]. They wore name tags all weekend so if a scout wanted to talk to them, they could find them easily.”
Guest added the tournament hosted a seminar on the Friday evening, where scouts spoke about what hockey is like at the junior level and what U18-age players need to know and do if they are interested in pursuing that route.
“A lot of these scouts have the right attitude,” he said. “There’s such a small difference between a midget AA player and a midget AAA player. These [AA] guys can actually develop better than some AAA players this year and catch up to them, so it opened the boys’ eyes to see that this is attainable and to work hard towards it.”
In terms of their regular season, the Lightning are currently in first place of the South Central Alberta Hockey League’s (SCAHL) North Division, with an 8-8-0 record.
According to Guest, the 2021-22 campaign has already included plenty of adversity for the Lightning so far, due to a slate of injuries and inconsistent line-ups.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries, a couple of lengthy suspensions, and we’ve made good use of our [affiliate players],” he said. “We were missing six players for two of our toughest games this year and lost both of them by one goal.”
Despite the challenges, he said the players are buying into the Lightning coaches’ messages, and are starting to come together at the midway point of the regular season.
“They’re playing well together, and we’re getting closer to having a full roster,” he said.
“We’ve got a great attitude with these guys. They’re ready to go, they’re starting to see what they’re capable of and are starting to play like that.”
The Lightning will return to the ice Dec. 11 to take on the Bow Valley Timberwolves, of Cochrane. The game gets underway at 1:30 p.m. at the Ron Ebbesen Arena.