Hard work and staying focused when the chips were down was a winning combination for the Airdrie Xtreme in claiming the U15AAA provincial championship.
Cochranite Riley Boychuk, who was team captain and the leading scorer for the Xtreme in the regular season, says they were determined to go all the way after falling short in last year's provincials.
"It's the best feeling I've ever had in my life," says Boychuk, "and it was the greatest moment that's ever happened to me. We've been working so hard for it over the year. Last year we came up short, and all the returners knew that we were going to have to work hard to not come up short, and that's what we did."
The Xtreme faced adversity in their opening game of provincials against the Calgary Bisons, the only team to beat them in the regular season.
With a 5-3 lead early in the third, the Bisons looked to be on track to do it again until Bennett Kelly and Matthew Hilderman scored goals 43 seconds apart midway through the period to give the Xtreme the tie.
"We had to make sure we won the rest of the games to get to the gold medal game, so it's pretty impressive to see the boys rally and find a way," says Xtreme head coach Tyson Soloski.
They went on to a 9-3 win over Edmonton's Knights of Columbus Squires, 4-0 win over St. Albert Sabres, and a 6-1 win over the host Okotoks Oilers to earn a second dance with the Bisons in the gold medal game.
The Xtreme took a comfortable 3-0 lead in the first period, but after the Bisons scored two in the first minute and 45 seconds of the third it became a very different game.
"We have a bunch of great leaders on our team," says Boychuk. "Everybody's a leader and everybody tries to spread positivity and motivation. So, going into the third we just kept playing our game and after they scored, we just had to calm down a little bit and take a moment to realize we were still in a good position to win."
"After winning, it was amazing. Everybody was thanking each other for such a great year, and everybody was hugging each other and celebrating."
Rookie Matthew Hilderman, also from Cochrane, lead the team in scoring with seven goals and three assists in five games. Veterans Finn Bagley, of Airdrie, had nine points, Boychuck eight, and Carstairs' Issac Davies, had seven points.
But really, it came down to a total team effort, says Coach Soloski.
"I think for us, the biggest highlight was just seeing how everyone contributed," says Coach Boychuk. "We needed 11 forwards and six d-men and two goalies to play really, really well this weekend and we got that from everybody. I think the biggest reason we won was that all of our kids showed up for every game, so it was pretty special."
Boychuk says the approach taken by Soloski and the rest of the coaching staff set the tone for the year.
"They were amazing," he says. "They were there to win, but they were also there to be with us and have fun, which made it very cool for us and made it very easy for us to come to practice. They're such a great coaching group and made everyone a big part of the team. That's why we were so successful this year."
The Xtreme won their last provincial banner in 2018, and it's the first time since Soloski was named head coach that they've brought it home.
At this point, Soloski isn't exactly sure if he'll be returning next year.
"I'll give it a couple of weeks to soak in, figure out what I'm doing next year, and then go from there."
U15 is now in the past for Boychuk, and he's already had a taste of playing with the AC Avalanche U17AAA for a few games this season along with a few other members of the Xtreme.
Exactly what next season holds, though, is currently up in the air.
"I'm not completely sure where I'll play or where I'll go, so that's just gonna have to wait."
One determining factor for the 15-year-old could be the upcoming Western Hockey League Draft. The 2023 WHL U.S. Priority Draft will be held Wednesday, May 10 and the 2023 WHL Prospects Draft will be held Thursday, May 11.