AJHL Weekend Preview: January 10th-12th

We?ve reached deadline day around the junior hockey world, which means this past week has been a crazy one for General Managers and Coaches.

The AJHL has already seen it?s fair share of moves with teams at the top bolstering their rosters for deep playoffs runs, and the teams towards the bottom retooling for the future.

This weekend, fans around Alberta will be treated to some more great AJHL hockey with many superb matchups on the schedule.  We?ll see a repeat of the 2017 AJHL Final when Spruce Grove travels to Okotoks. The battle for third in the South Division takes place at the Encana Arena between Camrose and Drumheller, and a new look Grande Prairie goes up against Drayton Valley in the fight for home-ice advantage in the North Division.

Bonnyville Pontiacs: 27-11-2 (3rd in the North Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday vs Sherwood Park Crusaders, Sunday @ Spruce Grove Saints

The Bonnyville Pontiacs have a challenging weekend ahead with the two teams above them in the North Division – Sherwood Park Crusaders and Spruce Grove Saints – on the schedule. Bonnyville fought back from 3-0 to defeat the Crusaders 5-4 the last time the two met at the RJ Lalonde Arena; however, the same could not be said when they faced the Saints. The Saints downed the Pontiacs 7-2 at the Grant Fuhr Arena back in October. Much has changed for both teams meaning Sunday?s matchup could be completely different.

Brooks Bandits: 36-3-1 (1st in the South Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday vs Olds Grizzlys, Saturday vs Calgary Canucks.

The Brooks Bandits were stunned last weekend falling in back-to-back games for the first time since 2017. Not an ideal way to begin 2020, however, they were missing three key forwards – Randy Hernandez, Jakob Lee, and Marc-Antoine Benoit – in their 6-5 loss to the Camrose Kodiaks. They?ll look to get back on track on home ice this weekend when they go up against the Olds Grizzlys and Calgary Canucks. Those matchups will be their last against the Grizzlys and Canucks this regular season.

Calgary Canucks: 5-34-2 (7th in the South Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday vs Lloydminster Bobcats, Saturday @ Brooks Bandits

Despite three losses on the road, the Calgary Canucks should take away plenty of positives from their games against the Spruce Grove Saints and the Sherwood Park Crusaders. The last-placed Canucks came close to defeating the Saints but eventually had to settle with a point after Seth Fyten won the game in overtime for Spruce Grove. The next day, they fell 4-2 to the Crusaders but battled extremely hard and forced Sherwood Park to earn their win. This weekend they?ll hope to take some momentum from those games as they take on the Lloydminster Bobcats and Brooks Bandits.

Camrose Kodiaks: 20-17-3 (7th in the South Division)

Weekend Schedule: Saturday vs Drumheller Dragons

It?s been an interesting week or so for the Kodiaks. Camrose had a massive character win last Saturday fighting back from 5-3 with a three-goal third period to beat the Brooks Bandits 6-5. However, they weren?t able to follow up that impressive performance on Tuesday night losing 8-1 to the Okotoks Oilers at the Encana Arena. The Kodiaks will look to repay their home fans on Saturday night against the Drumheller Dragons. A win for Camrose would leave them tied with Drumheller for third in the division.

Canmore Eagles: 14-23-4 (5th in the South Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday vs Fort McMurray Oil Barons, Saturday vs Lloydminster Bobcats

The Eagles said goodbye to a pair of 19-year olds earlier this week sending Max Giangualano and Carter Coles to the Grande Prairie Storm. In return, GM Andrew Milne brought in a big centreman in Lukas Jirousek (?00) and second-year defenceman Zac Cunningham (?01). Their first challenge as members of the Eagles organization comes on home ice against the Fort McMurray Oil Barons. The Eagles and Barons faced off just last weekend at the Casman Centre which finished in a 4-1 win for Canmore. They follow up the Friday night affair against the Lloydminster Bobcats the next night. 

Drayton Valley Thunder: 15-19-2 (5th in the North Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday vs Grande Prairie Storm, Saturday vs Grande Prairie Storm.

Drayton Valley welcomed in a new netminder to begin the week. Jackson Berry (?02) joined the organization from the Moose Jaw Warriors after playing five games in the Western Hockey League. Coming up this weekend, the Thunder have a pair of games against the Grande Prairie Storm as they look to end a two-game losing streak. They?ve actually only faced the Storm once this season and that was way back on October 9th. Grande Prairie came away with two points on that occasion after a 3-1 win at Revolution Arena.

Drumheller Dragons: 21-15-3 (3rd in the South Division)

Weekend Schedule: Saturday @ Camrose Kodiaks, Sunday vs Fort McMurray Oil Barons

Kevin Hasselberg decided to make a change between the pipes bringing AJHL veteran Chris Curr (?99) from the Fort McMurray Oil Barons while saying goodbye to Colin Ahern (?99). It won?t be long before Curr is reunited with his former Oil Barons teammates as they visit the Drumheller Memorial Arena on Sunday afternoon. However, before that contest, they?ve got a huge matchup against the Camrose Kodiaks on the road. The two teams are neck and neck in the race for third in the division. A win for either team could go a long way.

Fort McMurray Oil Barons: 15-24-2 (7th in the North Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday @ Canmore Eagles, Saturday @ Okotoks Oilers, Sunday @ Drumheller Dragons

The Oil Barons have a long weekend road trip ahead of them as they head South for a trio of games. They recently went up against the Canmore Eagles, who are their Friday opponent, but came up short 4-1 at the Casman Centre. The Oil Barons aren?t familiar with Okotoks and Drumheller this season, however, as it is their first matchup against both of them. One thing they?re familiar with on the Dragons is Chris Curr. The Oil Barons traded Curr to the Dragons earlier this weekend in exchange for future considerations.

Grande Prairie Storm: 16-18-3 (6th in the North Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday @ Drayton Valley Thunder, Saturday @ Drayton Valley Thunder, Sunday @ Sherwood Park Crusaders

Grande Prairie went out and did some shopping this week and came home with some great deals. First, they brought in Max Giangualano and Carter Coles from the Canmore Eagles, and then Jack Zayat signed from the Western League. Their first weekend in Storm colours will be a busy one with three games on the schedule. They?ll be in Drayton Valley for a couple of nights to face the Thunder who they?ve only seen once this season. Then on Sunday, they?ll have a big task ahead of them as they travel to the Sherwood Park Arena to face the Crusaders.

Lloydminster Bobcats: 6-29-3 (8th in the North Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday @ Calgary Canucks, Saturday @ Canmore Eagles, Sunday @ Olds Grizzlys

Lloydminster has only been in action once in 2020. That game was against the Camrose Kodiaks, which the Bobcats just narrowly lost after a late third-period collapse. The hope from Coach Nigel Dube and his team is that they can build some momentum from that loss. The Bobcats will have a busy weekend as they go up against the bottom three teams in the South Division. A positive weekend for the weekend could help turn their season around and help them finish the year strong.

Okotoks Oilers: 30-6-3 (2nd in the South Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday vs Spruce Grove Saints, Saturday vs Fort McMurray Oil Barons

There will be a repeat of the 2017 AJHL Finals at the Pason Centennial Arena on Friday night when the Spruce Grove Saints come into town. Okotoks is going to be looking to redeem themselves from the last time they played Spruce Grove back on December 12th. The Oilers fell 7-4 to the Saints on the road and found themselves down 5-1 after 20 minutes. Following their game against the Saints, they?ll go up against the Oil Barons.

Olds Grizzlys: 8-26-5 (6th in the South Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday @ Brooks Bandits, Sunday vs Lloydminster Bobcats

The Grizzlys made a single move, which came last Friday by moving defenceman Andrew Hunt (?01) to the SJHL. Other than that, it has been a quiet week for the Grizzlys. The team heads down the Brooks to face off against the Bandits. Olds will be looking to turn their fortunes around in their final game against Brooks, who they are 0-5 against this season. On Sunday, they then return home for a matchup against the Lloydminster Bobcats.

Sherwood Park Crusaders: 35-4-0 (1st in the North Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday @ Bonnyville Pontiacs, Sunday vs Grande Prairie Storm

Sherwood Park saw their ten-game win streak come to an end on Wednesday night falling 3-1 to Whitecourt at the Sherwood Park Arena. Arjun Atwal got the lone goal for the Crusaders as he now leads the AJHL with a remarkable 77 points in 37 games. Sherwood Park will look to get back on track this weekend, but they?re up against some stiff competition. First, they?ll make the trip to the RJ Lalonde Arena to challenge the Pontiacs. In their last visit, the Crusaders dropped a 3-0 lead and lost 5-4, however, right before the Christmas break they did hand Bonnyville a 6-3 loss at home. Then on Sunday, Sherwood Park is back on home ice as they host the Grande Prairie Storm.

Spruce Grove Saints: 30-10-0 (2nd in the North Division)

Weekend Schedule: Friday @ Okotoks Oilers, Sunday vs Bonnyville Pontiacs

Spruce Grove has started their 2020 calendar with three wins in a row with their most recent coming on Tuesday night against the Drayton Valley Thunder. That contest went all the way to a shootout, but Matthew Davis stood tall stopping the Thunder shooters to earn a 2-1 win. They?ll have a couple of tough games this weekend as they travel to Okotoks on Friday and then return home on Sunday to face Bonnyville. The Saints will also welcomed Olson Werenka to their lineup after acquiring him from the BCHL yesterday.

Whitecourt Wolverines: 19-15-4 (4th in the North Division)

Weekend Schedule:

The Wolverines put together an almost perfect road performance on Wednesday night, knocking off the Sherwood Park Crusaders 3-1 in their barn. Ryan Wallz, Ben Wood, and Bryce Ospechuk got goals for Whitecourt to earn that win, and between the pipes Vincent Duplessis had another excellent performance making 34 saves against the best offensive team in the north. This weekend, the Wolverines will get a chance to rest with no games on the schedule.