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Early playoff exits for Lightning AA midget

Airdrie’s two midget AA hockey teams saw their 2019-20 seasons come to an end March 7, following exits in their respective playoff competitions.

In the Alberta Female Hockey League (AFHL) Midget Elite division, the Lightning suffered a pair of defeats, losing 2-1 and 4-3 in the team’s first-round, best-of-three playoff series against the Southern Express.

Despite the elimination, Lightning head coach Shayla Katrick said she was proud of her team’s performance and ability to keep the score close – particularly in Game 2.

“There’s nothing more my girls could have done or anything else I could have asked of them,” she said. “The second game was the best game I’d seen them play all year.

“Even after the game, their spirits were high, which was nice to see, and they were cheering as if they had won. I’m glad they learned to stay positive throughout the season given any circumstance and turnout of the games."

With just six returning players from last year, 2019-20 was a learning season for the young squad, which finished at the bottom of the AFHL Midget Elite Southern Division with a 6-19-1 record. The Lightning scored 35 goals in 26 games while conceding 79.

“Most of the girls had never played elite hockey before, so it was definitely a huge jump for them,” Katrick said. “The girls learned adversity and we really came together as a team.”

While the team took the occasional lump or two throughout the year, Katrick noted she was impressed by the players’ ability to stay positive.

“That’s hard to teach and to coach, that positive attitude – especially in games like the last one,” she said. “How can you stay positive? I know I wouldn’t be able to.

“But after we left the dressing room, we did the Lightning cheer one last time and it melted my heart because whatever has been thrown these girls’ way, they’ve stayed so positive.”

Katrick, who took over coaching the team this season, said she is already looking forward to next season, which could see as many as 10 returning players.

Four third-year members of the team are graduating from the midget age group, she added, including captain Jolin Bischke, Rachel Selent, Jennifer Johnson and Kayla Bell.

On the boys’ side, the Lightning’s campaign came to a halt the same day, in the North Conference semi-finals of the South Central Alberta Hockey League (SCAHL) playoff tournament co-hosted by Sylvan Lake and Red Deer.

Airdrie opened the tournament positively March 5, shutting out the Central Alberta Selects 2-0. However, the Lightning lost 7-4 to the West Central Tigers and 5-3 to the Red Deer Elks the following day.

Despite the 1-2 record, the Lightning qualified for the semi-finals, which presented a rematch against the Elks. Playing for a spot in the gold-medal game, Airdrie lost 2-1, with the Lightning’s sole goal coming on the power play from Zachary Cormier.

“It was a really close game and we were proud of how far the team came,” head coach Kyle Finch said. “It really galvanized and came together, so it was a good display.”

Similar to the girls’ team, the Lightning struggled to put wins on the board, ending the regular season with a 10-26-2 record. The squad finished in fifth place of the six-team North Conference.

“We found consistency inconsistently, if that makes sense, but when we were consistently working together and doing stuff for the person beside you, we were definitely a top team,” Finch said.

“We [coaches] were happy with the effort and I’m proud of how far the players came – from day one to battling in the semi-final of the North SCAHL tournament. It’s a big thing for that group.”

Graduating players include Ian Winslow, Justin LeGrandeur, Noah Doherty, Brennan Lucas and Caleb Rosteski.