A wild final weekend in the AJHL South has determined the first round match-ups of the 2019 Inter Pipeline Cup Playoffs. The regular season is in the books and that means one thing and one thing only – playoff hockey.
(2) Okotoks 80 points vs. (7) Calgary Canucks 20 points
Oilers vs Canucks Head-to-Head
* Oilers won 5-1 on Nov 20th but lost by default due to ineligible roster
Why the Okotoks Oilers can win: Experience and balance defines the Okotoks Oilers of 2018-2019, and they enter the AJHL playoffs behind only the record-setting Brooks Bandits as the second seed in the south. The defending division champions, Okotoks, is primed for another deep post season run that begins against the Calgary Canucks. The Oilers had the Canucks number all season, scoring more goals against them than any other team (46) and while allowing only 7 goals – the fewest they’d allow against any Southern opponent. While the Oilers did register a loss to the Canucks, this was by default as they were deemed to ice an illegible roster in a 5-1 win back in November. Lead by AJHL MVP Dylan Holloway (AJHL leading 1.7 points per game), the Oilers are heavy favourites in this series.
Why the Calgary Canucks can win: The regular season didn’t go the way the Canucks had envisioned against the Okotoks Oilers, but it’s been a long time since these two teams last met (January 29th) and the Canucks have several veterans to rely on to pull off an upset. Adamu Tanaka has piled up 22 points in only 36 games from the Canucks blueline and the team has had to stay ahead of the Olds Grizzlys for the bulk of the year in order to make the post-season, which means they’ve been playing meaningful hockey for several weeks. In Junior A hockey, nothing is guaranteed.
(3) Drumheller 78 points vs. (6) Canmore 65 points
Dragons vs Eagles Head-to-Head
Why the Drumheller Dragons can win: In terms of regular season performance, the Dragons have never put together a better squad as they set a franchise record for wins this year with 37, beating their previous mark of 35 set in 2013-2014 when they made the AJHL Finals for the first and only time in franchise history. The Dragons look repeat the feat this year as they face the Canmore Eagles in the first round of the playoffs. The Dragons enter the series on a five-game win streak against the Eagles, with their lone loss of the season dating back to the first month of the season. Since then, the Dragons have outlasted the Eagles in high-scoring affairs which saw Drumheller score at least 5 times in every contest.
Why the Canmore Eagles can win: Although the Eagles have had their wings clipped by the Dragons in the last five meetings between the two teams, Canmore has certainly more than held their own. The Eagles lost two of those games in overtime, while their power play was effective a third of the time over the course of the season series. Both these teams can score, there’s no doubt, and the high-octane Eagles offence (3rd overall in the South) has powered by proven veterans including brothers Alex and Colton Young. Canmore’s lineup boasts five forwards with 50+ points spread throughout the lineup and is certainly able to score their way into the second round.
(4) Camrose 71 points vs. (5) Calgary Mustangs 67 points
Kodiaks vs Mustangs Head-to-Head
Why the Camrose Kodiaks can win: In a series as close as this, the Kodiaks can rely on proven moments of resilience against these very Calgary Mustangs to move into the second round. In the first meeting of the year, Camrose picked up a gutsy 3-2 road win despite trailing 2-0 in the 3rd period and follow that up by breaking a 3-3 tie in the rematch with two unanswered goals in the final frame. The Kodiaks also picked up the W in the season series finale, shutting out the Mustangs 3-0 on February 10th and outshooting them 39-19. The Kodiaks also possess a tough and talented lineup, with three 50+ players and four players with 130+ penalty minutes. Camrose also has the benefit of home ice advantage, which could be another tipping point in a tight series.
Why the Calgary Mustangs can win: The Mustangs find themselves starting the playoffs on the road after recording their best season in 7 campaigns. A very talented Mustangs lineup features scoring options on every line with a skilled puck-moving and physical defence that’s arguably the best kept secret in the AJHL with three solid pairings guaranteed every night. The Mustangs also have a dual threat in the crease, with reliable veterans Ashton Abel and Ben Howard both talented enough to carry a starter’s workload in the post-season. Big in both size and skill, the Mustangs have recorded their best season since 2005-2006 and they’re ready to move past the first round for the first time since 2010-2011.