AJHL Viterra South Division Preview

Brooks Bandits (43-13-4—90 points) (Lost 4-2 to the Spruce Grove Saints in Gas Drive Cup Final)
The Brooks Bandits returned to the Gas Drive Cup Finals last year for the third time in four years but just ran out of steam against the Saints falling in six games. The Bandits potentially have 12 returning players on the 2015/16 team, which means that there aren't a lot of holes to fill for Head Coach Ryan Papaioannou. Like all teams, Coach Papaioannou will be looking for new players to step up and take over leadership. Key acquisitions: off the ice Tyler King (Manager of Communications). Key departures:  six of the top eight scores from last year Austin Plevy (92 pts), Chase Clayton (59 pts), Alex Roberts (53 pts), Mark Logan (45 pts), Anthony Paskaruk (43 pts), and Madison Dunn (43 pts). Over-ager Linden Springer (40 pts)and starting goaltender Michael Fredrick (19-7-3  2.58 GAA 0.897 save %). Expect the Bandits to once again compete for top spot in the South.

Calgary Canucks (17-33-10–44 points) (missed the playoffs last year)
The Calgary Canucks have gone through overhaul changes this past summer. Unfortunately for the Canucks some these changes came early in August, which didn't leave a lot of time for new Head Coach Jay Pylpuik to get to know his new team. Calgary could be potentially returning 16 players. With that many returning players, Coach Pylpuik may not have a lot of holes to fill. The Canucks are hoping that with a more veteran team can get them back to the postseason for the first time since 2012. Key acquisitions: Greydon Robinson (25 games with West Kelowna/Prince George (BCHL) 11 points) acquired from the Prince George Spruce Kings. Zach McNeill (19 points in 57 games with the Mustangs/Oil Barons last year) was acquired from the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. Reid Nemeth (12 points in 55 games with Drumheller last year) acquired from the Dragons. Lukas Pollock (2 points in 49 games with Olds) acquired from the Olds Grizzlys. Key departures: Four of their top five scores Trent Geiger (43 pts), Bryson Gore (30 pts), Josh Betinol (29 pts), and Chase McMurphy (24 pts). Last year's starting goaltender Colin Cooper (15-24-10 3.32 GAA 0.908 save%). Connor McCallum (28 points in 52 games with Dauphin/Canucks) was traded to Fort McMurray. Another key loss was the passing of team President Ken Bracko. The question for the Canucks is will the late changes hurt or help the team back to the postseason.

Calgary Mustangs (20-36-4—44 points) (Lost 3-0 to the Brooks Bandits in the opening round)
The Calgary Mustangs made an incredible surge late last season to make the playoffs, and now Head Coach Chad Allen will have a full season to mold the team into his vision. The Mustangs potentially have 13 players returning from last year's team. Head Coach Chad Allen has been busy not only filling holes in the roster but also filling up the bench hiring assistant coaches. Key additions: Oliver Lester (14 pts in 47 games with Brooks last year) acquired from Fort McMurray. Everett Putz (21 points in 57 games with Alberni Valley last year) acquired from the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. Key departures: Ravi Dattani (17-30-4  3.62 GAA 0.907 save%) traded to Fort McMurray. The Mustangs also have lost three of their top six scorers (Joe Mahon 45 pts, Adam Berg 36 pts, Mason Mitchell 34 pts). Other over-agers from last year's team Scott Salberg (20 pts) and Spencer Johnstone (14 pts) are looking forward to their post-secondary opportunities.  The Mustangs will be looking to carry the momentum from the last third of the season last year into the start of this year.

Camrose Kodiaks (48-8-4—100 points) (Lost 4-3 to the Brooks Bandits in the South Final)
The Camrose Kodiaks returned to the top of the South standings last year but were unable to find a way to take out the Brooks Bandits. The Kodiaks potentially have 15 players returning from last year's team that doesn't leave many holes for Head Coach Boris Rybalka to fill. The Kodiaks are hoping to build on a successful season last year and take that next step towards returning to the Royal Bank Cup. Key additions: Andrew Weich (30 points in 63 games with Okotoks/Alberni Valley) acquired from the Drayton Valley Thunder. Key departures: Camrose has lost their top three scorers from last year (Ryker Leer 59 pts, Nelson Gadoury 48 pts, Brett Njaa 48 pts). Aging out from the 2014/15 season are Adam Wheeldon (24 pts), Adam deChamplain (22 pts), and Valik Chichkin (17 pts). Last year's starting goaltender Devin McDonald (28-4-3 2.12 GAA 0.924 save %) has also moved on to post-secondary. Expect the Kodiaks to once again contend at the top of the South Division.

Canmore Eagles (27-31-2—56 points) (Lost 3-0 to the Okotoks Oilers in the opening round)
The Canmore Eagles that a more veteran team will help push them back into the top four in the South Division. The Eagles could potentially have 15 players returning this year which means that there aren't a lot of holes for Head Coach Andrew Milne to fill. Key additions: Canmore was quiet on the trade front. Key departures: three of their top five scorers (Joe Serpico 47 pts, Jordan Revie 46 pts, Simon Philp 41 pts). Other over-agers moving on from last year are Nikolas Kosman (19 pts), Jeremy Gordon (14 pts), Reid Wilson (8 pts). Goaltenders Ryan Ferguson (22-28-2  3.64 GAA 0.897 save%) and Levi Nelson (5-3-0  4.22 GAA 0.886 save%) also won't be back with the team this year. Look for Canmore to once again be in the mix for the middle of the pack in the South Division.

Drumheller Dragons (31-22-7—69 points) (Lost 4-1 to the Camrose Kodiaks in the second round)
The Drumheller Dragons were decimated by injuries last year but still managed to finish fourth in the South and made it to the second round before bowing out to the Kodiaks. The Dragons will potentially return just nine players to their roster this season. Drumheller was one of the busiest teams this summer in the AJHL, and Head Coach Brian Curran will have quite the battle at camp to fill out his roster. Key additions: Ty Mappin (54 points in 48 games with Olds/Saskatoon Blades last year) was acquired from Olds. Chayden Lauber (12 points in 46 games with Canucks/ Olds last year) was acquired from the Calgary Canucks. Rylan Freed (30 points in 58 games with Dauphin Kings) acquired from the Dauphin Kings. Key departures: Top three scores (Dakota Zaharichuk 54 pts, Mitchell Cook 48 pts, Hunter Mills 46 points) have all moved on to post-secondary. Other over-agers moving on from the 2014/15 team are Marcus Messier (22 pts), Ryan Suchorab (19 pts), and goaltender Curtis Skip (14-15-2  2.74 GAA 0.912 save %). The Dragons were also busy on the trade front this summer. The first trade saw Drumheller send Reid Nemeth (12 pts) and Brody Vallette (16 pts) to the Calgary Canucks. The second trade came later in June when the Dragons traded Rory Davidson (19 pts) to the Dauphin Kings. A few days later Jarell Pinchuk (9 pts) was sent to the Coquitlam Express of the BCHL. The final trade of the summer happened just a couple of weeks ago as the Dragons traded Tristan Thompson (16 pts) and Wyatt Noskey (32 pts) to the Olds Grizzlys. Drumheller is hoping that the changes that took place over the summer will bring them back to the Gas Drive Cup Finals.

Okotoks Oilers (38-16-6—82 points) (Lost 4-0 to the Brooks Bandits in the second round)
It was a roller coaster season for the Okotoks Oilers last year that ended rather abruptly. The Oilers will be starting out with a younger team that could potentially have 11 players from the 2014/15 season return to Head Coach James Pooles team. Key additions: no trades this summer. Key departures: Top three scorers (Rhett Gardner 54 pts, Tanner Ockey 47 pts, Mitch Collett 42 pts) have all moved on to post-secondary. Stephen Doane (22 pts), Darian Henry (22 pts), Kevin Jenken (17 pts), Cole Dunphy (9 pts), Ambrose Firkus (0 pts, inj) and starting goaltender Nic Renyard (30-8-3 2.19 GAA 0.924 save%) have all graduated from junior hockey. The returning players for Okotoks are now a year older but still the Oilers have a relatively young team. Okotoks has always found a diamond in the rough early in the season to push them into the top four of the South division.

Olds Grizzlys (24-27-9—57 points) (Lost 3-0 to the Drumheller Dragons in the Opening round)
The Olds Grizzlys made some big moves last year but were unable to get through the first round. This season will have a mix of older and younger players returning to the Grizzlys with ten players potentially returning this to join Head Coach Dana Lattery this season. Key additions: Tristan Thompson (35 points in 55 games with Drumheller) and Wyatt Noskey (32 points in 60 games with Drumheller) were acquired from the Dragons on August 17th. On August 10th, Cole Plotnkoff (18 points in 41 games with Surrey)  was traded to Olds from the Surrey Eagles. Key departures: the top four scores from last year (Christopher Gerrie 51 pts traded (BCHL), Jade McMullen 53 pts traded (Grande Prairie), Tyrell Mappin (53 pts traded (Drumheller) and Colton Sheen 52 pts (graduated)). Lukas Pollock (2 pts) was traded to the Calgary Canucks. Kodi Schwarz (38 pts) was sent to the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. Other graduating players were Kyle Moore (40 pts), Austin Kernahan (39 pts), BJ Duffin (26 pts), and Jesse Gordichuk (13-13-6  3.44 GAA, 0.904 save%). The Grizzlys will be looking for players to step up and take the reins after trading their top scorers from last season.

Story by
Chris Colwell