Photo Credit – Dave Watling:
In 2016-2017, the finish for the top five teams in the South Division was as crazy as this year's CFL Western Division. The 2017-2018 AJHL regular season is now just around the corner and all eight teams in the South will look to be the last team standing as they start the journey to the Inter Pipeline Cup.
Last year: 51-5-4 (1st in the South) The Brooks Bandits are two-time defending Gas Drive Cup Champions are hoping to make it a three-peat. Brooks is coming off a nine-loss season with four of those losses coming in overtime. In the playoffs, the Bandits lost just one game, and that was in overtime to the Okotoks Oilers. Off the ice, the Bandits were in the news quite a bit. Hockey Canada announced that Brooks would host the 2019 RBC Cup. Brooks is losing quite a bit of fire power from last year, but as we've seen in the past, Head Coach/GM Ryan Papaioannou has been able to find the right players to fill any holes the team has.
Schedule highlights: The first two of six meetings with South Division rival Okotoks Oilers will be a home and home series on opening weekend. The longest road game stretch of the season will be seven games (includes showcase weekend) from September 23rd to October 7th. Four games will be the longest homestand for the Bandits, and it will take place December 9th to 29th.
Last year: 37-19-4 (3rd in the South) The Calgary Canucks had their highest finish in the standings since 2003/04 season. In the playoffs, the Canucks defeated Drumheller before being swept by the Okotoks Oilers in the second round. Off the ice, the Canucks went through some off-season changes behind the bench when outgoing Head Coach James Poole left to the Edge School. Calgary signed Colin Birkas as Head Coach of the Canucks. One of the positions that Calgary is pretty solid in is between the pipes with veteran goaltenders. Unfortunately for the Canucks, their top three scorers from last season have graduated, and the Canucks will be looking to their returning vets to take the reins.
Schedule highlights: The Canucks and crosstown rival Mustangs will play their first of six meetings on September 19th, and four days later they will play again with both games at Max Bell. Calgary will host Okotoks in Strathmore on November 19th and Brooks on December 8th. The Canucks will have multiple three game homestands. Their longest road game stint will be five games from October 13 to the 22nd and will take them through five of the eight north teams.
Last year: 8-50-2 (8th in the South) After an unfortunate record setting losing streak in the 2015-16, the Mustangs struggled through last season finishing on a 15 game losing streak. Off the ice, the Mustangs made a change in the boardroom as Ken Morris stepped down as President and Mike Cartney took over the reins. Even though it's just pre-season, the Mustangs have a lot of positives going their way and will look to carry over that success into the regular season. Calgary will return a few vets, and they will look to lead the crop of young players that will be looking to help the Mustangs back into the post-season.
Schedule highlights: The Mustangs will have a five game road stand that will start on January 12th and will finish on January 20th. A six game homestand that begins on December 2nd and finishes December 17th will be the longest this season for the Mustangs.
Last year: 32-25-3 (5th in the South) Last season can only be described as a roller coaster that had fans shocked at how the season ended when they were swept in the first round by the Okotoks Oilers. The last time the Kodiaks failed to make it out of the first round they came back the next year with a 100 point season, winning the 2015 South Division in the regular season. Camrose will have a younger roster to start the season as they look to rekindle the success they had the last time they failed to make it out of the first round.
Schedule highlights: Camrose will hope to get revenge on Okotoks for knocking them out last year. They will play the first of six matches on October 7th at the Encana Arena. The Kodiaks will have a pair of five game road stretches (Oct 25-Nov 4 & Jan 12-20) while their longest homestand will be four games from December 8th to the 17th.
Last year: 36-18-6 (2nd in the South) Possibly the only fan base more shocked with how their season ended than the Kodiaks was the Eagles. Canmore finished in a three-way tie for second and got an opening round matchup with the Olds Grizzlys. A 37-point difference between the two teams could have meant a sweep, but it was the Grizzlys who did the sweeping, stunning the Canmore Eagles in the opening round. Canmore is returning some veterans from last season that will look to avenge how the 2016-17 finished.
Schedule highlights: The Eagles will get their first chance for revenge on October 22nd when they host the Olds Grizzlys, a week later the two teams will be back at in Canmore. The Eagles will host Bonnyville in Banff on November 21st and Okotoks on January 23rd. December 15th to 30th will be the Eagles longest homestand of the season. 2018 will start with the team's longest road game schedule of six games that will go from January 1st to January 17th.
Last year: 22-33-5 (6th in the South) For a second straight season the Dragons finished with a sub .500 record and fell in the first round. Drumheller gave the Canucks everything they could handle in the opening round before being eliminated in five games. Under new Head Coach Kevin Hasselberg, Drumheller has shown some great promise in the pre-season and will hope to carry that over into the regular season.
Schedule highlights: October 10th will be the first time that Drumheller will visit Max Bell since the Canucks ousted them last season. Six times this season the Dragons will play home and home against southern opponents. The longest homestand and road trip for Drumheller will be three games on multiple occasions.
Last year: 36-18-6 (4th in the South) The Okotoks Oilers finished at the bottom of the three way tie for second, and that turned out to be the best thing possible. Okotoks was able to make it to the South Finals where they handed the Brooks Bandits their only blemish of the post-season, but ultimately would fall in five games. The Okotoks roster will see a good mix of veterans and rookies as the Oilers look to continue to be one of the favorites in the South Division.
Schedule highlights: Okotoks will start the season with a home and home against the team that ended their season last year in the Brooks Bandits. Oilers fans will have the team home for four games (longest homestand of the season) starting on December 19th and finishing January 5th. Six games will be the longest road stint for Okotoks that will start on September 27th and ends on October 10th (includes showcase weekend).
Last year: 17-36-7 (7th in the South) The Olds Grizzlys had a disappointing regular season, but found some success in the playoffs as they stunned the Canmore Eagles in the first round before being swept by the Bandits in round two. The Grizzlys came close to losing their team in the off-seaon, but fortunately for the Grizzlys and the town of Olds, the team was able to secure a new ownership group. The Grizzlys will hope that a stable ownership group off the ice will be able to help the team on the ice as they look to improve on the 2016/17 season. Olds will have a balance of vets and rookies to start the season.
Schedule highlights: The first of six bear matchups this season will be on October 3rd in Camrose, the two teams will play a return game on October 6th in Olds. The Grizzlys will have a four game road schedule starting January 26th and finishing February 1st. Four games will also be their longest homestand starting December 15th and ending on the 30th.
Story by Chris Colwell