After three rounds, 46 games, and 312 goals, the regular season champions from both the Viterra AJHL North and South Divisions will square off for a berth at the 2016 Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup.
For the seventh straight year, that opportunity will once again go to the Spruce Grove Saints or Brooks Bandits, a testament to the strength both teams have displayed in the better part of the past decade.
Since being founded in 1964, the AJHL has produced eight national champions and there’s a strong belief that whichever team ends up winning the next four all-AJHL games this year will have a shot at being the ninth team on that list.
Season Series: Spruce Grove won the season series 2-1 with one decision coming in the shootout. The home team won all three games in the season series, with the Saints dominating the Bandits by a 7-1 final at the AJHL Showcase in October before the Bandits returned the favour with a 6-1 victory Dec. 4 at the Centennial Regional Arena. The Saints won their home date Oct. 17 2-1 in a shootout.
Offensive threats: Seven of the top 14 scorers in the playoffs and 11 players who maintained a point per game pace this year will feature in this series. Despite all that offence, there wasn’t a single player on either team who managed to record a point in all three games of the season series. Jake Mykitiuk lead all Saints in the season series with two goals and four points while three Bandits (Jesse Pereira, Nick Prussic and Austin Wright) each finished the season with three points against the Saints.
Derek Lodarmeier has four goals and 18 points in the Bandits’ eight post-season games. He’s recorded multi-point games in seven of the eight playoff contests. Also a strong offensive option for the Bandits is Dylan McCrory, who has seven goals and 11 points in the team’s eight games, having been held scoreless once.
On the Saints’ side Brandon Biro has played like…Brandon Biro. The 1998-born forward has two multi-goal games this post-season and six multi-point games. Not to be outdone, Mykitiuk has five multi-point games this post-season while Trey Fix-Wolansky has five multi-point games, including a game three hat trick against the Lloydminster Bobcats.
Net presence: Matthew Murray and Josh Davies went head-to-head in the three contests between the two clubs this year. Murray saved 98 of the 106 shots he faced in the three games while Davies kicked aside 78 of the 87 shots he faced. While Murray has guided the Saints to victory in every post-season game he’s played in this year, Davies likely won’t be in the pipes for this series.
That’s because Garrett Hughson has posted a perfect 8-0 record this post-season and has tied an AJHL record set twice before with four shutouts in a post-season. Hughson’s four shutouts have come in the aforementioned eight games while Camrose Kodiaks goaltenders David Thompson accomplished his in 16 games and Mike Brodeur reached the same amount of clean sheets in 21 games. If Hughson can hold the fort for four more games, he can also set the AJHL record for lowest goals against average, held by Thompson’s 1.23 GAA from the 2006 playoffs.
Quirky stats: Statistics will likely mean nothing once the two teams hit the ice Friday, but it’s at least fun to look at trends and make an educated guess at what may happen in this year’s league final.
The last five series have produced some interesting results as far as the North and South Division battle goes. The home team has jumped out to 2-0 series leads for the past three years and four of the past five league finals. The last time the league finals went seven games was in 2010 when the Saints defeated the Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
Since making their first finals appearance upon their relocation to Spruce Grove, the Saints are 17-10 in the league championship series. The Bandits meanwhile are 10-7 in their past three trips to the league final with their last win coming in 2013.
Last 5 seasons
- Game 1: North 3-2
- Game 2 : North 4-1
- Game 3: North 4-1
- Game 4: South 3-2
- Game 5: South 3-1
- Game 6: Tied 1-1
- Game 7: N/A
This year’s edition of the AJHL Gas Drive Cup playoffs has seen an average of 6.78 goals per game scored in the first three rounds. The Saints come into the league final averaging 5.22 goals for per game and giving up an average of two goals per game. The Bandits enter their fourth league final in five years scoring at a pace of 6.88 goals per game while allowing 0.75 goals per game at the opposite end of the rink.
Goals scored in each AJHL final:
- 2015: 30 in six games = 5.0 goals per game
- 2014: 24 in four games = 6.0 goals per game
- 2013: 30 in five games = 6.0 goals per game
- 2012: 33 goals in six games = 5.5 goals per game
- 2011: 28 goals in five games = 5.6 goals per game
The last team to win the AJHL Championship on home-ice was the 2012 Brooks Bandits. Overall, home-ice advantage has helped, but hasn’t played a pivotal role in determining the outcome of each series over the past five seasons. The home team is 16-10 in the past five league championship series.
Whoever ends up winning the title may have to do so in overtime. The last three AJHL Championships have been determined in sudden-death hockey and other victories in 2006 and 2009 have also come via the extra period.
- 2006 Mike Schreiber Fort McMurray (2nd career AJHL playoff goal)*
- 2009 Morgan MacLean Grande Prairie Storm (Eighth career AJHL playoff goal)*
- 2013 RJ Reed Brooks Bandits (23rd career AJHL playoff goal)*
- 2014 Jake Mykitiuk Spruce Grove Saints (3rd career AJHL playoff goal)
- 2015 Jordan Thomas Spruce Grove Saints (2nd career AJHL playoff goal)*
For four of the players (marked with an asterisk), that championship-winning goal has been the last AJHL playoff goal they scored. Scriber, MacLean and Reed all scored the series-clinching goals as overagers while Thomas has appeared in four playoff games this season and has yet to record a single point. Mykitiuk has six goals and 13 points in the Saints’ nine playoff games this year.
There’s bound to be another set of close games in this year’s league final. Of the 56 games played in the league championship series since the 2005-06 season, 21 have been settled by a single goal.
Spruce Grove: 47 powerplay goals scored in 226 opportunities (20.80%), seventh in the AJHL, (0-14 in the season series)
Brooks: 78 powerplay goals scored in 341 opportunities (22.87%), fourth in the AJHL, (2-13 in the season series)
Spruce Grove: 32 powerplay goals allowed on 231 opportunities (86.15%), third in the AJHL, (11-13 in the season series)
Brooks: 46 powerplay goals allowed on 298 opportunities (84.56%), fifth in the AJHL, (14-14 in the season series)
By Robert Murray