AJHL Weekend Preview: February 17th-19th

With less than a month left in the season, some tight playoff races are peaking. Let's start with the battle for the number one spot in the North as three teams are attempting to win the Viterra North Division. Following their 5-2 win over Whitecourt, the Oil Barons open up a three point lead heading into the weekend. The Oil Barons will host Olds on Saturday and then will welcome Sherwood Park on Monday afternoon. Whitecourt will play just once on the long weekend, and that will be Monday as they host Lloydminster. Spruce Grove has an outside chance of winning the north and may be more concentrated on clinching home ice advantage in the first round and finishing third overall. The Saints start the weekend hosting the Mustangs on Friday before welcoming the Canucks on Saturday to finish off their weekend.

Second place in the Viterra South Division continues to be a heated battle between four teams that are separated by seven points. The Calgary Canucks lead the way with 70 points but have just the slimest of leads over the Okotoks Oilers. Calgary will be on the road for three games this long weekend, and it will all start on Friday in Drayton Valley before staying around the Edmonton area to take on Spruce Grove on Saturday. The Canucks will then be in Canmore on Monday to finish off their three game set. For the Eagles, the rest of their weekend has them in Drumheller on Friday before hosting those same Dragons on Saturday. Okotoks will be sticking close to home with a pair of games this weekend that can help them solidify their current spot but will also be looking to move up. Friday the Oilers will host Brooks before taking on Camrose on Saturday. Speaking of the Kodiaks, they will start the weekend on Friday in Sherwood Park before concluding with their matchup against Okotoks on Saturday.

The Drumheller Dragons need six points (3 wins) or three losses by the Olds Grizzlys. The Dragons will start with a home and home against Canmore before wrapping up the holiday weekend in Brooks on Monday afternoon. As for the Olds Grizzlys, they will travel north for games in Bonnyville (Friday) and Fort McMurray (Saturday) as they try to stay close to the Dragons. It is also a busy weekend for the Calgary Mustangs who have nothing but pride left to play for after being eliminated from the playoffs for a second straight season last weekend. Calgary will be in Spruce Grove on Friday, then will be in Brooks on Saturday before finishing up the weekend in Drayton Valley on Monday afternoon. Brooks has already wrapped up another South Division crown and are looking for another regular season title. The Bandits need four wins (8 points) or four Fort McMurray losses. The Bandits start with a road game in Okotoks on Friday before returning home for a pair of games to finish the long weekend. Saturday the Bandits host the Mustangs while Monday they welcome the Dragons.

Taking another look at the battles in the North, Bonnyville is close to Spruce Grove for third, but it may be the best they can hope for even though there is an outside chance at catching the top ranked teams. The Pontiacs host Olds on Friday and then will finish off the weekend by taking on Sherwood Park on Sunday. Sherwood Park is going to need a big weekend, or they will be pretty much locked into the five spot in the North. The Crusaders will host Camrose on Friday then set out on the road to Bonnyville on Sunday before continuing their road trip in Fort McMurray Monday afternoon.

The second closest race in the North is the battle for the last two playoff spots in the North as three teams are separated by three points. Fresh off their huge win over Grande Prairie, the Thunder will welcome the Calgary Canucks on Friday and will finish off the long weekend on Monday when they take on the Calgary Mustangs. Grande Prairie continues their road trip on Friday and Saturday in Lloydminster. As for the Bobcats following their two games with Grande Prairie, they will travel to Whitecourt to finish off the long weekend on Monday. Lloydminster is just one point back of Grande Prairie for the final playoff spot and is just three points behind Drayton Valley, which makes this weekend a huge one for all three teams and could go a long way to determining the final two playoff teams in the north.

Story by Chris Colwell @Cjcolwell