AJHL Weekend Preview – November 27, 2014

As the 16 teams in the Alberta Junior Hockey League pass or approach the midway mark of their season, each club will be looking to continue their hot first half or rid themselves of the memory of what was in the first three months of the 2014-15 campaign.

One team that won’t want to forget their first half are the Spruce Grove Saints (21-5-3). Once again the toast of the Viterra AJHL North Division, the Saints will take their travelling act south to face the Canmore Eagles (13-14-1) and Calgary Canucks (9-16-4) Friday and Saturday respectively.

As impressive as they’ve been at home, having yet to lose in regulation at the Grant Fuhr Arena, the Saints have been equally as hot on the road. Holding down a 9-5 record away from home, the Saints are 3-0 against South Division opponents on the road, a trend they’ll be looking to continue this weekend.

The Saints’ Friday opponents, the Eagles, will close out November at home against two tough opponents, hosting the Saints Friday night and the Brooks Bandits (20-6-1) Saturday evening.

What is supposed to be the friendly confines of the Canmore Recreation Centre hasn’t been all that friendly to the Eagles, who are 1-4 in their last five contests there, giving up an average of five goals per game.

Meanwhile, the Bandits have permanently etched off all memory of their slow start to sit five points back of the South Division lead with plenty of time to make up the ground, taking on the Drayton Valley Thunder (10-13-4) Friday and the Eagles Saturday. The Bandits have quietly put together a six-game win streak, claiming the division’s top offence by averaging 3.89 goals per game.

Saturday’s contest between the Saints and Canucks will bring an end to the Canucks’ month, a trying stretch for Calgary’s best AJHL team. Losers of their last three straight, the Canucks are one of only three teams in the league who have yet to reach 10 victories.

While there hasn’t been much to be proud of for the Canucks, they are able to take some solace in the fact that they aren’t as worse off as their cross-city counterparts and Thursday night opponents, the Calgary Mustangs (7-21-2).

The Mustangs have earned exactly three points this month, taking a loser point from the Bandits and defeating the Canucks in overtime the last time the two clubs met. As losers of eight straight, firmly entrenched in the basement, it looks to be a long second half for the Mustangs’ faithful.

From rags to riches, the Camrose Kodiaks (22-3-2) will split their pair of games between the two divisions this weekend, heading on the road to face the Sherwood Park Crusaders (16-12-3) Friday and the Drumheller Dragons (17-6-5) Saturday.

While the Kodiaks haven’t been turning heads with their offence, their defence has been as solid as it can be, allowing an average of two goals per game through their first 27 contests, a league-best figure.

Sherwood Park has had a peculiar first half of play, where they’ve kept pace with the best in the North, yet haven’t seized any window of opportunity to close that gap. Keeping their act at the Sherwood Park Arena this weekend, hosting the Kodiaks Friday and Whitecourt Wolverines (8-17-4) Saturday, the Cru will be hoping for a continuation of the November trend that has seen them with four of their past five at home.

After losing a large portion of their offensive threats in the offseason, Cameron Brezinski has led the initial charge for the Cru, scoring 12 goals and 19 points in just 31 games, surpassing his individual totals for goals and points from last season.

Speaking of a befuddling club, the Wolverines are in the exact opposite position of the the Kodiaks, sitting third in the division for offensive output, but have also allowed 109 goals, sending the club on a terrible losing skid that was ended last weekend in Fort McMurray.

The Fort McMurray Oil Barons will get their chance to end November on a high-note and potentially in third place in the North, hosting their northern Alberta rivals the Grande Prairie Storm (11-19-0) for a pair of games at the Casman Centre.

A 5-3 record in the month isn’t outstanding for the MOB, but it’s an early sign that head coach Curtis Hunt and the club are starting to correct their path after stumbling around the division for the first two months, making trades and releasing players left and right.

The weekend will be a chance for the MOB to work on the man-advantage. After scoring only once in nine opportunities against the Wolverines in a pair of games last weekend, the club is operating with the league’s 13th best home power play at 14 percent, not far off from the Mustang’s league-worst figure of 11.43 percent.

Enough of the bad news, the good news for the MOB is that the Storm aren’t much better at killing off penalties away from home, holding down the league’s worst away penalty kill.

The weekend will be one of a special return as former MOB head coach Kevin Higo will make his return to the Casman Centre after coaching the MOB in the early 2000s. Now with his third AJHL team, Higo has felt the highs and lows of his squad in the month of November, trading wins and losses to build a record of 4-4 in the month.

Speaking of hard times, the Thunder’s road to redemption won’t be an easy one for the squad that has dropped five straight games as they travel south to face the Bandits and Okotoks Oilers (20-7-3).

Having not won in regulation on the road since a 8-4 drubbing of the Mustangs on Oct. 26, the Thunder will hope that a return to the southern part of the province will yield more points for the struggling club that is now sitting even more on the playoff bubble with the Wolverines and Storm hot on their tail.

Keeping pace in the South Division, the Oilers have pieced together a five-game winning streak, with all five wins coming against divisional opponents.  Facing off against the Dragons in Drumheller, the Oilers will look to continue that streak against their own division, while the Dragons will be looking to do the same.

The Dragons have kept up their torrid pace in the month of November, going 6-2-2 in the first ten games of the month. The Dragons are sitting at the bottom of the top four teams in the division, seven points behind the Kodiaks for first, but nine points ahead of the Olds Grizzlys (13-11-4) for fourth.

If the Grizzlys will want to close that gap, they’ll have to do it in the North Division, facing the Bonnyville Pontaics (11-10-6) and Lloydminster Bobcats (17-9-3). With a 3-4 record against the North this season, the Grizzlys will searching in what has so far been the wrong place to try and find a pair of wins as they look to try and close the expanding gap in the South Division.

Both the Pontiacs and Bobcats will have a single home game on the weekend, facing the aforementioned Grizzlys, with both clubs needing wins for the same reason.

The Bobcats enter the weekend with the second best record in the North Division, a fact that could change if the Crusaders, two points behind the Bobcats, have anything to say about it.

A bit further north, the Pontiacs and Dillan McCombie, who has three goals and nine points in his last four games, will try to widen the gap between them and the bottom of the North’s barrel, which presently stands at a spread of eight points between them and the cellar-dwelling Wolverines.