Airdrie natives gunning for a third straight AJHL title
By: Lucas Punkari
| Posted: Thursday, Mar 06, 2014 11:13 am
As the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Brooks Bandits look to win a third straight league title and a second consecutive Royal Bank Cup as the best Junior A hockey team in Canada, Airdrie natives Anthony Paskaruk and Maddison Smiley are determined to help their teammates accomplish their goals.
“I think we have the team here that can win it all once again,” Smiley said. “If we just stick to our game-plan and listen to what our coaches want us to do, we can do it.”
“We’ve had our ups and our downs like any team does, but we are really starting to find our identity as a team,” Paskaruk added. “You are always going to have the target on your back when you have success, but that’s something that we don’t mind having to deal with.”
The Bandits were the top team in the AJHL’s South Division this year with a 39-13-8 record, and have earned a bye into the second round of the playoffs, which will get underway at a yet to be determined date in the middle of March.
“It’s nice to have that bye for a couple of reasons,” Bandits Head Coach Ryan Papaioannou said. “For one thing you get a chance to prepare for whoever you end up playing in the playoffs, and you can also let the guys rest up any battle scars they have.”
“There is so much parity in this league that you have to bring your best effort out every night,” he added. “There have been some nights where we could have done better, but we now have a chance to show how good we can be here in the playoffs.”
Two of the leaders for the Bandits have been the two 20 year olds from Airdrie, who make an impact on the ice in different ways.
Paskaruk, the team’s captain, had another strong campaign in his fourth season for the Bandits, as the speedy centreman has scored 10 goals and put up 29 assists in 53 games.
“I think my season has gone pretty well,” Paskaruk said.
“I’ve had a strong couple of months here to finish the year off, and I think things have been pretty successful.”
“Along with that, to be the named captain this year by the coaching staff was a pretty amazing feeling,” he added.
“It took me a little bit to get used to having that role as a leader on the team, but it’s a responsibility that I have enjoyed having.”
As for Smiley, the smooth-skating defenseman had his best statistical season to date for the Bandits, as the assistant captain, who scored 20 goals and had 21 assists in 46 goals.
“One of the things that I was hoping to do this season was to have 20 goals, and I was really excited about being able to do that,” said the third-year member of the Bandits.
“Other than that, everything went pretty well for me on the ice this year, and I was pleased with how things went.”
The two Airdrie natives also had a chance to compete at the 2013 World Junior A Challenge in Yarmouth, N.S. from Nov. 4 to 10, 2013 where they helped the Canada West team earn a bronze medal.
“I think anyone who has a chance to put on a Canada jersey will remember it for a long time,” Smiley said.
“It was a great experience for me, and to come away with a bronze medal was a nice way to finish things off there.”
“I really learned a lot during that tournament,” Paskaruk added.
“I got to play against many of the best players in the world, along with playing with many of the other top players in the country, and that just helped to make me better.”
While both players are focused on helping the Bandits in the playoffs, they are also currently preparing for the next step in their hockey careers as they will be playing NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) division one hockey next fall.
Paskaruk will be heading to Potsdam, New York to suit up for the Clarkson Golden Knights, while Smiley will be playing for the UMass Minutemen in Amherst, Mass.
Although both players will be leaving the Bandits, they said the lessons they have learned over the last couple of years will help them when they venture down south.
“In this league (the AJHL) you have a chance to become more aware of what is going on around you, especially when you are playing against older guys when you are starting out,” Paskaruk said. “I’ll be in that situation when I start off with Clarkson next year, but I’m sure I will get used to it.”
“To be honest, it’s going to be a major jump for any player when they move on from junior hockey to the college hockey ranks,” Smiley added. “However, we play a fast style of game here in Brooks, and I think that will be something that is going to be a major help for me.”