Despite a slow start to the month, the Airdrie Xtreme closed January out in convincing fashion – qualifying for the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League post-season.
A condensed start to January enabled the team to take part in the annual John Reid Memorial Tournament, Jan. 18 to 21. Since then, the team has been refocused and determined to succeed.
“As a unit, we banded together and put forth a solid team effort,” said assistant coach Reid Hnatowich. “We had some success against some of the best teams in Canada and because of that, coming back to the regular season, we knew we needed to keep that consistent mindset with what we had in Edmonton.”
The Xtreme ended the month with a pair of gutsy wins over division rivals Lethbridge Val Matteoti Golden Hawks and Southeast Athletic Club Tigers to maintain its hold on first in the Ram South Division.
Despite earning a pair of victories, the Xtreme were pushed by both its opponents. With the team potentially facing either squad in the playoffs, Hnatowich said the Xtreme needs to be prepared for battles with those opponents.
In a close contest Jan. 27, the Xtreme played host to the Golden Hawks – securing a 4-3 victory with goals from Craig Armstrong, Tristan Zandee, Keagan Slaney and Sam Vincent.
Vincent’s go-ahead goal with a minute and a half remaining in the second period proved to be the game-winner as the Xtreme shutdown the Hawks in the third, but continued to put the pressure on offensively.
“We’ll alter our systematical play in terms of how we’re defending the lead, but the big thing is we were brought success because of a certain way we are playing – so we don’t want to change that too much,” Hnatowich said.
“As long as we stay consistent in our play, typically the leads will defend themselves if we stick to our game plan.”
The Xtreme got out to a slow start in its game with the Tigers Jan. 28, going down 2-0 to the host team in the opening frame.
“The learning point from that game, heading into playoffs, is the readiness to go and compete from the first puck drop, needs to be better,” Hnatowich said.
The Xtreme’s offence turned the game around in the middle frame with Vincent scoring another clutch goal to break the goose egg, followed up by goals from Slaney and Colton Koran to give the Xtreme a 3-1 lead.
Ty Mueller added another goal to the Xtreme’s total midway through the third, and Nathan Airey turned away all 19 shots he faced in the final 40 minutes – giving the Xtreme its 21st win of the season.
With the four-point weekend, the Xtreme now sits six points ahead of the Red Deer Rebels with a game in hand.
The Xtreme returns to action Feb. 3 when it plays host to the Rebels for the final regular season meeting at Ron Ebbesen Arena. Game time is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.
Airdrie then heads south Feb. 4 to take on the Calgary Bisons in a battle of South Division-leaders at 1:45 p.m.
“It would be huge (to come out of this weekend with four points) and we are capable of it,” Hnatowich said. “Closer to the post-season, you need to start shifting into playoff hockey, and what better way to prepare us for (that) than facing these two teams.”