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We are down to the final few weeks of what has already been an exciting regular season. On this Family Day long weekend, AJHL fans should be gifted with another great weekend of action with 19 games on the card. With the majority of teams still having so much to play for, we should expect to see plenty of highly competitive games throughout the weekend.
In the North, Spruce Grove and Fort McMurray are separated by only four points at the top. The two northern heavyweights collide in a possible division-deciding game on Monday afternoon at the Casman Centre. Before this contest, both the Saints and Oil Barons have other opponents to take care of. On Thursday, Fort McMurray will be looking for revenge when they take on the Drayton Valley Thunder at the Casman. The Thunder defeated the Oil Barons 4-3 on Wednesday night for the first time since last season. As for the Saints, they’ll be welcoming the red-hot Lloydminster Bobcats to the Grant Fuhr Arena for the final time this regular season.
The Bobcats find themselves in a tight race of their own with, the Grande Prairie Storm, and the Sherwood Park Crusaders who all battling it out for fourth place in the North. Right now, the Storm currently hold sole possession of the spot with a five-point cushion over the Crusaders and Bobcats. This weekend, Grande Prairie faceoffs against a couple of tough opponents in the Brooks Bandits and Whitecourt Wolverines. Whitecourt, who currently sit in third with a 17-point gap between themselves and the Storm, will also take on the Bandits. To start of their trio of games, though, Lloydminster will be in town. The Bobcats have been in top form lately and have gone 7-3-0 over their last 10 games. However, they’ve struggled greatly at the Scott Safety Centre this season. In their past two visits to Whitecourt, Lloydminster has been unable get anything by Xavier Potvin in the Wolverines goal and have conceded 11 goals in the meantime. With that being said, in their most recent clash, last Saturday at the Centennial Civic Centre Arena, they defeated the defending North Division champs 5-3 with Kobe Walker grabbing his second four-point game of the season. Following this game, Lloydminster will take on the Kodiaks at home. Back when the two teams met in November, Camrose came out 2-1 winners in overtime after Brock Bremner’s goal secured the win for the Kodiaks with one second left on the clock.
The final team in the hunt for fourth, the Sherwood Park Crusaders have been ice cold. The Cru are currently riding an eight-game losing streak and are averaging just under six goals against in the month of February. This weekend, they’ll be looking to get back on track with two games against their bitter rivals: the Bonnyville Pontiacs. First, Sherwood Park will travel to the RJ Lalonde Arena before the Pontiacs make a trip to the Sherwood Park Arena on Monday. Bonnyville currently sits in seventh in the north, however, a couple of victories over the Crusaders would drag them right back into that fourth place race.
Moving over to the South Division, as previously mentioned, the Brooks Bandits will be on the road this weekend against two North Division opponents in the Grande Prairie Storm and Whitecourt Wolverines. They will return home on Family Day for a clash against the Drumheller Dragons.
Drumheller will also play against the Calgary Canucks and Canmore Eagles. First up will be the Canucks at the Drumheller Memorial Arena on Friday. The Dragons have handled the Canucks fairly well this season and have the head-to-head matchup over them with a 3-1-0 record. These two most recently met back on February 6th when Drumheller dominated Calgary in their own barn 9-1. On the flip side, the Canucks are in tight race for the fourth spot in the South Division. A win for them would not only help them stay in fourth but also pull them within four points of Drumheller in third. Calgary will have another tough test on Monday when they play the Okotoks Oilers at the Pason Centennial Centre. The Dragons second opponents, the Canmore Eagles, are on a major slide. The Eagles sit in the seventh spot in the south with only four points separating them and the Olds Grizzlys in eighth. They’ll want to get back on track this weekend with three home games on the schedule: Camrose (Friday), Drumheller (Saturday), and Calgary Mustangs (Sunday).
Going back to the race for fourth, the Calgary Canucks are being closely challenged by the Camrose Kodiaks and the Calgary Mustangs for that final first-round home ice advantage slot. As mentioned, the Kodiaks travel south to play the Eagles and then back across the province to Lloydminster for a Monday afternoon game. Before either of those games, Camrose will have a huge game versus the Calgary Mustangs on Thursday night. Only three points separate the two of them in the standings, so this game could have big implications on the playoff seedings. The Kodiaks are yet to beat the Mustangs in their four matchups this campaign, however, the games have been highly competitive with two going to overtime and a shootout, and one ending in a 2-1 win for the Stangs. Following this game, Calgary continues their weekend of games with a trip to Okotoks who they are yet to take points away from. To wrap up the weekend they’ll face the Eagles on Monday in Canmore.
Down at the bottom of the South, Olds only has one game this long weekend. This will be a massive game for the Grizz who will want to keep their playoff dreams alive, however, they could not be facing a more inform team with the Okotoks Oilers coming to town. With that being said, the Grizzlys are one of the few teams to take away two points from the Oilers this season. That victory game back on November 11th when they beat them 3-2 in a shootout at home. Jared Power was the hero that night.
To wrap it all up, Okotoks welcomes both Calgary teams to the Pason Centennial Centre, following their game in Olds, and will be looking to extend their 16 game winning streak.
– Liam Horrobin @LiamHorrobin