With minor hockey looking set to get somewhat back to normal this year, Airdrie’s U18 AA teams are busy preparing for what they hope will be a full season.
“I am excited,” said Barry McElligott, the head coach of the Airdrie Lightning AA U18 girls’ team. “The girls that came in have put a lot of work in over the summer, [and] we think we’ll have a really strong year.”
McElligott said there may be some growing pains with a bit of a younger lineup, but he added there is a lot of potential within the roster.
“They are all good kids, we are looking forward to the season,” he said.
Last year, McElligott’s AA squad never really got going due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were around 19 practices held in October 2020 and two exhibition games before the Alberta Female Hockey League (AFHL) season was postponed due to the second wave of the pandemic.
He said everyone on the team stayed connected via Zoom twice a week until the AFHL season was officially called off in February, but it presented challenges, as there was no actual hockey being played.
Not having a previous year to build off of, McElligott – who took over the Lightning’s coaching reins last fall – said it will be important to focus on creating a proper culture and identity for the team.
“When this team first came to Airdrie, they had it,” he said. “I think it went away. My goal last year was to try and create that Airdrie identity. We had a strong team last year, we were getting there.”
According to McElligott, four players from last year’s squad graduated from high school and went on to post-secondary school, and the former goalie has made the move up to the AAA level. He said coming into this year, it’s about continuing on to build on the players who are still with the Lightning.
“I talked to the girls already this year about our goals,” he said. “We want to be very even keel. Don’t ride on the highs or fall on the lows. We just need to focus on what we need to. The other part is, I want other people to know what Airdrie minor hockey is when they play us.”
On the boys’ side, Shaun Guest is once again coaching the U18 AA team. The former Airdrie Thunder coach said the Lightning are nearing a final roster as they prepare for their home opener on Oct. 2.
After the red and white intersquad game held earlier this week, Guest said the Lightning’s coaches made additional cuts for a roster that will play in a preseason tournament this upcoming weekend. After that tournament, Guest said he will have a final squad ready to take into the regular South Central Alberta Hockey League (SCAHL) season.
“Last year, we had an extremely strong culture in the dressing room, along with a talented team,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get to showcase that for very long, having only played four games.”
Guest said this year’s squad has the right amount of returning players to help build off of last season’s strengths.
“We’ve got some harder decisions this year,” he said. “In comparison to last year, I think we are going to be looking at a great team this year as well. We have a real strong opportunity to make a run.”
While there wasn’t much hockey to play in 2020-21, Guest said his team also did a great job of staying connected through Zoom.
The Lightning also took part in a charity initiative that will carry on this year as well – last winter, the players took part in North Rocky View Community Links’ Snow Angels program, which pairs volunteers with a local resident who needs help with snow removal on their property.
In addition to being Snow Angels this winter, Guest said his squad will be heading out to a nearby acreage on Oct. 3 to help a family by raking leaves on the entire property.
“Life values are just as important as the game, that is why we do it,” Guest said.