AJHL Weekend Preview: February 15th-17th, 2019

Photo Credit – Game Ready Photography:

AJHL teams have just a handful of games left and there’s still plenty left to be decided as to who plays who in this year’s playoffs – or in the case of the South, who makes the playoffs. 

Bonnyville Pontiacs (39-10-4, 82 points, 1st AJHL North)

There’s just one game on the schedule this weekend for the Bonnyville Pontiacs as they look to pad their 1st-place lead in the North Division over the Sherwood Park Crusaders.  On Friday, the Pontiacs will make the trip up north to Fort McMurray where they will meet the Oil Barons for the fifth time this season.  Bonnyville is 2-1-1 against the MOB this season and head into the Casman Centre with a four game win streak and points in 11 straight games.  The last meetings between these two came in a weekend set in Bonnyville on January 19th and 20th.  Fort McMurray took the first game 4-3 in overtime while the Pontiacs responded with a 5-2 win in the rematch.

The Pontiacs have three nominees for the AJHL Awards this year: Luke Albert is up for the W.G. (Bill) Scott Memorial Trophy as Outstanding Defenceman; Colby Muise is nominated for the Friends of Alberta Junior Hockey League Trophy as Top Goaltender; and Rick Swan is up for Coach of the Year.

Brooks Bandits (50-3-0, 100 points, 1st AJHL South)

The Brooks Bandits are a wagon.  Heading into this weekend, the Bandits are still on a record-breaking win streak that now sits at 26 games.  The top ranked team in all of Junior A hockey, Brooks is easily a favourite regardless of who they face in the upcoming AJHL Playoffs.

That being said, the Bandits still have seven games left in their season and there’s no doubt they’ll want to build on the positive.  This weekend, the Bandits will play the Camrose Kodiaks on the road Friday before returning home on Saturday to host the Olds Grizzlys.

Given the outstanding success of their season, the Bandits have three awards nominees: William Lemay is a contender for the Alberta Old Time Hockey Players Trophy as League MVP; Pierce Charleson is up for Top Goaltender; and Ryan Papaioannou is a Coach of the Year candidate.

Calgary Canucks (9-43-1, 19 points, 7th AJHL South)

The Calgary Canucks have been in a playoff race with the Olds Grizzlys for the final playoff spot in the South Division ever since the Christmas break and appear to have pulled ahead at the right time of the season. 

The Canucks come into the stretch drive on a two game winning streak after picking up points over the Oil Barons and Bobcats last weekend.  This weekend, the Canucks look to cement their hold on the final post-season berth against the Drumheller Dragons on Friday and the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Saturday.  In Drumheller, the Canucks will look to solve the Dragons for the first time this season as they currently sit at 0-4 against their divisional rivals.

Calgary Mustangs (26-20-8, 60 points, 5th AJHL South)

The Calgary Mustangs are still in contention for one of the top four seeds in the South division, though they find themselves winless in their last four games.  However, the losses have been very tight affairs, including one-goal defeats to the Drumheller Dragons, Canmore Eagles and Spruce Grove Saints – with the Saints loss being a heart breaker in overtime on Valentine’s Day.

The Mustangs will be idle over the weekend, but face a stiff test on Family Day Monday when they visit the Brooks Bandits and their record-win streak.

Camrose Kodiaks (28-18-6, 62 points, 4th AJHL South)

In the crowded midsection of the AJHL South, the Camrose Kodiaks currently hold the upper-hand over the Canmore Eagles and Calgary Mustangs for 4th place and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.  Not only do they have the edge in points, they also have at least a game in hand on the two teams directly behind them.

The Kodiaks will continue their hunt for home-ice at home this weekend, hosting the Brooks Bandits and Olds Grizzlys.  While the Bandits are comfortably the best team in the league, Olds desperately need points to keep their playoff hopes alive so Sunday’s Kodiaks-Grizzlys matchup will be anything but a hibernation.

The Kodiaks have one nominee for an AJHL League Award this campaign: Zach Vinnell for Outstanding Defenceman. 

Canmore Eagles (27-21-5, 59 points, 6th AJHL South)

The Canmore Eagles have an opportunity to gain ground on the Kodiaks this weekend and end a two game slide after back-to-back 7-3 setbacks against the Dragons and Oilers.  Prior to the losses, the Eagles had won three in a row and picked up points in four of five games.

The Eagles will host the Sherwood Park Crusaders on Friday in what could be a high-scoring affair (the Crusaders took the only other meeting this year 6-5) before they travel to Okotoks to avenge that aforementioned 7-3 loss on Tuesday.

Two Eagles are up for AJHL League Awards: Mark Drohan for Outstanding Defenceman; while Alex Young is nominated for the Don McNabb Memorial Trophy awarded to the Most Dedicated Player.

Drayton Valley Thunder (21-26-6, 48 points, 6th AJHL North)

The Drayton Valley Thunder are looking to finish their regular season strong as they head back to the playoffs after missing out last season.  They’ll likely want to head into the Spring schedule with some positive talking points and that could start with snapping a five game skid this weekend.

The Thunder will certainly have a shot at doing just that, as their weekend consists of games against the two teams below them in the North Division in the Wolverines and the Bobcats, on Friday and Saturday respectively. 

While the Thunder’s turnaround has been a strong team effort, two members have been nominated for AJHL League Awards: Luke Lush is up for both Top Goaltender and Most Valuable Player; and Eric Thurston is a Coach of the Year nominee.

Drumheller Dragons (31-18-4, 66 points, 3rd AJHL South)

The Drumheller Dragons are on a roll, picking up wins in three straight games and they’re staying in stride with the Okotoks Oilers for 2nd in the South while keeping the Kodiaks, Eagles and Mustangs in their wake. 

The Dragons play just a single game this weekend, hosting the Calgary Canucks on Friday night.  The Dragons have yet to lose to the Canucks this season, outscoring them 22-8 over the course of four wins. 

Two members of the Dragons organization also have a shot at bringing some hardware to Drumheller this year: Roc Truman is a contender for the Dick White Trophy as Rookie of the Year; while Kevin Hasselberg rounds out the Coach of the Year nominations.

Fort McMurray Oil Barons (26-19-8, 60 points, 4th AJHL North)

The Oil Barons have won four of their last six games and currently have a three-point edge over the Grande Prairie Storm for 4th in the North Division. 

This weekend, the Oil Barons take the ice for just a single game as they host the division leading Bonnyville Pontiacs at the Casman Centre on Friday night.  The Oil Barons and Pontiacs have combined for some very good hockey this season, with the pair splitting the first four games of the season. 

Two Oil Barons are being recognized as nominees for AJHL League Awards this season:  Reed Morrison is an MVP candidate; Taner Miller is looking to bring home Most Dedicated Player.

Grande Prairie Storm (27-24-3, 57 points, 5th AJHL North)

The Grande Prairie Storm have a key Saturday meeting in Whitecourt against the Wolverines on Saturday. 

The Storm have been on the rise after back to back losses opened up their February, as they’ve earned victories in three of their last four and piled up 16 goals in those wins while allowing only 6 into their own net.  Against the Wolverines this season, Grande Prairie is 4-1 with a +16 goal differential.

In terms of player hardware, one Storm player is an AJHL Awards nominee this season: Connor Blake is one of four players vying for Most Dedicated Player.

Lloydminster Bobcats (9-42-2, 20 points, 8th AJHL North)

A disappointing season in Lloydminster has the Bobcats playing out their last 7 games with much of the emphasis being on growth for the next season, as they are mathematically eliminated from this year’s playoffs.

Entering the Family Day Weekend on an 8-game slump, the ‘Cats will look for positives on Saturday in Drayton Valley against the Thunder.  A pair of the Bobcats wins this season were earned against the Thunder and with Drayton Valley, also on an extended losing streak (5 games), one team will wake up with some pep in their step on Sunday morning. 

Okotoks Oilers (36-16-1, 73 points, 2nd AJHL South)

After their 12 game win streak ended in back-to-back losses against the Brooks Bandits and Drumheller Dragons, the Okotoks Oilers got back in the win column with a big 7-3 win in Canmore on Tuesday night.

The Oilers will take the ice on Friday for a rematch of last year’s thrilling AJHL Final, as the Spruce Grove Saints visit the Pason Centennial Arena for the three-game season series’ rubber match.  On Saturday, Okotoks is right back into the thick of it at home as they face the Canmore Eagles for the second time in less than a week.

After another strong year, there’s an Oilers contingent garnering awards consideration: Dylan Holloway is an MVP nominee; Brady Parker is up for Rookie of the Year and Top Goaltender; and Kyle Gordon is a Most Dedicate Player candidate.

Olds Grizzlys (6-45-3, 15 points, 8th AJHL South)

Facing a four point deficit and one less game on their schedule than the Calgary Canucks for the last playoff spot, the work is more than cut out for the Olds Grizzlys as they look to get some much needed points over the long weekend to avoid a long off-season. 

It doesn’t get any easier for the Grizzlys, either as they’re tasked with ending Brooks’ record 26-game win streak on Friday night.  On Sunday, the Grizzlys lumber to Camrose to bear down with the Kodiaks.

Sherwood Park Crusaders (37-13-3, 76 points, 2nd AJHL North)

The Crusaders currently trail the Bonnyville Pontiacs by six points for 1st in the North Division and the first round playoff bye that comes with it, but they do have a game in hand.  While they’ll likely need some help to reclaim the top spot, they can put themselves in a good position to do so by taking care of their remaining schedule.

This weekend, the Crusaders will swing through the South division by visiting the Canmore Eagles and the Calgary Canucks on Friday and Saturday.  A victory against either team will mean a season series sweep for the Cru. 

There’s been numerous strong performances put forward by Sherwood Park this season, and there’s one that’s up for league recognition: Carter Savoie is a nominee for Rookie of the Year.

Spruce Grove Saints (33-16-3, 69 points, 3rd AJHL North)

The Spruce Grove Saints trail the Sherwood Park Crusaders by just 7 points with both teams having eight games left on their respective schedules, but the Saints are playing better of late.  At 7-2-1 in their last 10, the Saints were able to hold off a comeback bid from the Calgary Mustangs on Valentine’s Day and take a 3-2 overtime decision into the long weekend.

Staying on the road, the Saints will visit the site of their victory celebration in last year’s AJHL Final in Okotoks against the Oilers on Friday and then will head back to Spruce Grove for a Family Day tilt with the Bobcats.

The Saints also have a pair of players nominated for some individual hardware: TJ Lloyd is up for Outstanding Defenceman; he’s joined by goaltender Matt Davis, who’s got a Rookie of the Year nod. 

Whitecourt Wolverines (19-32-2, 40 points, 7th AJHL North)

Even though the Drayton Valley Thunder have stalled in the standings, the Wolverines have been unable to gain much ground as they have also dropped their last five games.

Whitecourt will look to bust of their slump in a big way when they take on that very same Thunder team at home on Friday night.  As it’s the last meeting of the year between the two North Rivals, the result could very well secure who will finish 6th in the North.  Whitecourt will stay at home for Saturday, hosting the Grande Prairie Storm.

Family Day – February 18th 2019

On Family Day this year, 14 of the league’s 16 teams will be taking to the ice in a series of matinee games:

  • Bonnyville Pontiacs at Fort McMurray Oil Barons
  • Calgary Canucks at Drumheller Dragons
  • Lloydminster Bobcats at Spruce Grove Saints
  • Drayton Valley Thunder at Grande Prairie Storm
  • Camrose Kodiaks at Sherwood Park Crusaders
  • Okotoks Oilers at Canmore Eagles
  • Calgary Mustangs at Brooks Bandits

There’s plenty on the line across all seven games, including the back-end of several back-to-backs from earlier in the weekend.

@Tom Strangward