South Division Semi-Finals
Camrose Kodiaks (1) vs. Drumheller Dragons (4)
The last time the Camrose Kodiaks topped the South Division, the team was led by soon-to-be NHL forward Joe Colborne, reaching the final game of the 2008 Royal Bank Cup. Many years have passed since then and like they did back then, the Kodiaks hope this year’s road to the RBC Cup goes through the Drumheller Dragons.
The Kodiaks won all six games in the regular season series, which featured a pair of one-goal games to open the series. In the remaining four games, the Kodiaks shut down the Dragons, never allowing more than three goals in a single game while averaging 4.5 goals a game on offence.
The Dragons are coming off their first round sweep of the Olds Grizzlys, which featured the Dragons offence and defence shining as they scored 18 goals over three games while allowing just four. Those rates are likely unsustainable on both ends, especially when matched up against the league’s third-best offence in Camrose, so it’ll be worth seeing if the Dragons can stayed composed and focused once they run into a hot glove from a goaltender like Devin McDonald.
Both teams were equally disastrous on the power play against each other during the regular season, making it a focal point of the series. Camrose’s power play against the Dragons found success twice in 26 opportunities (7.69%), which is slightly worse than the Dragon’s three goals on 35 chances (8.57%). Adding to the special teams battles, the Dragons were the only team in the entire league over the first round to not allow a power play goal, posting a perfect 100% success rate on the penalty kill.
Hunter Mills and Mitchell Cook each had six points for the Dragons in the opening-round series and will likely be called upon again against Camrose. With four points each, Kodiaks’ forwards Nelson Gadoury and Braeden Salverda finished last year’s short four-game playoff run tied for the team lead in playoff points. This time around, the Kodiaks will also expect big things from Ryker Leer following the forward’s breakout 23-goal and 59 point campaign.
Brooks Bandits (2) vs. Okotoks Oilers (3)
For the first time since the 2010-11 AJHL season, the Brooks Bandits didn’t finish on the top of the South Division. That statistic meant little to them as they handily took care of the upstart Calgary Mustangs with a first round sweep, in which they outscored the Mustangs by a 14-7 margin.
The Oilers, who were the last non-Bandits team to top the South Division before this season, also had an easy go of things in the first round, sweeping away the Canmore Eagles.The Oilers will be in for a much more difficult challenge with the Bandits though as they will attempt to shake off the knowledge that they haven’t defeated their southern Alberta rivals since the 2012-13 season, something they’d like to obviously change heading into the second round series.
On the special teams side of the equation, the series will see the Oilers’ penalty kill — rated second-best in the league through the first round — go up against the Brooks’ league-best power play from the first round, which is operating at an incredible 39.13% heading into Friday’s series opener.
Entering the series, the Oilers’ goaltending sensation Nic Renyard is on pace to post the third-best post-season goals against average in league history with a 1.55 mark through three games. In four games against the Bandits though, Renyard has a goals against average of 3.98.
The offensive contributions for both teams are also worth noting, in that the Bandits and Oilers have each had eight different goal scorers contribute to their team’s offence in the first round. What’s more remarkable for the Oilers is that not a single one of those eight players have scored more than one goal in the playoffs.
by Robert Murray
South Division Semi-Finals
(1) Spruce Grove Saints vs (5) Sherwood Park Crusaders
After a two week rest from hockey, the AJHL's top team finally gets their first taste of playoff hockey, while their opponent is coming off the league's only upset in the playoffs.
Spruce Grove finished the season on top of the North Division, and led the AJHL with 101 points. The Saints, to say the least, are the favourite to come out of the North, and for good reason. Their 254 goals for is the most in the league, while their 121 goals allowed are the fewest allowed. They are one of only two teams to have more than 100 goals differential in scoring, and they were 34 more goals in front of Camrose in the south.
Led by Jarid Hauptman, who scored the second most points in the AJHL during the regular season with 25 goals and 76 points, the Saints are loaded with 15 skaters who scored double-digit points this season, including five with over 40 points. And in goal, Brett Zarwny's first season in the AJHL produced a 28-4-1 record, with a 1.95 GAA and .918 save percentage. Only his team mate and backup Matthew Murray had a better GAA in 22 starts.
So with any line and any goalie, the Saints are more than capable of making a long run in the playoffs. Against the Sherwood Park Crusaders, the Saints were 5-0-1 in the regualr season series.
But the Crusaders are playoff ready after defeating the Fort McMurray Oil Barons in four games, and haven't had much time off to relax. Arthur Gordon leads the AJHL playoff scoring race with three goals and seven points in four games, after scoring 20 goals and 44 points during the regular season, and will need to keep in his more than point per game pace in order to combat the Saints offence.
And Zac Kalssen will need to keep his sparkling playoff performance going, as his 1.25 GAA and .954 save percentage will need to continue into the second round if the Crusaders want to continue playing playoff spoiler.
(2) Lloydminster Bobcats vs (3) Bonnyvile Pontiacs
The North Division rivals have never faced each other in the post-season, but it is expected to be one of the closest series in Round 2, as the Bobcats edged out the Pontiacs in the final weekend of the regular season to clinch home ice advantage. And the loss in Game 7 on the road last year in Fort McMurray is fresh in the Bobcats mind, so having home ice could play a large roll in the series.
Both teams won three of the six meetings during the regular season, with five of their six games being decided by two goals or fewer.
However, scoring power could be a deciding factor in the Round 2 series. During the regular season, Bonnyville had three players with more points than the Bobcats leading scorer, as Dillan McCombie and Kyler Hehn had over 60 points each, while Mitch Fritz had 43. For the Bobcats, Kevin Darrar led with 40 points, but so far through the playoffs has only picked up an assist. Hehn and McCombie had combined for 11 points in three games.
In net, the Bobcats and Ponatics both have stellar netminders, as Devin Green for Lloydminster and Troy Tromblay for Bonnyville have able to keep pucks out of the net in the post-season, with Green allowing just 1.85 goals per game, while Trombley is at 1.67.
With a close rivalry and proximity to each other in the province, both arenas are going to packed full of fans. Bonnyville and Lloydminster have some of the highest attendance figures in the league, and come playoff time the home ice could play the difference. Bonnyville, however, has been the hottest team in the AJHL for the past month and a half, having not lost a game in regulation since February. Including playoffs they are 10-0-4, so for the Bobcats to slow down the momentum, they need to cast doubt in the Pontiacs early on in the two games at the Civic Centre.
by Andrew Brethauer