Photo Credit – Chad Goddard:
This weekend in the AJHL, most teams will hit the 50 gameplayed mark and both divisions are anything but set. For the most part, both the North and South Division are both decks still being shuffled entering the last full month of the season. Here’s how the weekend looks for each of the league’s 16 teams.
Bonnyville Pontiacs (35-10-3, 73 points, 1st AJHL North)
After falling out of first place in the North, the Pontiacs have roared back to the top courtesy of a five game win streak which is the best current streak in the North. The Pontiacs have scored at least three goals in each of the wins and have shut out their opponents in two of their last three games.
The Pontiacs will look to stay hot on Friday against the Canmore Eagles, who they’ll face for the first time since October 21st. In that game, the Pontiacs scored three times in the 2nd period and shut out the Eagles in the 3rd to secure a 3-2 win. On Saturday, the Pontiacs will meet the Whitecourt Wolverines. The Pontiacs have had the Wolverines’ number this season, going 4-0 while outscoring Whitecourt 18-8. The teams haven’t met since December 18th. Both of Bonnyville’s games this weekend will be at home in the RJ Lalonde Arena, where they boast a 16-4-3 record.
Brooks Bandits (44-3-0, 88 points, 1st AJHL South)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Brooks Bandits are on a lengthy winning streak. Having rattled off 20 straight wins, the Bandits are looking to be the first team to hit 90 points this season. On Friday night, the Bandits will host the last-place Olds Grizzlys and then head to Drumheller to face the Dragons on Saturday night.
The Bandits haven’t lost since November 27th, have a league leading 265 goals (55 more than anyone else), and have allowed a league low 109 goals against. As the National Jr A Championship hosts, there’s no doubt the Bandits will aim to finish the season strong and build towards their perennial goal of a national championship.
Calgary Canucks (7-41-1, 15 points, 7th AJHL South)
After picking up a big 8-3 road win against Canmore on January 23rd, the Canucks dropped three straight in a pair of losses to Okotoks and a setback against Olds. The Canucks will look to break out of their funk with two games slated against divisional rivals Drumheller and Camrose.
While the Canucks continue to grow through a difficult season, they find themselves playing very meaningful games down the stretch as they currently have a slim two-point edge over the Grizzlys for the final playoff spot in the South. The Canucks have yet to beat the Dragons or Kodiaks this season, but the motivation of staying ahead in the playoff race should be enough to spur the Canucks into a pair of gutsy efforts.
Calgary Mustangs (25-17-6, 56 points, 5th AJHL South)
After winning three straight games at the start of January, the Mustangs have been unable to repeat the feat and registered a virtual win one / lose one ride throughout the rest of the month, save for back to back wins over Drayton Valley and Olds.
This weekend, the Mustangs will get another crack at the Oilers in Okotoks on Friday then head home to host the Camrose Kodiaks on Sunday.
The games against the Oilers will be Calgary’s second meeting against Okotoks in a week, with the Mustangs dropping a 4-1 matchup on Sunday. While there’s been spirited efforts, the Mustangs will look to solve Okotoks for the first time this year as they are currently 0-3-1 against them. The Sunday meeting with the Kodiaks will be the fifth of the season, with each team earning two wins over the first four matchups.
Camrose Kodiaks (25-17-6, 56 points, 4th AJHL South)
The Camrose Kodiaks will rest up on Friday, before playing both Calgary teams with the Canucks visiting on Saturday before travelling south to try and tame the Mustangs.
While the Kodiaks won’t look past the Canucks, the game against the Mustangs does have some serious implications regardless of how both teams’ first games of the weekend go. Heading into the action, the Mustangs and Kodiaks are tied for 4th in the AJHL South at 56 points, and both teams trail the Drumheller Dragons by just two points and lead the Canmore Eagles by the same margin.
This weekend, the Kodiaks have a great opportunity to take an axe to the standings logjam.
Canmore Eagles (24-19-5, 53 points, 6th AJHL South)
The Canmore Eagles closed out January with just one win in their last six games, and will look to start February off in the win column with a road trip up north.
On Friday, the Eagles will face the Bonnyville Pontiacs for the final time this season and the first time in over three months. The Eagles will be tasked with halting the Pontiacs five-game win streak. From Bonnyville, Canmore will travel to the Alberta border to play the Lloydminster Bobcats. As mentioned above, the Eagles are very much involved in the South’s logjam and even though they enter the weekend in sixth place, a strong showing can keep them in the conversation for as high as third place.
Drayton Valley Thunder (21-23-5, 47 points, 6th AJHL North)
The Drayton Valley Thunder will welcome the Edmonton Capital Region’s two teams, the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Spruce Grove Saints, to the Omniplex this weekend.
The Thunder went 6-5-1 in January and are within striking distance of the Grande Prairie Storm for fifth place. The Crusaders and Thunder have split the first four meetings of the season, with the Thunder winning once in regulation and once in overtime. The Thunder haven’t been as successful against the Saints, who have outlasted the Thunder in all four previous meetings this season – although Drayton Valley lost one of those games in overtime and another in the shootout.
Drumheller Dragons (27-17-4, 58 points, 3rd AJHL South)
With 58 points on the season, the Dragons sit third in the South and they currently hold the receiver in a crammed phone booth that also features the Mustangs, Eagles and Kodiaks. The Dragons stand to put some distance between themselves and the pack against the Canucks and Bandits this weekend. While the Dragons are undefeated against the ‘Nucks this season (3-0), they unquestionably face a tough task against the Bandits on Saturday. While the Dragons do count themselves as one of the three teams that have been able to solve Brooks this year, that was all the way back on opening night and they’ve since lost four straight to the Bandits.
Fort McMurray Oil Barons (23-17-8, 54 points, 4th AJHL North)
The Oil Barons enter their home stretch…at home! In a pair of home games over the weekend, the MOB will welcome Whitecourt and the Grande Prairie Storm to the Casman Centre.
The Oil Barons are 4-5-1 in their last 10, but they are coming off a big win on the road against Sherwood Park Crusaders. Against Whitecourt this season, Fort McMurray is a perfect 3-0 (with one win coming in the shootout) and the Oil Barons will hope to stay perfect as they try to string together consecutive wins since a three game streak from December 28th – 30th. By the way – that streak included a pair of wins against the Wolverines and another against the Storm.
Grande Prairie Storm (24-22-2, 50 points, 5th AJHL North)
Trailing the Oil Barons by just two wins for fourth place in the North, the Grande Prairie Storm will want to close the gap this weekend by picking up two wins in their games against the Crusaders and Oil Barons.
The Storm will have to do it on the road as they are in Sherwood Park Friday before the long trip up north to Fort McMurray, but the Storm have been very successful on the road this season, going 12-9-2, which is actually better than their home mark of 12-13-0.
Lloydminster Bobcats (9-37-1, 19 points, 8th AJHL North)
Sitting 21 points out of the playoffs is obviously not an enviable position for any team, but it’s a position the Bobcats find themselves in with 13 games left in their regular season.
The Bobcats will like to finish strong and their young roster will have plenty of opportunity to not only get valuable ice time, but showcase they will be part of the solution for Lloydminster going forward. Following a gutsy 5-3 win over Fort McMurray on January 18th, the Bobcats have dropped two straight. They’ll look correct the course at home this weekend against the Spruce Grove Saints and the Canmore Eagles.
Okotoks Oilers (33-14-1, 67 points, 2nd AJHL South)
The Okotoks Oilers shot themselves out of a cannon into 2019, and have reeled off ten straight wins to vault themselves firmly into second place of the South Division behind only the powerhouse Brooks Bandits.
The Oilers will look to keep the good times rolling and earn their 11th win in a row on Friday against the Mustangs, who they are playing for the second time in just five days, before facing the Olds Grizzlys on Saturday.
While the Oilers are on a noted team win streak, they also currently post the three top active point streaks in the AJHL as Ryan Grant has points in 7 straight, Dylan Holloway has been in the scoresheet over the last 16, and Quinn Olson has made his presence known in an incredible 18 straight contests.
Olds Grizzlys (5-40-3, 13 points, 8th AJHL South)
The Olds Grizzlys enter the last full month of the AJHL season a mere two points behind the Calgary Canucks for the last playoff spot – and they also have a game in hand.
That said, it doesn’t get much more difficult for the Grizzlys trying to make up that ground this weekend as they are scheduled to play the Brooks Bandits and Okotoks Oilers – the top two teams in the South. The Grizzlys are coming off a disappointing 7-0 loss to the Calgary Mustangs, though they trailed by just a goal before the Mustangs pulled away in the 3rd period.
Sherwood Park Crusaders (34-12-2, 70 points, 2nd AJHL North)
After a lengthy stay atop the North Division, the Sherwood Park Crusaders once again find themselves chasing down the Bonnyville Pontiacs after going 5-5 in their last ten games and recording two wins in their last six.
A contender to represent the North in the Inter Pipeline Cup Finals, the Crusaders will try and chisel into the Pontiacs’ three-point division lead with wins over the Grande Prairie Storm and Drayton Valley Thunder this weekend. The Crusaders have been very successful against both teams this season, racking up a combined record of 6-1-1.
Spruce Grove Saints (29-16-2, 60 points, 3rd AJHL North)
The defending AJHL Champion Spruce Grove Saints have had their season-high six game win streak snapped emphatically in the last week, falling to the Bonnyville Pontiacs 8-1 at home and then getting shutout by the Camrose Kodiaks 3-0 on Wednesday.
Given those uncharacteristic results, one would expect the Saints to bounce back strong this weekend on the road against the Bobcats and the Thunder. As mentioned, the Saints were playing their best hockey of the season prior to their current two game slide and will strive to return to that form against two divisional rivals.
Whitecourt Wolverines (19-28-2, 40 points, 7th AJHL North)
The Whitecourt Wolverines need only six points to clinch a playoff spot and they’ll be hoping to do it sooner rather than later after a stretch of four losses in their last five games.
The Wolverines will spend this weekend on the road, visiting the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on Friday before closing things out against the division leading Bonnyville Pontiacs on Saturday. The Wolverines have yet to win against either squad in seven combined tries this season, but like the Storm they’ve preferred to play on the road this season, where they’ve won three more times than the Scott Safety Centre and picked up 22 of their 40 points on the year.