AJHL Weekend Preview: February 22nd-25th

Photo – Target Photography:

With most teams having around a half-dozen games left in the 2017/2018 AJHL Regular Season, there’s more than just playoff spots and home ice advantage at stake – there’s history. 

When it comes to team success, the Okotoks Oilers (47-6-2) will already be added to the AJHL record books, but have a chance to set new benchmarks.  The Oilers play a pair of games this weekend, hosting the Olds Grizzlys (16-35-4) on Friday and visiting the Camrose Kodiaks (22-21-12) on Saturday.  The Oilers enter the weekend on a 19-game winning streak, which is already good for the third best winning streak in the league’s record books.  Should they win their 20th in a row on Friday, the Oilers will tie the 2012 Brooks Bandits and the 1987 St. Albert Saints for second all-time and with five games left on their schedule, the all-time win streak record of 21 games (set by the 1987-88 Calgary Canucks) can be tied and possibly broken.  The Oilers don’t have enough games left to tie the all-time record for wins in a season (53; 2012-13 Brooks Bandits) but if they win out they can tie the 2009-10 Saints and 1999-00 Fort McMurray Oil Barons for second all-time with 52.  With just six regulation losses, this year’s Oilers also boast the third fewest losses in a season should the number not climb.

When it comes to significant individual success, the Spruce Grove Saints (43-9-3) could be able to claim the first 50-goal scorer in the AJHL in over a decade.  Forward Chris Van Os-Shaw and the Saints also have five games remaining on their schedule and Van Os-Shaw needs just three more goals to be the first player to score 50 in a season since current Edmonton Oiler Mark Letestu did it with the Bonnyville Pontiacs in 2005-06.  Van Os-Shaw also happens to be on his hottest streak of the season, currently riding recording a point in 15 straight contests (with 33 points in those games) and goals in three straight (and 12 of his last 15 contests).  The Saints do have a tough stretch to end their campaign, including a rowdy rip through the south this weekend to take on the Drumheller Dragons (29-22-5) tomorrow and the Brooks Bandits (42-12-1) on Saturday that will surely test their resolve. The Saints need four points to clinch the division while the Dragons have beat the Saints in two prior meetings this season, with the contests both coming in the week of the early-season AJHL Showcase.  The Dragons and Bandits will trade off North Division opponents this weekend, with the Drayton Valley Thunder (16-36-3) bringing a four-game win streak on the road.  The Thunder are clinging to their playoff lives and will likely need help to make it out of the basement of the North, while the Dragons and Bandits are both relatively established as the third and second seeded teams of the South, respectively. 

While both the North and South Divisions have their top two seeds set, the race for home ice advantage is very close in both.  In the North, the 4th place Grande Prairie Storm (25-26-3), 5th place Sherwood Park Crusaders (24-29-2) and 6th place Lloydminster Bobcats (22-30-3) are separated by only six points…and all of the Bobcats’ remaining games are against both of those teams.  This weekend, the Bobcats visit the Crusaders in Sherwood Park tomorrow and then return home to host the Storm on Sunday afternoon.  Obviously, the points are huge for both teams and should be hotly contested matchups.  The Crusaders have one other game on the weekend, when they welcome the Calgary Canucks (26-29-1) for an interdivisional matchup with the potential to impact both divisional races.  Meanwhile, the Storm are one of the busiest teams of the weekend, with three games on the docket.  Before visiting the Bobcats to close out the weekend, the Storm host the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (39-12-4) who still have an outside shot at capturing first in the north with some help from opponents of the Saints.  The Storm will then ride the bus to Bonnyville to play the Pontiacs (17-32-8) who need four points in their last six games to mathematically eliminate the Thunder and secure the last playoff spot. 

Like the Storm, the Oil Barons also have three games ahead of them over the next few days, all of them on the road.  After tonight’s tilt against the Storm, the MOB will begin a mini-playoff series against the Whitecourt Wolverines (32-18-6).  The Wolverines and Oil Barons will play their last four games of the season against each other, and this weekend the site of the first two games will be the Scott Safety Centre.  The Oil Barons are seven points back of the Saints for first and the Wolverines don’t have the games to catch either team, but also can’t be caught by any other North squad, securing their third-place finish.  The Wolverines will have the ability to play spoiler and end Fort McMurray’s bid to repeat as the kings of the north. 

In the South, there’s another log jam from 4th place to 6th place with the Camrose Kodiaks, Calgary Canucks and Calgary Mustangs (23-27-6) separated by a measly four points.  The Kodiaks even have a shot to leap over the Dragons for the third divisional slot.  The Kodiaks and Mustangs have an opportunity to force the issue tomorrow night in Camrose, with the game representing the only match of the weekend for the Mustangs.  The Kodiaks will also host Okotoks while the Canucks take on the Canmore Eagles (20-34-2) on Friday and the Crusaders Saturday.  The Eagles hold the last playoff spot in the South, with an eight-point edge over the Olds Grizzlys.  The Grizzlys likely need to win out to make the post-season, but have a crucial Saturday night home game against Canmore after their visit to Okotoks on Friday.
-Tom Strangward @TheOneNDTom