There's a good chance there will be an influx of Airdrie talent in the Western Hockey League (WHL) in the coming years, after 10 local players from the city's minor hockey community heard their names called in the major junior league's bantam draft on May 11.
An impressive nine 2008-born players from the provincial championship-winning Airdrie Xtreme U15 AAA boys' hockey team were selected in the draft last week.
As a result, the mostly 15-year-old players will join the U21 teams that drafted them for their upcoming training camps, though most will continue to play minor hockey (either U16, U17, or U18) for another year or two before making the jump up to the junior level.
The Xtreme's selected players last Thursday included second overall pick Riley Boychuk. The Airdrie team's captain, top scorer, and 2022-23 MVP was selected by the Prince Albert Raiders, and said he's excited to join the organization.
“A lot of people have been congratulating me, which has been a really cool experience,” said Boychuk, a Cochrane native who has played the last two seasons with the Xtreme. “It’s really great to get drafted and see how things will go with that.”
Boychuk said he knew before the draft that Prince Albert was going to call his name as the second pick, and said that assurance meant there was little stress heading into it.
“I’m so excited, I’m pumped,” he said. “They have such a good history and their fans are surreal. I’m just excited to see everything. It’s going to be really cool and I couldn’t be more excited to be drafted by such a great organization.”
While he was the highest-selected Xtreme player to be selected this season, Boychuk was followed in the draft by several of his Airdrie teammates.
Also called in the first round was the team's top defenseman, Aaron Sawatsky. He was selected by the Moose Jaw Warriors as the first-round, 16th overall pick.
Shortly after Sawatsky, Benett Kelly was selected in the second round as the 27th overall pick by the Raiders.
The Winnipeg Ice then selected Caelan Joudrey, of Airdrie, as the third-round, 66th overall pick.
Two picks later, the Spokane Chiefs selected blue-liner Rhett Sather as the second overall pick of the fourth round.
Also in the fourth round, Isaac Davies was chosen by the Brandon Wheat Kings as the draft's 72nd overall pick.
The Xtreme players continued to be called in the later rounds. Finn Bagley heard his name called by the Seattle Thunderbirds and Will McLaughlin was chosen by the Portland Winterhawks in the fifth round, and Griffin Horne was called by the closest team to Airdrie, the Calgary Hitmen, in the eighth round.
Boychuk said the high number of players from the Xtreme who were selected by WHL teams this year was a testament to the team's dominance. The Xtreme coasted to a first-place finish in the south division of the Alberta Elite Hockey League, and then wrapped up a phenomenal campaign with their first provincial AAA title since 2018.
“It shows how good the Xtreme organization is, how good the coaches developed us and how good the team was this year,” he said.
“For me, I was more excited to see their names called than my own. All those players earned it. They work so hard and it was a great season. I couldn’t have done it without them, so it’s cool to see their names called.”
While the Xtreme was well represented in the draft, so too was Airdrie as a whole. Another local player from another team who heard his name called was Keegan Bailey. The Okanagan Hockey Academy player was called in the ninth round by Seattle.