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We’re now on the straightaway path to the post-season with teams having only 20 games left in the regular season. There are plenty of storylines yet to play out across the league with teams battling for a first-round bye, first round home ice advantage, and final divisional playoff spots. Also, with the January 10th, CJHL trade deadline now passed there will be plenty of new faces in different coloured uniforms this weekend.
The Brooks Bandits look to remain perfect at home on Friday night when the Camrose Kodiaks roll into town. The Bandits are currently riding a 13 game win streak while the Kodiaks are coming off a disappointing 5-2 loss over the Calgary Mustangs at home on Tuesday evening. The two southern opponents have only met twice this season with Brooks taking all the points with a 7-3 victory in September, and a 5-4 win in October. The October matchup was a highly competitive contest with the Kodiaks fighting back from 4-1 to tie the game up at 4-4 with five minutes to go. However, a Tyler Campbell goal just 17 seconds after the Kodiaks levelled it up ending all hopes of a comeback victory for Camrose.
Staying in the South Division, the in-form Okotoks Oilers look to stay on track with the Olds Grizzlys visiting the Pason Centennial Arena for the final time. Dylan Holloway has been phenomenal since returning from the World Junior A Challenge with Team Canada West. Since returning, he’s scored a point in each game totalling to 14 points in a six-game span. As for the Grizzlys, they are still seeking their first win of 2019 and the first since December 11th when they beat the Drumheller Dragons 4-3 in overtime. Lukas Jirousek scored the overtime winner in that contest just 55 seconds into the extra frame.
Now, moving over to a few of the North Division games – Grande Prairie makes the trip south to the Grant Fuhr Arena to take on the Spruce Grove Saints in a repeat of last season's second round matchup. Mackenzie Harden and Ryan Peckford should both suit up for the Saints for the first time since being acquired. On the other side of the ice, the Storm will also have a couple of new faces on the team sheet with Alex Girard and Jarin Sutton coming in. Grande Prairie has been scoring goals like they’re going out of fashion recently with 13 being scored in their previous two games. The same can’t be said about the Saints who’ve only been able to score two in the same amount of games. It’ll be interesting to see which way this game turns out.
Over in the border city, Lloydminster hosts the Whitecourt Wolverines as the Bobcats look to make a late push towards the final playoff spot in the north. That last spot is currently held by their opponents who are coming off a 1-0 shootout victory over the Drayton Valley Thunder. The Bobcats made plenty of changes at the trade deadline including trading away Zach Kaiser, Reid Irwin and Zachary Ziegler; but also bringing in Chase Anderson, Andrew Smiley, and Justin Vertesi. Whitecourt, however, only made one deal which saw them trade away Harden to the Saints. It’s been an exciting season series so far with the Bobcats holding the lead over the Wolverines with a 2-1-0 record, and the most recent win coming on January 2nd which ended 3-2.
The Drayton Valley Thunder make the trip north to challenge the Fort McMurray Oil Barons for their final visit to the Casman Centre. The two of them have only met twice this season with both victories going in favour of the Oil Barons. Drayton Valley are heading into this contest on a high note after a 4-1 dominating victory over the Bobcats on Wednesday night. The Oil Barons too are coming off a win last weekend when they defeated the Olds Grizzlys 6-3. This fixture will also be played on Saturday night.
The first of a few non-divisional matchups happen at the Sherwood Park Arena with the Calgary Mustangs in town to play the Sherwood Park Crusaders. Sherwood Park are looking to bounce back after dropping a 4-1 result to the Oilers last Saturday night at home. They were one of the busier teams on deadline day with Cody Laskosky being moved to the Kodiaks, and both Kaiser and Irwin joining them from the Bobcats. As for the visitors, the Mustangs have been one of the best teams in the AJHL as of late winning seven straight games. This will be the first meeting between the two this season.
Rounding out the Friday night schedule are the Drumheller Dragons who are at home against the Bonnyville Pontiacs. The Pontiacs are now tied with the Crusaders at the top of the North Division following an 8-3 win over the Thunder mid-week. This will be the final meeting between the two with the Dragons taking the first game 3-2. Scout Truman got the game winner on that occasion.
Now, sticking with the out of division matchups, Saturday night sees Bonnyville continue their Southern Alberta road trip with a stop at the CRA to take on the Brooks Bandits. The last time these two met an extra frame proved to be necessary to separate two of the best teams in Alberta. The only lead of the game the Bandits had was when Ryan Mahshie ended in overtime with his second of the game.
The final non-divisional matchup of the weekend comes in Lloydminster as the Mustangs travel east from Sherwood Park to face the Bobcats. This matchup hasn’t gone well for the Bobcats who’ve conceded ten goals in the two meetings this year. Daniel Rybarik has been excellent in this series with six points coming in those previous two contests including four goals. With all the new faces both on and off the ice for the Bobcats, they’ll be hoping they can turn their luck around against the Stangs’.
Despite not picking up any points, Canmore had a strong morale weekend during their Edmonton road trip pushing both the Crusaders and Saints to the brink. This weekend, the Eagles travel to the Olds Sportsplex for the final time this season to challenge the Grizzlys. Olds will be to paying close attention to Alex Young who has been on fire lately. Last week alone, the Colgate commit had seven points in three games and was named the Viterra Star of the Game twice.
In another rematch of last seasons second-round, Camrose travels to Okotoks in what has been a very evenly matched season series. In four games between the two, each team has a pair of victories over the other with the last going all the way to the shootout. The Kodiaks fought back in the third period after finding themselves 2-0 down in 40 minutes. Unfortunately for Camrose, they couldn’t find a third and the game would be ended by Louis Jamernik in the shootout. Since that victory, Okotoks has lost just once pushing themselves all the way up to second in the South Division.
Sherwood Park has had plenty of revenge against the Storm since they were eliminated by them in the 2018 post-season. The Crusaders have traveled to the Revolution Arena and simply dominated Grande Prairie, sweeping the series 3-0-0 while outscoring them 17 to 3. This weekend's contest will be the first trip to the Sherwood Park Arena this regular season for the Storm.
The Calgary Canucks get called into action on Saturday night as they make a trip to Drumheller. The two of them met as recently as this past Tuesday when the Dragons prevailed 7-4 winners at the Max Bell Centre. Calgary will have a new boy in the lineup with Brendan Morrow coming over from the Pontiacs in exchange for Jackson Hogg. This game will be the Canucks first visit to the Drumheller Memorial Arena.
The Canmore Eagles and Calgary Canucks wrap up the weekend in the lone contest on Sunday. This contest takes place at the Canmore Recreation Centre where the Canucks haven’t won a game since January 2018. Calgary is looking to hold onto the last playoff spot in the south and will be in dire need of a victory. As for the Eagles, they’ll be hoping to get back into the race for home ice in the first round of the post-season.
Story by Liam Horrobin