The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Dinos weren't the only sports teams to end droughts over the Nov. 23 weekend.
Ending a 14-game winless skid, the Airdrie CFR Chemical Bisons midget AAA hockey team earned its first victory of the season Nov. 24, courtesy of a 2-1 triumph over the visiting Fort Saskatchewan Rangers.
“I don’t know if I could really describe how excited the players were,” said head coach Dustin Taylor. “It was just nice to get a win, because they’ve been working so hard, and that was definitely a well-earned win.”
Airdrie came into the contest at the Ron Ebbesen Arena at the bottom of the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League’s (AMHL) Chrysler South Division standings with a 0-13-1 record. The team’s only point came Oct. 6, when the Bisons tied the Calgary Buffaloes 3-3.
Despite having lost every game since, the squad put together a complete team performance to overcome the Rangers, outshooting Fort Saskatchewan 38-33.
“It was amazing,” said 17-year-old defenceman and team captain Owen Lugowski. “The boys have worked hard, and nobody has quit yet. It was just great to finally come through with a win.”
Following a goal-less opening period, 16-year-old Connor Poffenroth opened the scoring for the Bisons halfway through the second stanza.
The score line held until early in the third period, when Rhett Melnyk spoiled Airdrie’s shutout with an equalizer on the power play.
With a little more than five minutes left, Airdrie earned a power play of its own. The Bisons took advantage, and Will Barrett rifled a slap shot from just in front of the blue line that flew into the Rangers’ net.
“Will [Barrett] got the shot, but I’m pretty sure [Ethan] Tinevez was the one who tipped it,” Taylor said. “It was great net-front presence, screening the goalie, a good shot from the point – it was perfect. We’ve been working on that.”
Airdrie’s blue-liners battled to maintain the one-goal lead in the final minutes, as Fort Saskatchewan’s forwards fought to stay in the contest. After the Rangers pulled its goalie, Bisons goaltender Freddie Halyk came up with a big pad save in the final 20 seconds to see out the result.
Bisons hold on for their first win of the season! pic.twitter.com/T2wZL7vzAA— Scott Strasser (@scottstrasser19) November 24, 2019
“It was 20-man buy-in from everybody,” Lugowski said.
Though Airdrie is still six points adrift of the next closest team in its division – the Calgary Northstars – and 10 points away from a playoff position, Taylor said the win could be a catalyst for a mid-season turnaround.
“I think the biggest thing for us is reinstating that belief that we can win,” he said.
“The group of young men we’re working with is so committed to putting in the work every week, but they hadn’t been able to see any rewards from it. To get this win is nice – they’re going to be re-energized this week to just work even harder to see if we can put some more wins together.”
The Bisons will look to keep the positive play going Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, with battles against the CAC Gregg Distributors and SSAC Athletics. The game against CAC will be held at the Ron Ebbesen Arena at 11 a.m.
While Airdrie has struggled to churn out wins this year, the Bisons' points have come against some of the AMHL’s top teams. The Buffaloes is currently first in the south division, while the Rangers occupies third place in the Dodge North Division.
“I think it shows we can play with any team in this league,” Lugowski said. “We have the talent and effort to skate with anyone out there.”