After missing out on the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) playoffs last year, the Airdrie Xtreme is back in the post-season.
The city’s AAA boys’ bantam team capped off the regular season in second place of the AMBHL Ram South Division, with an 11-17-5 record.
Despite fielding a mostly-new roster, the team managed to qualify as the five-team division’s second seed.
“[Making the playoffs] is pretty rewarding for the kids, for all the hard work they’ve put in throughout the year,” head coach Tyson Soloski said. “I think it will be a really cool opportunity for them to experience playoff hockey since our first-year players last year didn’t have the chance.
“They’re all going to be pretty amped up and excited to get going.”
While the Xtreme ended the schedule on a four-game losing skid, Soloski said the team is ready for playoffs.
“We lost the last few games there, but before that, we had won five in a row and we didn’t lose in January,” he said. “I think we’ll be prepared, with how we’ve been playing. Facing a little bit of adversity right before the playoffs is never a bad thing, so I think we’re going to come out ready to play.”
January was when the Xtreme found its feet – winning four of its five games and tying the other, while outscoring opponents 27-13.
Right wing Jayden Gallant – one of just four returning players from last season – is itching for some playoff hockey.
“It’s big, because it’s our last chance for playoffs in bantam, so it’s a very exciting moment,” the 14-year-old said. “It’s a very fun time of the year. It’s hard and a bit nerve-wracking, but it’s fun.”
Airdrie’s first playoff opponent is a familiar foe – the Southeast Athletic Club (SEAC) Tigers. The Xtreme faced the Medicine Hat-based team four times in the regular season – resulting in a win, a loss and two ties. The Xtreme also beat the Tigers in tournament play, according to Soloski.
While Airdrie outscored the Tigers 16-12 over the course of the season, he said battles between the two sides are almost always competitive.
“It’s going to be a really tight series that comes down to the little details and who wants it more,” Soloski said. “It should be fun to be a part of a good series and hopefully we’ll come out on the right end of it.”
According to Gallant, re-finding the team’s form from last month will be the focus against the Tigers.
“We just need to stick to our structure and the game plan of what we were doing in January, and we should be fine for playoffs,” he said.
Game 1 of the best-of-three series kicks off Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Ron Ebbesen Arena. Game 2 goes Feb. 27 in Medicine Hat, while the rubber game, if necessary, will be back in Airdrie Feb. 28 at 5 p.m.