With summer coming to a close, the Airdrie Xtreme hockey team is in high gear as it prepares for the 2018-19 Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) season.
After a three-day spring camp in June, the AAA bantam team held its conditioning camp Aug. 26 to 29 at the Ron Ebbesen Arena, before hosting a weekend of tryouts. The tryouts capped off with the team’s annual tie-dye inter-squad game Sept. 2.
“It’s good to finally get in the rink and get started again – actually seeing players and getting started with the whole tryout process,” said the team’s new head coach, Tyson Soloski.
While the team is based out of Airdrie, the Xtreme’s catchment area extends to nearby communities such as Crossfield, Cochrane, and as far away as Canmore and Banff. According to Soloski, interest in the team among bantam-aged players in those communities was particularly high this year, with more than 85 players signed up to try out.
“It looks really good – the competitiveness out there in the conditioning camp was awesome,” he said. “That’s the number one thing we looked for – for a player to be ultra-competitive. So far, in the first four skates, it showed. Kids are out there competing.”
Soloski, who is entering his first year behind the bench for the Xtreme, said consistency was another key attribute the coaches were looking for during the tryout process.
“Obviously, we want skilled hockey players as well,” he said.
The roster will be finalized by the first week of September, according to Soloski. Following that, players will have a few weeks to gel before suiting up for the first game of the regular season Sept. 21, at home against the Calgary Royals.
“[We’re] just excited to get started and fully dive in,” Soloski said.
Last year was a rebuilding year for the Xtreme, which won the AMBHL championship in 2017-18. Boasting an entirely new roster in 2018-19, the Xtreme finished bottom of the Ram South Division with a 10-20-3 record, failing to make the playoffs.
This year could also be a rebuilding year for Airdrie, as just four players from last year’s roster have returned to the fray – goaltender Zachary Zahara, defenceman Grady Hauk, and forwards Evan Devost and Jayden Gallant.
Some key players from last year who have graduated to the midget or minor-midget age groups include Noah Edstrom – the team’s top scorer, and the Xtreme’s sole representative in the AMBHL All-Star Game last season – as well as Kelowna Rockets prospect Jace Moffatt and Cody Pisarczyk.
While the Xtreme would love to return to the success of 2018, Soloski said, the main goal at the bantam level – which features 13- and 14-year-olds – is the development of each player.
“The way we’ll measure our success this year is if all of our players develop and can play at the next level – whether that’s a kid moving up to play midget AAA or minor-midget AAA, or a first-year player developing and becoming one of the best players in the bantam AAA league next year,” he said.
“Obviously, wins are nice, but the biggest thing is development. With that development is going to come the success of the team.”
For a full schedule of the Xtreme’s games this season, visit ambhl.ab.ca