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Xtreme holds first place to end first half

The hunter has become the hunted. After sitting behind the Lethbridge Golden Hawks for the first three months of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League season, the Airdrie Xtreme Bantam finally passed its division rival to sit first in the Ram South.

The hunter has become the hunted.

After sitting behind the Lethbridge Golden Hawks for the first three months of the Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League season, the Airdrie Xtreme Bantam finally passed its division rival to sit first in the Ram South.

But head coach Terry Keogh knows the real challenge is just beginning, with the added pressure of leading and the playoffs looming.

“Anytime you’re at the top, everybody is gunning for you,” Keogh said. “Especially in your own division, because they know anytime they can get a point or two out of the division leader that they’re going to be moving and getting closer to that top spot.”

After opening the season with a 2W-2L month of September, the Xtreme went 9W-2L-1T through October and November. The team then went 4W-2L in December.

Airdrie, 15W-6L-1T overall, has the division’s lowest goals against average, something Keogh says reflects his defensive mentality.

“We’ve had some games where we’ve had some lapses, but for the most part the team as a whole has bought into the defensive concept,” he said. “We’ve been very structured and disciplined in our defensive zone play. Sometimes the hard part is getting the commitment out of the forwards to support the defencemen.”

Goaltender Malcolm Walilko has a 9W-2L record, a .902 save percentage and 2.96 goals against average, while Christian Fitzgerald has a 6W-4L-1T record, a .903 save percentage and 3.04 goals against average.

Tyler Wong leads the team in scoring with 27 goals and 31 assists for 58 points, good for third in the league, while Mackenzie Bauer’s 37 points and Kyle Pauls’ 32 are also in the AMBHL’s top 20. Keogh said he’s happy with his top performers, but that he’s also impressed with the team’s depth.

“I’m very pleased with the improvement of some of the players that we typically rely on and those who started in more of a checking role,” he said. “The way they’ve been creating opportunities – if we can finish more of them, it’s going to be a bonus.”

The coach also acknowledged the importance of the two-week Christmas break, especially at this turning point in the season.

“I think we need the break, especially of late after the last three or four weeks,” Keogh said.

“With the Medicine Hat tournament and a couple of three-game weeks, mixed in with all our practicing, we’ve played a lot of hockey. The break is going to be nice just to relax and to heal some of those nagging injuries. We’ve been going since mid-August and I’m hoping the break will re-ignite the fire from within.”

The Xtreme will open the latter part of its schedule just 38 hours into 2011, as the team will play in Lethbridge on Jan. 2.

“It’s an extremely important game and we’ve actually scheduled two practices before we go down there,” Keogh said. “We’ll be going hard and that game will be huge, not only from a divisional standpoint, but to kick off the second half of the year. It’s so important to make sure we do it on a positive note to regain the confidence we have in our game moving forward to the rest of the season.”

Airdrie will play its first home game of the new year on Jan. 15, when it hosts the Calgary Bisons at the Ron Ebbesen Arena.


Airdrie Today Staff

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