By Rob Vogt, Local Press Writer
It was a good year for a local hockey player who had his first year in Bantam “AAA”, the highest level for 13 and 14-year-old players.
Colin McLeod decided last summer that, since he was going into his bantam draft year, he was going to try out for the Val Matteoti Golden Hawks, a “AAA” team based in Lethbridge who compete in the highly-competitive Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League.
“All summer I worked out at the gym,” he said, as he was being trained by Heidi Ferguson.
He participated in various camps through April, May and June then attended tryouts in August in Lethbridge.
About 100 players turned out from all over the Golden Hawks’ region that spans Crowsnest Pass to the west, Claresholm to the north, Taber to the east, and down to the U.S. border.
The Golden Hawks chose 17 skaters and two goalies, making their final cuts after an exhibition game in Medicine Hat.
They still had to cut two forwards, and McLeod played left wing.
The team bus made its first stop in Claresholm.
Colin’s father Blain, who was waiting in his truck to pick him up, was just as nervous as his son.
Colin was the first one off the bus. He talked to the coaches for about 10 minutes and shook hands with them.
Blain said it didn’t feel good.
“Then he smiled at me – ‘I made the team’,” he said.
But Colin could not say anything, or show any emotion, because the bus had more stops and the other players still had not been told whether they made it or not.
That was the most exciting part of the year for the left winger, but the season had its share of highlights.
“It was great,” McLeod said.
The Alberta Major Bantam Hockey League is made up of 21 teams, divided into four divisions.
The Golden Hawks played in the South Division against teams from Medicine Hat, Okotoks, Airdrie and Red Deer.
They started slow, but picked up speed and started beating teams.
“They had to be a hard-working team,” Blain observed.
In fact, they were the most physical team in the league.
The Golden Hawks finished third in the South, with a record of 22 wins, 10 losses, and four ties for 48 points, eight points behind the first place Airdrie Xtreme.
That set up a first-round playoff date with the Red Deer Rebels, who finished second in the South, four points ahead of Lethbridge.
This series would feature the highlights of McLeod’s season.
In Game 1 in Red Deer, the Golden Hawks trailed 4-1 with eight minutes left in the game.
The Golden Hawks won a face off in the Red Deer end. McLeod went to the net and tipped in a shot, to close the gap to 4-2.
“That got us going,” McLeod.
Six minutes later, McLeod scored again from out front, then with just two minutes left they tied the game, and eventually won it in double overtime.
In Game 2 back in Lethbridge, McLeod set up the Golden Hawks’ first goal in a 4-1 win that clinched the series, and sent them to the South Division final against Airdrie.
Unfortunately, the Xtreme swept Lethbridge and went all the way to win the league championship.
Another highlight for McLeod was participating in the 40th anniversary John Reid Memorial Tournament in St. Albert. It is an invitational tournament, that featured the top listed bantam players in western Canada and the northern U.S.
The Golden Hawks were not ranked in that tournament, but shocked one of the top hockey academies and finished fifth in the tournament.
McLeod finished the regular season with nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points, and really enjoyed the season, making new friends and playing a top level of hockey.
“It was awesome,” he said. “It was the best hockey experience.”
“He was dedicated this year to do it,” his dad said.
At this age, parents can no longer push or encourage their children.
“They have to grow, and want it,” Blain said. “He wanted it.”
Now, he will keep working out and await the Western Hockey League bantam draft to see what the next step in his hockey journey will be.