As close to perfection as you can get.
That's how the 2022-23 season will be remembered by the Airdrie Xtreme boys' hockey team, who capped off a memorable campaign by winning the Alberta U15 AAA provincial championship on March 26 in Okotoks – the AAA program's first provincial banner since 2018.
“It was just an awesome feeling of happiness and joy for our kids,” said Tyson Soloski, the Xtreme's head coach. “It was very exciting to see the hard work pay off in the long run. It’s not an easy one to win, and I thought our kids did a great job, so yeah – pure happiness.”
Airdrie outscored the Calgary Bisons 3-2 in the gold-medal game on Sunday, scoring all three of their goals in the first period and then withstanding some serious pressure from the Calgarians to see out the result.
With only one regular-season defeat and an unbeaten playoff run, this version of the Xtreme will go down as one of the most dominant Alberta Elite Hockey League (AEHL) squads in recent memory. While they lost a few tournament games throughout the campaign, Airdrie went 33-1 during the AEHL regular season to easily top the AAA league's south division, and then won eight of nine of their post-season battles.
Overall, the Xtreme went 41-1-1 throughout the AEHL regular season, playoffs, and provincial tournament, outscoring their opponents 259-83.
Soloski credited his team's talent and depth, but also their strong camaraderie and determination, in helping secure the Xtreme's first provincial title in five years.
“I think for us to have a record like we did and win as many games as we did, [it shows] the preparation and the dedication of our players was excellent all season long,” he said.“ It’s tough to win in our league and it’s even tougher to win consistently.
“It was an awesome year. The best part about this season was how our kids got along. They bonded together and the culture the kids created in the room is the reason why we were able to win. It was just a tremendous season.”
As mentioned, the Xtreme only lost one regular-season game, which came back in October 2022 against the south division's second-placed team, the Calgary Bisons.
The Bisons proved another worthy opponent at the provincial tournament in Okotoks, tying the Xtreme 5-5 in their opening game on March 23 to end the Airdronians' impressive win streak, and then putting up a formidable fight in the final a few days later, only losing by one goal.
“[Calgary] played really good the whole year and had another good game against us in the final,” Soloski said. “They didn’t quit, and their goalie played really well. It was an excellent hockey game, so credit to them for battling us right to the end.”
Apart from their two battles with the Bisons, Airdrie's other games in Okotoks rendered a 4-0 win over the St. Albert Sabres, who had nearly matched the Xtreme point-for-point as the AEHL's north-division champs this season; a 6-1 win over the host Okotoks Oilers; and a 9-3 win over the Knights of Columbus Squires. The tournament format included a four-game round-robin, followed by a medal round.
With such a successful season behind them and over a dozen second-year U15 players, it's likely that many of the Xtreme's current players will likely hear their name called in the upcoming WHL bantam draft in May.
Soloski confirmed interest is high among junior programs throughout western Canada. Plenty of WHL scouts could be seen in the stands at Xtreme games this season, their clipboards in tow.
“When you look at our team and how much success we had, I think that helps any scout see that a team with success will have players they want to have in their organization,” Soloski said.
“For us, obviously we want to see every kid get to the next level. So whether they get drafted or they don’t, we know they’ll continue to put the work in to get better and reach the next level eventually. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and where our kids are going to go in the future.”