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Minor Hockey Week: Airdrie Xtreme prep for post-season title defense

After clinching a playoff spot, the Airdrie Xtreme U15 AAA will look to defend their league and provincial crown when the Alberta Elite Hockey League (AEHL) U15 AAA playoffs start in early March.
The U15aaa Airdrie Xtreme after they won provincials last year. SUBMITTED PHOTO

After clinching a playoff spot, the Airdrie Xtreme U15 AAA will look to defend their league and provincial crown when the Alberta Elite Hockey League (AEHL) U15 AAA playoffs start in early March.  

Last season the Xtreme finished with a remarkable regular season record of 31-1-0 and beat the Calgary Bisons in the provincial championship game. This season, after an exodus of graduating players left only a single returning player, the team has so far compiled a respectable record of 18-9-3–good enough for a third place in the South Division. 

Coming into the season, first-year Xtreme head coach Alec Miller knew that expectations would be high. “Did I expect that we would come in and replicate what was  done last year? No, that was a generational team with a ton of talent,” he said. 

Miller said that, although perfection might have been out of the question, the team still expected to make the playoffs and push for a league championship. “It would [have] been silly of us to come in with any other expectation.” 

18 of the 19 Xtreme players are new to the team this year and according to Miller, that level of turnover in a young hockey team meant there was an opportunity to create a new culture and a new way of doing things. 

“Keeping [players] held to a certain standard [and] at the same time allowing them to develop their own culture is important because every year it’s a new team,” said Miller. “Every year is a new opportunity…a new way of going about things, within the confines of what we want from an Airdrie Xtreme hockey player.” 

The only returning Xtreme player from last year's team is this year's captain Jensen Marsh, who has 52 points in 28 games played, and contributed two goals in the five provincial games the Xtreme won last March. 

Miller admitted that, even though building a new culture with new players every year can be challenging, it’s also extremely refreshing. “It’s [getting to know] new faces and new personalities, year in and year out.” 

With so many new faces, Miller said that sometimes adversity can be challenging to get through. “We only have one player from last year’s team…with high expectations, if and when adversity pops up, it can be challenging.” 

For Miller and his team, the Airdrie Xtreme organization carries a lot of pride and history, exemplified by their most recent provincial championship. A focus of the team this year was building a continuation of that legacy. 

With playoffs coming up quickly, the Xtreme will get that chance to continue to build what last year's team started. According to Miller, their playoff game plan starts with work ethic.

“The biggest thing in the playoffs is the compete and the work ethic you bring into it,” he said. “You see it every single year, it doesn’t matter if you’re in first place or eighth…the team that gels and is willing to work the hardest is usually going to get the job done.”

All year the Xtreme have placed a great importance on defensive play. Among the 20 teams in U15 AAA, the Xtreme rank fifth in goals against. Miller said that the team has taken care of the defensive zone all year, and that it’ll be key to any success they have in the playoffs. 

“A good defense is good offense,” said Miller. “That’s the kind of preparation notes coming into [playoffs]...bringing a ton of urgency and shutting it down from the back end out.” 

The Xtreme’s title defense will formally begin once the regular season concludes on March 3. The team’s last game, their final opportunity to fine tune anything that might need fine tuning, will be against the South Division leading Calgary Flames at Ron Ebbesen Arena.


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