This upcoming weekend will see all 16 AJHL teams call Camrose, Alberta home for the annual Showcase. Hockey scouts from around North America will all be in town to check out what great talent the AJHL has.
As per usual, Showcase weekend will be filled with excellent hockey from all 16 teams, and a great experience for both fans and players in attendance.
Brooks Bandits Record: 2-3-0 – Sixth in the South
After falling to 0-2 the Bandits seemed to be getting their season back on track defeating the Calgary Mustangs 9-2. Then the following night a comeback victory over the Drumheller Dragons. Just when it seemed that they were getting their mojo back they took another loss. Tuesday night the Olds Grizzlys took down the Bandits 3 to 1, giving them their first loss to Olds in over two years. The Bandits only had five regulation losses all of last season; now, just five games in they already have three in their title defense. One bright spot has been the play of forward Connor Jean. The Holy Cross commit has scored a point or more in all but one game; he leads his team in goals with six and is giving the Bandits a chance to win each night.
Coming Up: The Bandits will be put to the test this weekend in Camrose. First up on Thursday, they’ll be stepping onto the ice against the Spruce Grove Saints. The Saints have the best defensive record in the North Division having only conceded ten goals in five games. Less than 10 hours later, they will be taking on the offensively gifted Grande Prairie Storm. The Storm has been scoring goals for fun thus far so this will be a real test for Mitch Benson and his defense.
Calgary Mustangs Record: 2-4-0 – Eighth in the South
The year started out terribly for the Mustangs finding themselves winless after four games, however, as of recently, winning has become a common occurrence for Mustangs who are heading into the weekend on a two-game win streak. Victory number one came against their city rivals the Calgary Canucks, that was immediately followed by a shootout win over the Camrose Kodiaks. Goaltender Ashton Abel has been a huge factor in their recent success. Abel made 71 total saves against both the Calgary Canucks and Camrose Kodiaks whilst only allowing four goals. If he can continue his good form at the Showcase, he could steal his team a game or two.
Coming Up: On paper, Calgary’s opponents this weekend – Bonnyville and Grande Prairie – have similar records to their own. However, the Pontiacs are coming off a big morale win over North Division champions the Whitecourt Wolverines. Similarly, the Storm have been scoring goals with ease lately. Their keys to success against the Pontiacs will be shutting down their top players. Obviously easier said than done, but with the likes of Brown, Marrocco, and Whistle not involved the Pontiacs do not have a good supporting cast. Besides the three of them, not one other player on that roster has more than two points. As for their next opponent, the Stangs’ will have to match the Storm goal for goal. They are 0 for 4 in games with only a one-goal differential. One thing the Mustangs will need in both games is quality goaltending from Ashton Abel.
Calgary Canucks Record: 2-3-0 – Fifth in the South
Three straight losses have seen the Canucks fall down the South Division standings. Currently sitting in the fifth spot, Calgary’s defense has been ineffective forcing them to be heavily reliant on their offense. Luckily for them, they have one of the best offensive players in the AJHL in Dylan Williamson. The 98’ born forward has had an excellent start to the campaign scoring 11 points (8G, 3A) in five games. His eight goals have his tied for first in the league – tied with Dragons forward Jordan Taupert. The Canucks have also had solid offensive production from Andrew Marshall, Alex Wilkins, and Jordan McConnell. Between the pipes, Pierce Diamond has been decent for them and is currently holding a 2.01 GAA. The Canucks will need him to perform at a top level this weekend.
Coming Up: The North Division's two best teams – Whitecourt and Fort McMurray – will be the Canucks upcoming competition. A difficult task for any team, nevermind one that hasn’t won in their previous three. The likes of Dylan Williamson and Pierce Diamond will be the key to their success. If the two of them can perform at an elite level, Calgary will have a shot of getting themselves back in the win column.
Camrose Kodiaks Record: 2-1-2 – Third in the South
The hosts of showcase weekend are off to a good start to their season. They’ve been able to take away at least one point from each game, besides one loss versus the Whitecourt Wolverines, which has helped them climb to third in the South Division. A 5-3 win over the Drumheller Dragons on night one is their most notable victory so far. A player that has been a big factor for them is Ryan Hartman. Hartman leads the Kodiaks in points with 11 ( 6G, 5A) and has been dominant on the powerplay where he has scored three of his six goals. Watch out for him to shine this weekend.
Coming Up: As the hosts, the Kodiaks will be hoping to take all four-points in front of their home crowd. However, with their competition being the Wolverines and Oil Barons that could be easier said than done. Camrose and Whitecourt will take place first and have already faced off against each already this year: the Wolverines came out 4-3 wins. Then on Saturday night, Camrose will look to become the first team to beat the Oil Barons. Overall, the Kodiaks stars like Ryan Hartman and Brock Bremer will need to be on top form this weekend. Also, expect their rookie goaltenders to be very busy.
Canmore Eagles Record: 2-4-0 – Seventh in the South
It was a promising start to the campaign for the Eagles: back-to-back wins over the Calgary Mustangs had them off to an undefeated start. Thomas Davis was awarded the first Defensive Player of the Week honours, and their offense was playing excellently scoring seven goals. Then a couple of tough opponents came along in the shape of the Drumheller Dragons and Okotoks Oilers. After that, the Eagles defense started to leak goals – allowing 23 over four games – and their offense could only counter with four goals. Canmore has now found themselves on a four-game losing streak. A streak they'll be desperately looking to break at Showcase.
Coming Up: They will be looking to get back in form versus the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Thursday night. Much like themselves, the Crusaders have been struggling lately after losing three games in a row. A good performance from Thomas Davis could see them get the win in this one. The following day, Canmore will then kick off the Friday matchups when they face the Drayton Valley Thunder. The Thunder have found it difficult so far, only picking up one win this season. This could be the game that ends the Eagles losing streak.
Drumheller Dragons Record: 4-1-1 – Second in the South
The Dragons have been the surprise team so far. Currently sitting first in the South Division, the Dragons have only lost once in regulations and are currently riding a four-game win streak. Jordan Taupert has been a huge part of their success after scoring 13 points in just six games. Those 13 points have him tied for second in league scoring. Another notable contributor has been the goaltender, Hunter Virostek. The second-year goaltender seems to have built off his playoff performance from last year – where he had a 2.63 GAA in five games. Right now, Virostek has the most wins (4) by a goaltender in the league and is holding a 1.45 GAA. A solid first five games for the Dragons netminder. The Dragons highlight victory came away from home against the Spruce Grove Saints. Spruce Grove was undefeated at the time, but the Dragons soon put an end to that, defeating them 4-2. Considering the Saints have only conceded ten goals this season, that victory really shows the talent level Drumheller have on their roster.
Coming Up: Drumheller shouldn’t have an issue with Thursday's opponent, the Lloydminster Bobcats, simply because the Bobcats have not been able to score goals and teams cannot score against Drumheller. Saturday night, however, things get a little tougher. The Dragons will face-off against the Spruce Grove Saints, a team they have previously beat this season. Spruce Grove is a great defensive team only allowing ten goals through their first five games. Drumheller may have come out on top last time, but the Saints will be looking for revenge. Should be a great matchup.
Okotoks Oilers Record: 5-0-0 – First in the South
The Oilers are off to their best start to a season in franchise history. It all started out with two consecutive victories against defending AJHL champions: the Brooks Bandits. Those wins were quickly followed by four more against the Canmore Eagles and the Calgary Canucks. Great goaltending displays from Riley Morris and, the rookie, Ben Howard have been a major key to their success. On top of that, they’ve had an excellently balanced attack with 19 players getting their names on the scoresheet. Okotoks is doing everything right to begin the season. It is hard to spot any flaws in their system.
Coming Up: The Lloydminster Bobcats will be their first opponent, a team which is desperate for a win. Following that game, Bonnyville will be the next team looking to dethrone the undefeated Oilers. The Pontiacs had a big win Tuesday night against the Whitecourt Wolverines so they could turn out to be a tougher opponent than previously assumed. However, even with that being said, it would seem possible for the the Oilers to remain perfect to start their season.
Olds Grizzlys Record: 2-2-0 – Fourth in the South
The Grizzlys are heading into Camrose on an extremely high note. On Tuesday night, Olds beat the Bandits for the first time in over two years. Rookie netminder, Josh Brindza was spectacular in their victory making 41 saves in only his second career start. At the other end of the ice, Estian Coetzee has been carrying the load with his seven points in four games. His four-point game night against the Canucks was a critical performance the Grizzlies needed to get their first win. The rest of their offense has also been clicking with four point-per-game players.
Coming Up: First up, Olds will be looking to make it three straight wins against the seventh-placed Drayton Valley Thunder. Next up will be the Sherwood Park Crusaders. Much like the Thunder, Sherwood Park has been struggling lately, but will likely be a tougher opponent than what the Thunder will be.
Bonnyville Pontiacs Record 3-2-0 – Fourth in the North
Bonnyville have been heavily reliant on three players: Derek Brown, PJ Marrocco, and Brandon Whistle. Their secondary scoring hasn't been very good, which is mostly the reason why they only have 13 goals. Even with the lack of offensive production, Bonnyville have clawed their way to a 3-2-0 record. Derek Brown has stepped up in a big way for his club; especially against the Grande Prairie Storm when he scored with 30 seconds left to give his team the win. Brown is a clutch player and currently, leads the AJHL in game-winning goals with two. If and when the rest of the Pontiacs offense gets rolling, they should be a dangerous team throughout the rest of the season.
Coming Up: Coach Swann will want to build off the momentum they gained from their Tuesday night win over the Whitecourt Wolverines. First, they’ll have to slow down the resurging Calgary Mustangs, whose camp will be filled with confidence after two big wins over the Canucks and Kodiaks. Saturday will be a much tougher test against the Okotoks Oilers. The Oilers are yet to take a loss and will be looking to continue that trend. Bonnyville will need their entire offense to be on top form in this one.
Drayton Valley Thunder Record: 1-4-0 – Seventh in the North
The Thunder are the lone AJHL team to not win a game in regulation. Their only victory came against the Grande Prairie Storm where they came back from 3-2 down to win 5-4 in overtime. It has been a rough go for the Thunder through their first five games. A couple of positives to take away though is the play of forward Josh Borynec and Sam Anzai. The chemistry the two have built in the short time they have played together is remarkable. Borynec leads the Thunder in goals (4) with Anzai being the primary assist on each of them. The duo connected on the overtime win against the Storm which gave the team their first win. Expect the two of them to show off their skills at Showcase.
Coming Up: Drayton will be seeking out their second victory against the Olds Grizzlys. The Grizzlys will be high in confidence following their win over the Brooks Bandits earlier this week. It should be a fairly even matchup that could go either way. On Friday, the Valley will kick off the day's games against the Canmore Eagles. The Thunder could not have wished to play the Eagles at a better time. Recently, Canmore has been slumping losing their past four games. Josh Borynec and his team may be able to take advantage of a team low in confidence.
Fort McMurray Oil Barons Record: 4-0-0 – Second in the North
The Oil Barons are the only undefeated team left in the highly competitive North Division. Whatever challenge has been laid in front them, they have been able to handle through their first four games. It has been a great team effort offensively, but heading into this weekend's games Holy Cross commit Will Conley is leading the way with six points. Ryan Cox and Liam Izzy have also contributed well both producing five points apiece. Defensively, the Barons had a few issues after allowing seven goals in two games; now they seemed to have figured things out allowing only two goals in their past two games. Goaltender, Eric Szubor struggled in his first two starts – averaging 3.5 goals against – but picked it up in his last start making 22 saves and only allowing one goal. Fort McMurray will be looking to continue their streak in Camrose against a couple of non-divisional opponents.
Coming Up: An 8 PM puck drop at the Max McLean Arena against the Calgary Canucks will be the Oil Barons first attempt at keeping their streak alive. The Barons will look to capitalize on what has been a weak defensive team recently – allowing 15 goals in their previous three games. Shutting down Dylan Williamson will also help them get the two points. Then on Saturday night, Fort McMurray will face the Showcase hosts: the Camrose Kodiaks. The Kodiaks have fared well against tough opposition – beating the Drumheller Dragons, and losing by one to the Wolverines- and could prove to be tougher than anticipated for the Barons. The experience between the pipes could prove to be the difference between the two.
Grande Prairie Storm Record: 2-3-1 – Sixth in the North
The Grande Prairie Storm is a much-improved team compared to what we saw last season. They have an offensively gifted group led by newly acquired forward Edouard Michaud. Michaud is currently sitting tied for second in goals in the league with seven goals and has needed no time to adjust to the Alberta game. He also has a great support cast in Zachary Okake and Justin Bernie; both of whom are right beside him in league scoring. On the flip side, the Storm has had trouble keeping the puck out of their own net. Late goals have killed this team and that could not be highlighted more than in their game against Bonnyville. Derek Brown grabbed his team the game-winner with just 30 seconds left on the clock, a huge blow for any team. They did bounce back from that defeat, though, with a thumping over the Lloydminster Bobcats 8-1. Once this team starts to gel they’ll be a great team in the North.
Coming Up: Brooks will be the Storm's first opponent on Friday. Last season, they couldn’t take any points off the Bandits and only managed to score two goals. This year, though, both teams are coming in with similar records and will be looking to jump-start their seasons. This should be an interesting game. The following night, the Storm will be looked at as favourites against the Calgary Mustangs, even with the Stangs’ playing well lately. Their offense will be the biggest x-factor in this contest with the Storm having scored 20 goals in their last three games and Calgary only scoring 15 in total.
Lloydminster Bobcats Record: 1-4-0 – Eighth in the North
An opening day win over the Bonnyville Pontiacs had fans optimistic, however, Lloydminster were unable to gain any momentum and have not won a game since. The Cats will sit bottom in the AJHL standings heading into the annual Showcase Weekend and will be looking to turn things around fast. Between the pipes, Reece Klassen has given his team a chance every night, but again, has had no support from his offense. The Bobcats will be looking to turn their season around this weekend.
Coming Up: It could be a long weekend with games against the South Divisions two top teams. Drumheller will be their first opponent, on Thursday night, a team which the Bobcats actually beat last season. Following that game, the undefeated Okotoks Oilers will be their next challenge. Teams have struggled to get anything passed the Oilers netminders, and unless a few bounces fall the Bobcats way I’d expect that to continue.
Sherwood Park Crusaders Record: 2-2-1 – Fifth in the North
For a young team, the Crusaders have had a respectable start to 2018. They have results go their way in their opening two games, beating the Drayton Valley Thunder 7-4 and 5-2 in consecutive night. Since then, the Cru have faced tougher opponents in the Kodiaks, Wolverines, and Saints; unfortunately only able to collect one point out of the three. The first line of Ty Readman (8 points), Merritt Oszytko (6 points), and Brandon Wallis (7 points) has produced consistently. Also, both Dylan Stewart (6 points), and Tyler Pang (6 points) have been superb additions to the roster, bringing a quality two-way game.
Coming Up: Showcase weekend will see the Crusaders hit the ice against the Eagles and the Grizzlys: two very winnable games. The Eagles are currently riding a four-game losing streak, and have been unable to score any goals, which can only help the Crusaders two rookie goaltenders confidence. As for the Grizzlys, a big win over the Brooks Bandits would’ve raised their confidence; but the Crusaders still matchup better against them. The Crusaders could easily be the highest scoring team in Camrose.
Spruce Grove Saints Record: 4-1-0 – Third in the North
Nobody can score a goal against the Spruce Grove Saints. Through five games, the Saints defense has only allowed ten goals – good enough for the second best defensive record in the North. Nolan Kent has been a brick wall between the pipes and has held a 1.48 GAA in his three starts, along with a 0.943 save percentage – both stats are the best in the AJHL. Chris Van Os-Shaw has turned out to be a great addition to the roster having scored ten points so far. Even with Van Os-Shaw leading the way offensively, the Saints have not had to rely on just one player, in fact, only two of their 15 active forwards are yet to register a point. They are yet to lose to a North Division opponent and are looking like they’ll be the team to beat going forward.
Coming Up: The Saints will be seeking redemption Thursday night when they face off against the Drumheller Dragons. The Dragons are the only team that the Saints have been unable to defeat in their first six games. However, before they take on the Dragons they will have to deal with the Brooks Bandits. The Bandits may not be in great form lately, however, you can never underestimate their abilities. This weekend should prove what kind of the team the Spruce Grove Saints are.
Whitecourt Wolverines Record: 4-2-1 – First in the North
They had some difficulties out of the gate, but now the Wolverines are getting back to their winning ways. After seven games, the North Division champions find themselves first in their division with four wins under their belt. Their four-game win streak was brought to a halt Tuesday night following a 3-2 loss courtesy of the Bonnyville Pontiacs. Nevertheless, Head Coach Gord Thibodeau has got his team heading in the right direction.
Coming Up: They’ll be looking to get back to winning ways against the Calgary Canucks and the Camrose Kodiaks. Whitecourt and Camrose had an encounter only last week. The Wolverines came out 4-3 winners, despite a late comeback surge from the Kodiaks. That victory also came without their star goaltender Xavier Potvin in the lineup. As for their second opponent, the Wolverines are playing the Canucks at the right time. The Canucks are in a three-game slump after losing to the Mustangs, Grizzlys, and most recently the Oilers. Whitecourt should still be aware of Dylan Williamson’s abilities – the Canucks leading scorer – and former Wolverines goaltender Pierce Diamond, who will be wanting some revenge on his old team.
By Liam Horrobin