Photo Credit – Chad Goddard:
A third of the way through the AJHL Season, nothing is decided entering a full slate of weekend action. Friday through Sunday, there are storylines to follow as 16 teams look to better their slot in the standings and players look to impress any watchful eyes scouting for this year’s World Junior A Championship in Bonnyville next month.
The weekend kicks off with a dandy, as the Spruce Grove Saints (16-6-1) head south to take on the Brooks Bandits (19-2-0) and fans in Brooks are surely hoping this matchup is just as good as the last one – barring the result. The two most dominant AJHL franchises of the last decade always put on a show, and it should be must see hockey at the Centennial Regional Arena as the Bandits try to avenge one of their two losses of the season.
Spruce Grove’s regional rival, the Sherwood Park Crusaders (17-4-2), will be taking on an AJHL South titan of their own as they square off against the Drumheller Dragons (15-7-0) in the Badlands. The Crusaders are just a point back of the North-Leading Bonnyville Pontiacs (18-5-1) with a game in hand while the Dragons look to gain some ground on the powerhouse Bandits while fending off the Okotoks Oilers (13-9-1). Those Oilers are coming off an overtime win against the Calgary Mustangs (10-8-4) on Tuesday and will look to extend the woes of the coldest team in the league tonight as the Calgary Canucks (2-19-1) bring a 14 game losing skid the Pason. Meanwhile, the Mustangs will look to make it at least six straight games with a point when they visit the Camrose Kodiaks (10-8-3), a team that’s just a single point behind them in the standings with one less game played.
The only two games taking place in North division locales will see the Drayton Valley Thunder (8-14-1) host the Lloydminster Bobcats (5-16-1) and the Whitecourt Wolverines (11-12-0) take on the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (10-7-5). The game in Drayton Valley will be the first road bench appearance for new Bobcats coach Nigel Dube, who was named 25th coach in franchise history on Monday.
The action continues to sizzle on Saturday as the Spruce Grove Saints take their southern swing to the Drumheller Dragons. It’s the first meeting of the year between these two teams, and Spruce Grove lost both their games against Drumheller last season. In Okotoks, it will be a rematch of last year’s South Final as the Bandits take on the Oilers for the second time this season. The first meeting was a slim 3-2 victory for the Bandits.
The Canmore Eagles (11-8-3) get in on the action Saturday as they host the Calgary Canucks, a team they’ve yet to play since their season opener – a 9-3 Eagles win. In Olds, the Grizzlys (3-19-1) will look to continue their improved play against a tough opponent in the Sherwood Park Crusaders. After starting 0-15-1, the Grizzlys have gone 3-4 since to move into the final playoff position in the South.
In the North, the Grande Prairie Storm (12-10-2) will get a well-travelled Oil Barons squad at Revolution Arena. The league’s two most northern squads have met twice this season with the MOB taking both contests, including one in overtime. The Whitecourt Wolverines will continue their weekend homestand against the Lloydminster Bobcats and the high-flying Bonnyville Pontiacs roll out the red carpet for the Thunder. Earlier this month, the Pontiacs were bested by the Thunder 4-1.
Sunday is the lightest day of schedule this weekend and features a trio of matinee divisional matchups. The Camrose Kodiaks will play their second game of the weekend at home against the Canmore Eagles. The Kodiaks have points in nine straight games but have yet to down the Eagles in the two previous meetings this season, being outscored 9-6. In Calgary, the Mustangs close out their weekend at the Father David Bauer Arena against the Olds Grizzlys. Up North, the Grande Prairie Storm and Fort McMurray Oil Barons will play the second half of a back to back – closing out a three-in-three road trip for the MOB and the AJHL weekend overall.