Camrose Kodiaks (2) vs. Olds Grizzlys (7)
Heading into the playoffs, the Olds Grizzlys have lost their last 18 straight games. The last team the Grizzlys defeated, back on Jan. 22, however, was their first round opponent in the Camrose Kodiaks. That 3-2 victory was the only time Olds picked up any points off the Kodiaks, as in six meetings, Camrose won five, outscoring the Grizzlys 32-16.
Needless to say, it's going to be an uphill climb for the Grizzlys, who have allowed the most goals (279) of any team left in the post-season, while the Kodiaks, are the second highest scoring team in the division and fourth highest in the league.
Olds does have the two highest scorers in the league in Wyatt Noskey and Chase Olsen, who were the only two players in the AJHL to top 80 points this season. Noskey, who registered 24 multi-point games with the Grizzlys, won the league scoring race with 83 points, while the Kodiaks top scorers were Cole McBrie and Nelson Gadoury who both had 66 points.
Noskey and Olsen will have to try and score on Patrick Gora, who had a 2.78 goals against average in his 39 games played. Olds' goalies Ben Giesbrecht and Kurtis Chapman played in 34 games each and allowed over four goals per game.
And with Camrose having the second best power play in the league at 23.87 per cent, any advantage the Grizzlys give could result in pucks in the back of the net.
Okotoks Oilers (3) vs. Calgary Canucks (6)
In their six meetings this season, the Calgary Canucks walked away with the advantage. Calgary won four of six games off the Okotoks Oilers, which included the last three games near the end of the season.
Thursday's opener will mark the fourth time the Oilers have taken on the Canucks in their last five games, so familiarity will be a key factor in this season, as those last three games were played between Feb. 20 to 27.
In the first Calgary victories, Okotoks gave up eight power play opportunities, in which the Canucks capitalized on four chances, including three in one game. They gave up another five in a 3-2 shootout loss, showing signs that the Canucks may have found a weak link. While Calgary's power play was the fourth worst in the league at 15.71 per cent, they proved to be able to find holes when needed.
Okotoks, however, has the league's seventh best penalty kill at 82. 31 per cent, and show this season they didn't need to drastically outscore their opponents to win games, scoring just 197 goals this season, 20 more than they allowed.
Riley Morris has led the Oilers to 21 wins in 43 starts, with a 2.74 goals against average. But Calgary's netminder Logan Drackett is right behind him, winning 20 of his 40 starts and holding opponents to just 2.75 goals per game.
It could all come down to power play chances and familiarity, and heading into a best-of-five, Calgary has to be feeling confident will their latest string of victories over the Oilers. Now they just need to do it again in the playoffs.
Canmore Eagles (4) vs. Drumheller Dragons (5)
Only three points separated Canmore and Drumheller in the standings, giving Canmore the home ice advantage, which they will have to use to their advantage as they dropped four of the six games they played against the Dragons, with two of them going into overtime.
Both overtime losses and one of the victories came on home ice, so having three of the five games at the Canmore Recreation Centre may be a deciding factor in this middle of the division match up.
Where Canmore has the advantage definitive advantage is in top level scoring, as both Matt Forchuk and Logan Ferguson were tied for fourth in league scoring with 72 points, while Braiden Doucette had 53 points, the same amount of points Dragons leading scorer Levi Wunder had in 59 games.
The Eagles also come with the league's best power play, having scored on 25.47 per cent of their chances, which included Brett Radford scoring a league leading 15 goals on the man advantage. The Dragons power play, 11th in the league, only stopped 75.84 per cent.
Drumheller may just need to weather the storm and take advantage of every opportunity. In their last meeting on Mar. 4, Drumheller put 47 shots on net in a 4-3 overtime victory. Getting shots on Canmore hasn't been an issue for the Dragons in their six meetings. But when the Dragons are kept low in shots, more often than not they are not coming away with the victory.
And that could put pressure on netminder Jonny Hogue to come up big in the playoffs and improve on his 3.44 goals against average.
by Andrew Brethauer