On October 23, the Cranbrook Bucks announced a commitment from 2003-born goaltender Nathan Airey for the upcoming season. Airey was the second goalie committed to by the Bucks after Jacob Zacharewicz was added back in March.
The 17-year-old Cochrane, Alberta product spent last season with International Hockey Academy in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League’s U18 Prep division.
Airey is two years removed from a remarkable 2017-18 season with the Airdrie U15 AAA Xtreme of the Alberta Elite Hockey League. That season, his second with the Xtreme, he was named an AEHL all-star and led his team to a provincial championship.
Following that season, Airey was featured in a Cochrane Times article by Dan Marcinkowski. In the article, Marcinkowski stated: “Airey now hopes to get drafted as high as possible during the Western Hockey League bantam draft.”
— Winnipeg ICE (@WHLWpgICE) May 3, 2018
Later that summer, Airey was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft. With the 110th overall pick, the young goaltender went to the Kootenay Ice.
The Ice has since relocated to Winnipeg, which opened the door for the BC Hockey League to expand to Cranbrook. However, Airey was selected prior to the Kootenay Ice’s final season in Cranbrook. A little over two years later, he now plays in the same city and arena as the WHL team that drafted him once did.
Many stops en route to Cranbrook
In his first of two seasons with the Airdrie U15 AAA Xtreme, Airey enjoyed decent success for a rookie goalie at that level. He carried a respectable 12-6-3 record, a 3.19 goals-against-average, and a .897 save percentage. Airey then appeared in one playoff game with the Xtreme that season, posting a 3.05 GAA and a .930 SV%.
The following season was his best statistical campaign to date. Airey compiled an 11-1-4 record, a 1.86 GAA, and a .928 SV% with the Xtreme during the 2017-18 regular season.
In the playoffs, he posted a 2.36 GAA and a .906 SV% in nine games played, en route to winning the AEHL championship. Airey led his team all the way to the Western Canadian Championship tournament that season.
Western Sports School Challenge
Prairie Hockey Academy E15’s- 5
Thompson Blazers- 0
PHA POG- #1 Nathan Airey
Blazers POG- #81 Ethan Sanders pic.twitter.com/zlnyCvfAXV
— Edge School Tournaments (@edgetournament) December 7, 2018
For the 2018-19 season, Airey joined the Prairie Hockey Academy Elite 15s team in the CSSHL. He played 18 games that year, going 10-8 with a 3.12 GAA and an .897 SV%.
Last season, Airey played for International Hockey Academy’s U18 Prep team. It was a tough year statistically for the team, and for Airey. He went 6-18 with a 5.50 GAA and an .879 SV% 29 games.
Despite the lack of overall success, Airey picked up all six of IHA’s wins last year and maintained a respectable save percentage. He will certainly be looking to regain the form he enjoyed with the Xtreme in his first year with the Bucks.
From the Xtreme to the Bucks
The Bucks solidified their goaltending by adding Airey to a position already occupied Jacob Zacharewicz. They now form a tandem that has split the workload over the past few weeks of exhibition play.
The Bucks are pleased to announce the commitment of Nathan Airey for the 2020-2021 season! Full press release on our website.
Welcome to the Bucks, Nathan!https://t.co/Mn1Ia6jfw6
— Cranbrook Bucks (@CranbrookBucks) October 23, 2020
Bucks head coach and general manager Ryan Donald shared his thoughts on the young goaltender when the team announced the signing.
“Nathan is a young man that we believe has an extremely high ceiling as both a player and a person,” said Donald. ”His character and ability make him a prospect that we believe can be an excellent player for us as we grow our program here in Cranbrook. We are thrilled that Nathan has decided to play in Cranbrook this season to pursue his goals of NCAA hockey.”
As a former prospect of the Kootenay Ice, Airey’s connections to the Bucks go deeper than just where they play. Despite the Bucks being a new team in Cranbrook, some of the same people that worked behind the scenes for the Ice have returned to serve for the BCHL club.
That includes, of course, Bucks president and majority owner Nathan Lieuwen. After retiring from playing professional hockey, Lieuwen returned to Cranbrook to work with the Ice in a coaching role.
The above photo from a tweet back in 2018 shows Airey and Lieuwen working together at Kootenay Ice training camp.
Clearly, the familiarity between the two led – at least partially – to Airey back to Cranbrook to play for the Bucks.
Airey, Lieuwen, and the Bucks hope that the rookie goalie’s return to Cranbrook for the team’s inaugural season in the BC Hockey League will prove to be successful.