AJHL Weekend Preview – November 6th, 2014

As the first full weekend of November play gets underway, the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s two divisional races continue to heat up, with both divisions creating their owning interesting storylines along the way.

The surprise of October, the Okotoks Oilers (15-6-3), will host the Brooks Bandits (13-5-1) and Calgary Mustangs (7-14-1) this weekend at home.

After entering the AJHL Showcase with a 1-4-2 record, the Oilers have gone on a 14-2-1 rampage, thanks in large part to goaltender Nic Renyard, who has yet to lose a game in regulation since making his debut Sept. 26.

As the only game of the weekend for the Mustangs, the club will be looking to continue their recent streak of success that has seen them win four of their last seven games, going 4-2-1 in that stretch.

The Bandits have overcome some early season woes to win five straight, boosting them to fourth in the division and a tie for the second best goal differential in the league.

The team has found themselves a nice trio of offensive producers in Alex Roberts, 14 points in his last eight games, Austin Plevy, 20 points in his last ten games and Mark Logan, six points in his last four games. Sitting in a two-way tie for the fewest amount of games played in the league, the Bandits appear to be just getting started, meaning it could be a long winter for everyone.

Sunday, the Bandits will face the Drummheller Dragons (14-4-3) on the road to wrap up their weekend. The Bandits haven’t lost to the Dragons in the regular season since Jan. 21 of last year, though that was also the last time the two teams clashed at the Drumheller Memorial Arena.

The Dragons are on a roll of their own, winning six straight and staying in the heated race for the Viterra AJHL South Division. The Dragons will kickoff their mini two-game home stand the day before, hosting the Olds Grizzlys (9-8-3) Friday night.

Friday’s game will kickoff play for the month of November for the Grizzlys. After beginning the month of October on a 4-0-3 record, the Grizz dropped their last three games of the month, scoring two goals in that span.

Following their date with the Dragons, the Grizzlys will head south to face the Calgary Canucks (7-11-4) Saturday night. The only contest of the weekend for the Canucks will be an important one for the club that has lost their last six in a row, scoring just 11 goals in that span. The Canucks also haven’t won in regulation since Oct. 5.

Up north, the Spruce Grove Saints (17-4-2) are on a streak of their own, having won five straight. They’ll take on the Grande Prairie Storm (7-16-0) for the first time this season. The first meeting of the season between the two teams went as expected between the first and last place teams in the division, with the Saints taking a 6-0 victory over the Storm.

Before the Storm stop in Spruce Grove, they’ll take on the Bonnyville Pontiacs (9-7-5) Friday evening at the RJ Lalonde Arena. Carrying the ugly stat of being shutout in six of their first 23 games, is a Storm squad that have already suffered a pair of 3-0 defeats at the hands of the Pontiacs already this season.

After earning a point in five straight contests, the Pontiacs saw that streak end when the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (10-10-3) defeated them by a 5-2 score Tuesday night. Following their Friday night game against the Storm, they’ll look to find their way Sunday afternoon against the Lloydminster Bobcats (13-6-2).

The Pontiacs are 2-0-1 against the Bobcats this year, including a 3-2 overtime win in the last meeting between the two teams on Nov. 1, and will be looking to start their five-game road trip off on the right foot.

Sitting in second place behind the dominant Saints, the Bobcats went 8-2 in the month of October and are 5-0-1 in their last six. Playing five of their next eight inside the Centennial Civic Centre Arena will also help their cause, a build they’re 6-2-1 in so far this season.

Fresh off their win over the Pontiacs, the MOB will be looking to climb the North Division rankings from the fifth spot with a single match Saturday night against the Sherwood Park Crusaders (12-8-3), the first meeting between the two clubs this year.

The MOB held a small 3-2-1 season series advantage on the Cru last season, though both teams have since swapped positioning in the standings. Team captain Jetlan Houcher’s streak of consecutive regular season games played with the MOB reached 100 games Tuesday night. The Paradise Valley native has recorded 61 goals and 110 points in that span since suiting up for the MOB for the first time Jan. 12, 2013.

The Cru will have their hands full the night before their match with the MOB, facing the Camrose Kodiaks (15-2-2) on the road Friday evening. The Cru have relied heavily this season on goaltender Tommy Nixon and the hometown product has come through for the team, sporting a 9-2-2 record, recording two shutouts and allowing two goals or less in eight of the 14 games he’s played in this season.

Sitting second in the South Division, the Kodiaks have their sights set on reclaiming the top spot in the division, a feat they’ll try to accomplish in their games against the Cru Friday and against the Canmore Eagles (9-11-0) Sunday.

Ryker Leer, the Kodiaks’ points leader, has seven multi-point games this year and is on a streak of two multi-point games headed into Friday’s contest.

The Eagles will have a tough stretch of three games in three days this weekend, facing off against the Whitecourt Wolverines (7-13-3) Friday and Drayton Valley Thunder (8-9-3) Saturday before concluding their weekend against the Kodiaks.

Hidden behind their record is one of the best power plays in the league, operating at a 22.12 efficiency. The stat is deceiving for the team though, as just five of those goals have come on the road, accounting for the fifth-worst total in the league, a lowly 13.16 percent.

After winning three in a row towards the end of October, the Wolverines have dropped three straight to fall back into their usual spot. One of the team’s additions that has showed promise is Nova Scotia forward John Mullally, who has 11 goals in his first AJHL season, four of those serving as game-winning goals for his club.

The Thunder have won four of their last 12 and posted just three wins inside their home arena this season. Goaltender Garrett Mason has proven himself to be a good pickup for the struggling club, posting a 4-2-2 record with one shutout, a 2.26 GAA and a .924 save percentage.

—Robert Murray