AJHL Weekend Preview: March 1st-4th

Photo – Chad Goddard Photography:

This is it, the final weekend of the AJHL’s regular season has arrived. Even with the playoffs kicking off next weekend, many teams still have plenty to play for.

The top four spots in the South Division are all written in stone heading into the weekend. The Okotoks Oilers (49-6-2) will have a first-round bye, then the trio of the Brooks Bandits (44-13-1), Drumheller Dragons (31-22-5), and Camrose Kodiaks (24-22-12) will all have home ice advantage in the first round of the Inter Pipeline Playoffs.

Despite securing the number one seed, the Oilers still have a little extra work to do. Okotoks is on a 21 game winning streak which is tied for the longest winning streak in AJHL history with the 1987-88 Calgary Canucks. On Thursday, they’ll have the opportunity to take sole possession of the record when they travel to Canmore. After a day of rest, the league’s number one team will be back home to play the Camrose Kodiaks, and then they'll close out the regular season against the Canmore Eagles. If the Oilers are able to come away from this weekend with three victories, they will finish with the 52 wins on the season which would be the second most wins in a season, tied with the 2009-2010 Spruce Grove Saints and 1999-2000 Fort McMurray Oil Barons.

Staying in the south, before traveling to Okotoks on Saturday, Camrose takes a trip to Brooks to take on the Bandits. Brooks will then close out their season the following night at the Drumheller Memorial Arena against the Dragons. Prior to their matchup with the Bandits, the Dragons have to travel to the Ken Bracko Arena to face-off against the Calgary Canucks (26-31-2). The Canucks are the only team this weekend with a single game on their schedule. They currently have control of fifth in the south, however city rivals, the Calgary Mustangs (23-28-7) trail by only a single point with two games remaining. Those two games come against the last placed team in the south: the Olds Grizzlys (17-37-4). The Stangs have defeated the Grizzlys in all four of their previous meetings this south and have outscored them 21 to 8.

Moving to the North, it’s a close race for the fourth and sixth spots. The Sherwood Park Crusaders (27-29-2) and Grande Prairie Storm (27-28-3) continue to battle for the final first-round home ice advantage spot. It’s been an extremely tight entertaining race between the two for the past few months. The Storm has the advantage with 57 points while the Crusaders trail them by a single point (56). Grande Prairie will stay at home this weekend with the traveling Lloydminster Bobcats (22-33-3) in town for back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, Sherwood Park has to make a short trip across Edmonton to take on the number one team in the north: the Spruce Grove Saints (45-10-3). The two teams will then play again on Saturday night; this time at the Sherwood Park Arena.  One big milestone to keep your eye on in this one is Chris Van-Os Shaw’s quest for 50. He now needs only one goal to become the first 50-goal scorer since Mark Letestu did it back in 2005-06 season for the Bonnyville Pontiacs.

Speaking of the Pontiacs (18-32-8), they’ll be closing out their regular season campaign against the Drayton Valley Thunder (17-38-3). Bonnyville has plenty of momentum heading into these contest after a big 3-0 victory over the Grande Prairie Storm last Saturday. A couple of wins against the Thunder would help them make a push for the Bobcats in sixth. Drayton Valley may have been officially been eliminated from the playoffs but they’ve been playing great hockey recently. In their past seven games, they're 5-2-0 which includes two impressive wins over the Oil Barons.

At the top the division, Spruce Grove will head directly into the second round of the playoffs following the end of the regular season. The Fort McMurray Oil Barons (40-13-5) and the Whitecourt Wolverines (33-19-6) will face off against each other in back-to-back nights at the Casman Centre. 

Liam Horrobin @LiamHorrobin