The race is on in the Alberta Junior Hockey League South Division for first place. It's a narrow five point gap that separates first from fourth, which is a lot more marketable than their counterparts in the North Division, where nine points is the difference between first and second. Spruce Grove is just pulling away that much.
But in the South, it's a hot weekend for the top four, as Camrose, Okotoks, Brooks and Drumheller all enter Friday night having won their last game, while Brooks is coming in with a four game streak, and Okotoks a three game positive swing.
Okotoks, whose 28 games played is the most in the South Division, sit one point back of first place, but are also four games in front of the Kodiaks. Needless to say, the Oilers need to keep winning if they want to remain in the top half of the four man hunt for first, as both the Bandits and Dragons have played 25 games this season and have games to make up. A meeting with the sixth place Canmore Eagles Friday and Olds on Saturday could potentially keep the Oilers in a comfortable spot after the weekend, as the Oilers look to extend their streak to match their season high of five games.
For the first place Camrose Kodiaks, their slim one point lead is a tad bit misleading, in a positive way, considering they have played the second fewest games in the entire AJHL with 24. With only one loss this month in six games, the Kodiaks head into the weekend knowing that even if they don't come away with four points, they still have a lot of games to make up on the rest of the division. Arguably, they have the toughest schedule on the weekend, a home-and-away with the Lloydminster Bobcats. There are no guaranteed points against the North Division's second best team, but the Kodiaks at least have that small cushion.
Brooks brings the current longest active winning streak into the weekend, and starts Friday night against the AJHL's current second longest active losing slide, the Calgary Mustangs. Calgary has only one win in seven games in November, and has lost their last five straight. Perfect for a Bandits team who wants to continue their streak to six games, and possibly make it seven the night after when they travel to Sherwood Park.
Drumheller, meanwhile, will start at home against the Crusaders before welcoming another North Division opponent, Bonnyville, in on Saturday night. The Dragons have won five of seven this month, and have a nine point bumper between themselves and fifth place Olds. So at least for this weekend, the AJHL South Division isn't going to see any new teams enter into its top four.
In the North, the first place Spruce Grove Saints are off this weekend, but unfortunately for the the Lloydminster Bobcats, they have to play the South Division's top team twice in order to make up some of the nine points that separates the two. The Bobcats were on a bit of a streak of their own before it was snapped Wednesday against the Saints, and by the end of this weekend, the 'Cats will have caught up to the Saints in games played (28), so a four point weekend is almost looking like a must.
Sherwood Park is just a point back of the Bobcats for second place, but are still two games ahead of Lloydminster in games played. They will be three ahead after this weekend, as the Crusaders are one of two teams to play three games this weekend. It will be a tough stretch to start the weekend as the Crusaders battle the Dragons and Bandits the first two nights, but will get some relief on Sunday when their all South Division weekend concludes with a trip to Calgary against the Mustangs.
The other three game weekend team is the Bonnyville Pontaics, who are on a current three game losing streak. Bonnyville, however, has played the least amount of games in the league with 23, so with games in hand, their is a chance for them to climb out of the North bottom three. They are one point shy of the Drayton Valley Thunder (prior to Thursday night's game), and head to Calgary on Friday for a meeting with the Canucks before heading to Drumheller on Saturday and Olds on Sunday.
Fort McMurray also has a chance to climb back into the top three hunt this weekend, as they host the Whitecourt Wolverines Friday and Saturday. Whitecourt hasn't won since Oct. 29, and are carrying the longest current active losing streak with them to Fort McMurray. It's a long trip to carry that burden, and could be an even longer road back if the Wolverines can't somehow snap out of their latest funk.
The midpoint of the season is about a week away for most AJHL teams, so with a lot of marquee match-ups this weekend, this next three days could mean a lot of change is on the horizon for some teams who want to have a better second half.
By Andrew Brethauer