The AJHL is back! After a short break for Christmas, ten teams get back on the ice for the final weekend of 2018. Despite being only ten games on the schedule, the matchups this weekend will send what has been an unbelievable 2018 for the AJHL out with a bang!
The weekend games gets underway with a couple of 7:00pm puck drops in Canmore and Camrose. First, the Eagles play host to the number one team in the CJHL, the Brooks Bandits. The Bandits are heading into the Canmore Recreation Centre on an eight-game win streak, and have dominated the Eagles in their previous three meetings defeating them on each occasion while outscoring them 15-4. Canmore will be hoping their fortunes turn around against the Bandits in this contest, however, they have been in good form recently themselves going 7-3-0 in their last ten games. Canmore and Brooks go at it once again, but this time at the Centennial Regional Arena in Brooks on Saturday. It will be an extremely tough task for the Eagles on the road with the Bandits being perfect at 17-0-0 at home this season. Canmore most recently visited the CRA on December 7th when they fell 4-1.
Now, heading to the Encana Arena to challenge the Camrose Kodiaks are the Drayton Valley Thunder. The two of them have not met yet this season, so this will be the Thunder’s lone trip to Camrose. The Kodiaks have been strong at home with a 9-4-3 record beating the likes of the Sherwood Park Crusaders, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, and the Okotoks Oilers. As for the Thunder, Luke Lush is returning to the Encana for the first time since he was traded back in October. Since joining the Thunder, Lush has been one of the best goaltenders in the AJHL with a 13-5-3 record to go along with a 0.934 SV% and 2.16 GAA. On Saturday, Camrose and Drayton Valley have a rematch at the Drayton Valley Omniplex.
Rounding out the Friday schedule is the Fort McMurray Oil Barons and the Whitecourt Wolverines. This game will have a little bit more meaning than others for Jaedon Leslie. The Oil Barons acquired Leslie right before the Christmas break after spending his entire junior hockey career with Wolverines. The Ohio State commit scored 118 points (3rd most in franchise history) in 185 games (3rd most in franchise history) and was a fan favourite during his time there. He’ll be welcomed back with open arms. These two teams will go again on Saturday at the Scott Safety Centre. The Oil Barons round out their three-day road trip with a stop at the Revolution Arena to take on the Grande Prairie Storm. This season series has been very entertaining with the Oil Barons having the edge heading into this one with a 3-1-0 record, which includes an overtime victory. The scoring has been close too with Fort McMurray outscoring Grande Prairie 14-12.
Over in the Border City, the Lloydminster Bobcats get ready to challenge the red-hot Sherwood Park Crusaders at the Centennial Civic Centre Arena. Sherwood Park has travelled there only once beating the Bobcats 8-3 on Hockey Hooky day. The other three meetings were all at the Sherwood Park Arena and saw the Crusaders take away maximum points. Heading into this contest, Sherwood Park has not lost on the road since Nov 7th against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons, which finished 8-4 when now Crusader Jack Hamly scoring a hat-trick for the Barons. On the other side of the ice, the Bobcats have only won twice in their last ten home games.
Then, on Saturday the Spruce Grove Saints travel to face the Bobcats for their second visit to the Centennial Civic Centre Arena. The Saints have been out of form as of late losing their past three games while averaging four goals against per game. However, in this season series, the Saints have been great against the Bobcats beating them on both occasions 5-2 and 4-1.
Finally, the 2018 AJHL schedule ends with one of the most fierce rivalries in junior hockey: the Spruce Grove Saints vs the Sherwood Park Crusaders. So far, each game between the two this season has been as highly entertaining as imagined. The opening two games were split between the two with the Crusaders taking game one thanks to a couple of goals from Robert Morris commit Garrett Clegg giving them a 4-3 win. Game two saw Matthew Davis stop all 29 shots he faced to give the Saints a 2-0 shutout victory. Sherwood Park then took over the season series with three straight wins over Spruce Grove both home and away: 3-2 SO, 6-5, and 4-1. Sunday’s contest will be the final game of the regular season between the two North Division powerhouses.
Story by Liam Horrobin