AJHL Weekend Preview – February 13-15, 2015

With only a handful a games left in the 2014-15 Alberta Junior Hockey League regular season, all 16 teams are putting their best foot forward in order to land themselves the best draft position possible.

Ten of the 14 available playoff spots have been decided and three more are up for grabs, making for an exciting conclusion to the season.

The Drayton Valley Thunder (19-22-11) are one team able to secure their post-season berth this weekend, facing the Sherwood Park Crusaders (25-22-7) Friday on the road before hosting the Grande Prairie Storm (15-33-4) Saturday at home.

Already an impressive 4-0-1 in the month of February, the Thunder are striking at the right moment, moving into sixth in the Viterra AJHL North Division.

The Cru won an intense 6-5 game in overtime against the Thunder Feb. 4 and will be game three of six in their long homestand. Sitting fifth in the North, they’ll have to be road warriors at the end of the season in order to improve their positioning, playing three of their final four games on the road.

Their Sunday opponent, the Grande Prairie Storm, will be playing their third game in three days, facing the Whitecourt Wolverines (21-25-6) Friday and the aforementioned Thunder.

Losing their past two games at home by a combined score of 19-2, playing four of their next five on the road may be a welcomed break for the Storm, who are well back of the Wolverines for the last playoff spot in the North division.

The Wolverines went an impressive 8-2-1 in January, winning seven of those games in regulation, but have yet to win a game in regulation in February. While their record has improved greatly since the beginning of the year, the Wolverines have since slipped back to seventh in the North Division.

The Wolverines’ Saturday night opponents, the Lloydminster Bobcats (28-18-8), have fended off all challengers so far for second place in the North Division. Import forward Patrick Geary has played a solid role in recent games for the Bobcats, scoring four goals and recording seven points in his last four games.

Before the Bobcats get to Whitecourt, they’ll have to go through the division-leading Spruce Grove Saints (44-6-4) Friday in the final regular season meeting between the two teams this season.. Miraculously, the Saints lost Wednesday for the first time since Dec. 12, falling by a 3-2 score in the shootout to the Thunder.

While the Saints no longer have their winning streak, they have already handily wrapped up the North Division and will play four of their final five games at home — a winning combination for the team that has everything.

For the second time in 2015, the Bonnyville Pontiacs (25-19-10) and Fort McMurray Oil Barons (27-20-5) will play host to a pair of traveling South Division opponents.

Friday night, the Brooks Bandits (38-13-2) come to the Casman Centre to face the MOB, having lost the only other meeting this season between the two clubs.

Once challengers for second place in the AJHL North Division, the MOB are fighting with the Pontiacs for control of third place at the moment, help by the Pontiacs who hold a one-point edge on the MOB who have two games in hand.

Saturday, the Calgary Canucks (16-30-6) make their annual trip north to Fort McMurray, looking to set everything right in the playoff race at the bottom of the South Division, where they sit tied with the Calgary Mustangs (17-32-4) for the final playoff spot.

Playing three games in less than two days, the Canucks will be tested on the road, where they are just 4-17-3 this year.

When the Bandits and Canucks make their way through Bonnyville on Saturday and Sunday respectively, they’ll face a Pontiacs team that has yet to lose a game in regulation since Jan. 21, going 5-0-4 in that span.

That nine-game stretch has the Pontiacs shooting up the standings into third place in the AJHL North Division by a single point, a monumental victory for the club that spent the majority of the year in the bottom half of the division.

On the South Division side of the equation, the Mustangs are making their charge for the playoffs, winning three in a row, going 5-1-1 in their past seven games and sitting even with their cross-town rival Canucks at 38 points.

They’ll travel to face the Olds Grizzlys (22-23-8) Friday before tackling the Canmore Eagles (23-28-2) Saturday.

Sitting at the top of the South, the Camrose Kodiaks (42-8-3) only matchup of the weekend will come against the third place Okotoks Oilers (33-14-5) in Okotoks Friday.

It just seems like a matter of time until the Kodiaks clinch the South Division, sitting nine points clear of the second place Bandits with only seven games remaining.

The Oilers, who will also take on the Drumheller Dragons (28-18-7) Saturday, have won five in a row and outscored their opponents 23-8 since dropping a 7-0 result to the Pontiacs in late January.

Before the Dragons do battle with the Oilers, they’ll host the Eagles Friday. Fourth place seems to be a lock for the Dragons, who sit eight points behind the third place Oilers and 11 points ahead of the fifth place Grizzlys.

The Eagles won’t be able to secure home-ice advantage by the end of the regular season, but they do have a chance to avoid facing the Bandits or Oilers in the first round, sitting four points back of the Grizzlys in the South Division standings.

On the Grizzly’s side of things, their lone game against the Mustangs Friday evening at home will serve as an opportunity for the club to get back on the winning side of things. The Grizz only have four wins — three of them in regulation — in 2015.

Robert Murray