It was another premature end to the season for the Airdrie CFR Chemical Bisons, as the U17 squad failed to make the Alberta AAA Midget Hockey League (AMHL) playoffs for the third consecutive year.
In the Bisons final regular-season game, a 9-3 defeat to the Calgary Northstars kept the team at the bottom of the Chrysler South Division with a 6-24-2 record.
Head coach Dustin Taylor said the mood among layers was mixed after the Feb. 15 loss to the Northstars.
“Going back to how young we are, most of these kids are still learning how to win at this level, and all the details to get there,” he said. “The ending feeling that some of them had was probably confused – with a little bit of relief, as well, that the season is over because it is such a grind.”
With a new roster that featured just five Grade-12 players, the Bisons struggled to put wins on the board this season. Airdrie went 14 games before tasting victory. While the team improved its performances in the second half of the season, the Bisons finished 15 points short of a playoff position, with a goal-differential of -60.
According to Taylor, it took time for some of the newcomers to adjust to the demands of the AMHL – the top league for high-school-age hockey players in Alberta.
“A lot of them had never played hockey at this high of a level, this often,” he said. “A lot of them learned how to play the game more consistently and with more maturity. It’s not just a run-and-gun game, and they needed to learn to have some structure when they play.”
On a positive note, Taylor said he expects 12 to 14 players to return next season, allowing the team to build off the pre-established chemistry.
“[The players] are already getting ready for next year,” he said. “They’ve talked about getting a plan in place, an individual development plan for each player, and getting prepared for what next year could look like.”
Graduating players who will move on to the junior-A level next fall include goaltender Garrett Fuller, who has received an offer from the Drumheller Dragons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League; and captain Owen Lugowski, a defenseman who will play for the Battleford North Stars in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
The three other graduates – Tanner Chapman, JT Luterbach and Parker Jorginson – are also looking at joining prospective junior-A clubs next year, according to Taylor.
“We’re just getting them prepared for all the spring camps they’ll be attending, and hopefully they’ll make some good ground in order to have a shot at making teams next year,” he said.
While the 2019-20 campaign is in the books, Taylor said there is a short turnaround before the team starts preparing for next season. The Bisons will host its annual spring training camp April 24 to 25 at the Ron Ebbesen Arena alongside the AC Avalanche AAA minor midget team.
“That’s our first look at all the prospects coming in next year,” he said.