AJHL Showcase Weekend Preview

It’s that exciting time of the year again when all 16 AJHL teams meet in one location for the annual AJHL Showcase. Showcase Weekend will once again be hosted by the City of Camrose from September 27th to the 29th. It is going to a be a weekend packed with action with 16 games on the card.

The opening day has four games on the schedule with the Olds Grizzlys and Bonnyville Pontiacs kicking it off at 3:30 p.m. Both teams are at opposite ends of their divisions with the Pontiacs only having one loss to their name, and the Grizzlys yet to pick up a victory. However, Olds has been picking up their performances in the past few games with narrow loses coming against both the Brooks Bandits (5-4) and the Calgary Canucks (5-4). As for the Pontiacs, they have had two huge come from behind victories over the Whitecourt Wolverines and Sherwood Park Crusaders to give them a 4-1-0 record. Colby Muise has played a huge part in the Pontiacs success with a victory in each of his starts. Bonnyville’s number one is amongst the league's best in stats with a 1.70 GAA and a 0.935 SV%. Last season, the Pontiacs were defeated in both games where they faced the Olds Grizzlys but are looking like a much stronger team in 2018/19. Following this game, Olds has a date with the Grande Prairie Storm on Saturday, and Bonnyville takes on the Calgary Canucks.

Grande Prairie won’t be happy with their start to the season as they sit last in the North Division. They have one win in their first five,  which came against the Spruce Grove Saints when Zachary Okabe (01) put three past Liam McCloskey in the Saints goal. The Storm are coming into the weekend off a 3-1 defeat to the Whitecourt Wolverines on Tuesday night. However, it is not all doom and gloom for the Storm. Heading into last season's Showcase they had a 2-3-1 record and split their weekend of games 1-1, then went on to win four of their next six games. Before their Saturday game against Olds, they challenge the host: Camrose Kodiaks. Grande Prairie struggled against both opponents in 2018 picking up only one point in an overtime loss to the Grizzlys. Similarly to Grande Prairie, Camrose has struggled to begin their season too. They have a 1-4-0 record and are currently sixth in the South Division. The outcome of the game on Friday night could propel one of their seasons.

Camrose the next night will play against their northern neighbours, the Sherwood Park Crusaders. When these two meet up something interesting tends to happen. It was only a couple of seasons ago that former Crusaders netminder Jake Morrissey scored his first career goal in this matchup, so this should be one to keep your eyes on. Sherwood Park has started out strongly, coming away from only one game without a point. They pack a lot of firepower and could put on a show this weekend. The Crusaders also play the Calgary Canucks, and if history repeats itself, that game could have plenty of goals in store. In their two games against one another last season, the two of them combined for 24 goals with each team picking up the victory on home ice. Calgary will be looking to continue their good form coming off a 5-4 win over Olds and then losing out to the Mustangs in a shootout. They have been led by rookie forward Dylan Clark (01) who has nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in five games for them.

Friday night's schedule is wrapped up with the Fort McMurray Oil Barons versus the Drumheller Dragons, and a repeat of the 2018 AJHL Finals with the Okotoks Oilers taking on the Spruce Grove Saints.

The Oil Barons and Dragons have similar records with the Barons having the slight edge with an overtime loss to their name. Drumheller has not beat Fort McMurray since 2015, and they last met them at Showcase two years ago. The Dragons are coming into the weekend following a 5-4 win over South Division Champions the Okotoks Oilers, while the Oil Barons are looking to redeem themselves after a shutout loss to Bonnyville. Once this game is over, the two of them switch their attention to the Canmore Eagles (Fort McMurray) and Drayton Valley Thunder (Drumheller). The Oil Barons opponent, the Eagles, have been come out of the gates steaming hot losing only once and scoring 25 goals which is the second most in the AJHL. Their offence is rocking, and they have ten players who are averaging a point-per-game or more. After they collide with the Oil Barons, Canmore will start the day of games on Saturday against the Lloydminster Bobcats, who are looking to be getting back on track with back-to-back wins after starting the season 0-3-0. As for the Drayton Valley Thunder, they have been perhaps the most surprising team so far this season. After failing to make the playoffs last season, the Thunder opened up their season with back-to-back wins over the Crusaders. They followed up those wins with three straight losses, but have still looked like a strong, competitive team. They have a tough weekend ahead of them with the Brooks Bandits on Friday, and then, of course, the Dragons to close out Showcase Weekend on Saturday night.

A repeat of the AJHL Finals will end the Friday night of games with puck drop at 8:00 p.m. at the Encana Arena. Spruce Grove has started out the season just as planned losing only once in their first five which has put them first in the North. Defensively, they have conceded the fewest goals in the AJHL with 11 with rookie goaltender Matthew Davis (01) holding a 1.67 GAA in three games. Parker Saretsky (98) is leading the AJHL scoring race with 11 points through five games. The Oilers have played the fewest games (4) in the league and are fifth in the South with a 2-1-1 record and are coming into this game on a two-game losing skid. Like Saretsky, Oilers forward Dylan Holloway (01) has got himself off to a good start with nine points in the opening four games. This game could be a good opportunity for Okotoks to prove they are still one of the top teams in the AJHL. Following this one, it does not get much easier for the Oilers with the Whitecourt Wolverines waiting for them on Friday. Whitecourt started out the season with a 0-2-0 record but has put together three straight wins and are starting to look like the team we all expected them to be. They too have a tough weekend schedule, with a contest against the Brooks Bandits on the cards. Ever since Brooks was embarrassed on opening night 11-3 by the Dragons, they have looked dangerous and have not lost since. Captain Nathan Plessis (98) and the rest of the Bandits will be looking to extend their win streak.

Meanwhile, Spruce Grove goes up against the second place Calgary Mustangs. The Mustangs have been one of the best teams in the AJHL to kick off the 2019 season. Ashton Abel (99) has been a big reason why with his 1.30 GAA, 0.956 SV% and his three wins in three starts. Calgary also collides with the Lloydminster Bobcats on Friday.

Again, game one of the Showcase Weekend starts at 3:30 p.m. in the Max McLean Arena on Thursday afternoon. The games continue on from that point until Saturday night when the Showcase is closed out with the Drumheller Dragons going up against the Drayton Valley Thunder at 8:00 p.m. AJHL fans, I hope you are ready for a fantastic weekend of junior hockey!

Story by Liam Horrobin