Xtreme wrap up 2017 portion of impressive season

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The Airdrie Xtreme put an emphatic cap on 2017, wrapping up December with a pair of key victories Dec. 16 and 17 to remain at the top of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League (AMBHL) Ram South Division.

The Xtreme has been on a roll since the start of the 2017-18 season, posting an impressive 16-1-5 record through the first two-thirds of the season. Even though the team only had one setback, it is still not sitting first among South Division squads.

Although the team is off to its best start in years, assistant coach Reid Hnatowich said his team doesn’t need to focus on the standings.

“Even though the record is as strong as it is, we are looking to get better and improve…. We’re headed in the right direction,” Hnatowich said.

He said for the team to not be sitting in first with a record like the Xtreme has this year, it goes to show how strong that South Division is.

“…The competition we face is heavy competition and it’s going to do nothing but better prepare us for post-season play,” Hnatowich said.

Since dropping its loss on Oct. 1, the Xtreme has created some separation from the rest of the Ram South Division, going 13-0-3 in the next 16 games and outscoring its opponents 75-33.

Although the team has been scoring a lot of goals, fifth amongst AMBHL teams with 91 on the season, the Xtreme has seen its scoring come from a vast majority of players instead of relying on one or two key contributors.

Three Xtreme forwards – Craig Armstrong, Brett Moravec and Tristan Zandee – have broken the double-digit plateau for goals, but more than half of the team already has more than 10 points.

“Up front, our talent depth pool is very strong,” Hnatowich said. “We are able to play four lines and all of them create some offence.”

Between the pipes, the duo of Nathan Airey and Freddie Halyk has been solid. With both goaltenders closing in on double digit-win seasons and carrying goals against averages around the two-per-game mark, the Xtreme have a formidable last line of defence that has made the team difficult to beat.

“(Airey and Halyk) have been huge for us. They make the saves that they need to make,” Hnatowich said. “They’re strong back there and it shows the confidence we have in them. The team plays better knowing they might make a mistake and those two will be back there to have their backs.”

Even though the Xtreme has been cruising through the AMBHL season, the team has come across its fair share of adversity, dealing with key injuries in the early stages of the season and struggling to play at the level its known for against lesser opponents. Hnatowich said those issues have helped the team improve as the season progresses.

The team now heads into a nearly three-week break, which Hnatowich said will be good for the bantam squad to refocus and regain some of that hunger and desire to play as the team prepares for the last third of the season.

The Xtreme kick off 2018 with a crucial matchup against the Challenger South Division-leading Calgary Bisons Jan. 7, 2018, at Ron Ebbesen Arena. Game time is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.

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