Photo Credit – Pro Sports Photography:
A few teams will be without regular stars in their lineup with five players – TJ Lloyd (Spruce Grove Saints), Matthew Davis (Spruce Grove Saints), Luke Bast (Brooks Bandits), Dylan Holloway (Okotoks Oilers), and Austin Wong (Okotoks Oilers) – away with Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge.
We’ll get this weekend's preview underway with the number one team in the AJHL right now – the Brooks Bandits. The four-time AJHL champions start their weekend of games at home against Canmore on Friday night for the Eagles' second visit to the Centennial Regional Arena. Their last visit did not go so well for the travelling Eagles, falling 6-2 thanks to a hat-trick from Vermont commit forward William Lemay. Both teams will have many regular faces returning to the lineup with Alex Young (Canmore), Max Giangualano (Canmore) and Pierce Charleson (Brooks) all returning from Team Canada West camp.
Now, while the Eagles weekend ends in Brooks, the Bandits continue on with a trip to the Ken Bracko Arena for a contest against the Calgary Canucks, a team they have handled with easy beating them in all three matchups this season. These two most recently met on Wednesday night when the Bandits handed the Canucks their 26th regulation loss of the season beating them 6-0. Before the Bandits are in town, however, the Whitecourt Wolverines make their lone regular season visit to the home of the Canucks on Friday night. Both teams have been sliding as of late with the Wolverines on a three-game losing streak and the Canucks on a four game streak. A win for either side would go a long way in the confidence department. Whitecourt then gradually makes their way back North with games against the Camrose Kodiaks on Saturday and the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Sunday.
The Camrose Kodiaks are one of the hottest teams in the AJHL right now and are 7-2-1 in their last ten games. Third year forward Kyler Kupka has played a significant factor in the team's current form with 15 points in his previous ten, including a 4-point night against the Calgary Mustangs. The Kodiaks will not only have the Wolverines visit the Encana Arena this weekend, but also the Grande Prairie Storm on Friday night. The Storm is in desperate need of a victory with only three wins coming in their last ten games. In their previous outing, they were defeated 6-1 to the Sherwood Park Crusaders on home ice. The good news for Grande Prairie is that a solid weekend for them would push them right back up the North Division standings. Also on the schedule for the Storm are the Olds Grizzlys on Saturday night and then a trip to the Grant Fuhr Arena on Sunday to take on the Saints. The matchup between Olds and Grande Prairie will be the only game of the weekend for the Grizzlys. Olds is currently last in the AJHL with eight points and have not won a game in their last nine outings. The two of them have already met twice this season with the Storm coming away victorious on both occasions.
As for the Spruce Grove Saints, they are coming into the weekend off a well-fought loss on Wednesday night against the Crusaders. Likely to be back in their lineup are both Tanner Hickey and Parker Saretsky who were away at the Team Canada West camp. The two of them will be massive additions to the injury-plagued Saints lineup. Before their contest with the Storm, Spruce Grove faces the Drayton Valley Thunder at home. They have already met on two occasions this season with the Saints taking maximum points in both games, however, the Thunder gave the Saints a run for their money losing 3-2 in overtime on their last visit to the Grant Fuhr Arena.
Staying in the North Division, we have already mentioned that the Crusaders take on the Wolverines on Sunday afternoon at the Sherwood Park Arena. On Friday night, they also welcome the Lloydminster Bobcats for their final trip to Sherwood Park. Since losing back-to-back games to the Bonnyville Pontiacs and Brooks Bandits a couple of weeks ago, Sherwood Park has been dominant winning their last three games while averaging six goals a game. Nick Bowman, who recently signed from the WHL, has been a massive addition to their lineup scoring seven points in three games and giving HC Adam Manah another offensive threat to plug into his lineup. On the other side of the ice, the Bobcats have not had abundant success lately. They beat the Canucks 7-1 to give new HC Nigel Dube his second win with the organization, however, aside from that it has been tough for them losing eight of their last ten.
The weekend does not get much easier for Lloydminster with a trip to Fort McMurray also on the card. The Oil Barons are another team who have found their feet recently and have managed to push themselves up the standings. Right now, they hold sole possession of the fourth spot in the North with 14-9-6 record. The majority of the meetings between these two teams came early on in the season; however, the Bobcats have proved to be a challenge for the Barons with the season series split at two wins apiece. On Sunday afternoon, Fort McMurray has to face the number one team in the North in the Bonnyville Pontiacs. This game could prove to be the game of the weekend with two of the best in the league colliding. Bonnyville does have another game this weekend, but not against an AJHL opponent – they take on the Czech Republic in an exhibition game for the World Junior A Challenge on Friday night.
Moving down South, the Drumheller Dragons are attempting to make ground on the Bandits for first in the Division while also separating themselves from the rest of the pack. Their three-game win streak has helped them gain a 5-point cushion on the Eagles in third, however, they still trail the Bandits by 14 points. This weekend, the Dragons will look to earn maximum points against the Okotoks Oilers on Friday night and Calgary Mustangs on Saturday with both games being played at the Drumheller Memorial Arena. The Oilers loaded up on veteran talent on roster cutdown day (December 1st) with the acquisition of Ben Evanish and Ryan Grant from Whitecourt. This contest will definitely be an exciting one with what could be very much a playoff atmosphere despite it only being December. The following game for both teams is against the Calgary Mustangs. The Mustangs proved last week that any one could win on any given night after they handed the Bandits their third loss of the season. This trio of games should provide AJHL fans with some great hockey this weekend.
Story by Liam Horrobin