The AJHL’s weekend of action gets underway at the unusual time of 12:00 p.m. at the Sherwood Park Arena for the Crusaders’ Hockey Hooky game against the Lloydminster Bobcats. Hockey Hooky games have been a massive success in the past across the league, and the atmosphere is going to be electric in Sherwood Park with schools from the community taking the afternoon off to support their local junior hockey team. On the ice, the two sides are at opposite ends of the standings with the Crusaders riding a three-game win streak while the Bobcats sit seventh in the North Division with three wins. Lloydminster has struggled when in Sherwood Park on their past few trips having not won there since November 2016. This will be the first meeting between the two teams this season. Sherwood Park gets a couple of days off after this contest when they host the Fort McMurray Oil Barons on Sunday.
As for the Bobcats, they return home for a Friday night game against another top team in the North: the Bonnyville Pontiacs. Bonnyville now sits at the top of the North Division after beating the Spruce Grove Saints 2-1 at home on Wednesday night. The Pontiacs are the highest seeded team in the AJHL that do not have a player in the Top 20 of league scoring. Lucas Thorne leads the team with nine points (4Gs, 5As) and is followed by five players who are all tied with eight points.
Since starting the season with a 3-0-0 record, the Oil Barons have struggled to find any consistency on the ice winning only twice in their past six games. Sunday could prove to be a challenge for them with the Crusaders having outscored their opponents 19-3 in their previous three games. Before their trip to Sherwood Park, Fort McMurray is in Spruce Grove on Friday and then Drayton Valley on Saturday. One Oil Baron that has been rolling recently is forward Reed Morison. Morison is currently on a four-game goal scoring streak having netted six goals over that time. They are going to need him to be on form on Friday when they play the best defensive team in the AJHL. On Saturday, Drayton Valley is going to be looking for revenge over the Oil Barons. This past Thanksgiving Monday, the Thunder were dominated 8-1 over the Fort McMurray for their ninth straight loss. The Saints and Thunder then close out their weekends against one another at the Drayton Valley Omniplex.
The remainder of the North Division (Grande Prairie and Whitecourt) head on southern road trips for their lone road games against three South Division opponents. Grande Prairie has been playing much better as of late winning their last four games. The Storm had a rough start to the season winning one of their first six games. As for Whitecourt, they sit fourth in the North Division, two points behind the Sherwood Park Crusaders in third. The two of them make a stop at the Centennial Regional Arena to take on the Brooks Bandits. The Bandits will be a tough opponent for the two north teams. After losing 11-3 to the Drumheller Dragons on opening night, Brooks has not lost a game since and are currently on an eight-game win streak. First up, the Storm will be in Brooks on Friday, and then the Wolverines are in town on Saturday.
Grande Prairie’s road trip starts tonight in Calgary versus the Mustangs. The two of them met most recently just last week in Grande Prairie. It was a close matchup which was decided via the shootout; Captain Connor Blake scored the shootout winner. A short stay in Brooks is followed by a trip back up to Calgary to face the Canucks on Saturday night. The Canucks travelled north last weekend and managed to defeat the Oil Barons 3-2 at the Casman Centre. However, they were not able to take any of that momentum into their next two games losing 6-1 to the Sherwood Park Crusaders and Spruce Grove Saints. Before their game against the Storm, the Calgary Canucks will seek out their third win of the season against the Okotoks Oilers. This will be their first meeting of the season against each other with both of them entering the game on a two-game losing skid.
The Oilers find themselves in unfamiliar territory with five regulation loses to their name already. Last season, Okotoks finished the year with six losses overall and only four in regulation. However, do not let the Oilers record fool you; they are still one of the best teams in the AJHL with five of their six losses being decided by one goal or an empty net. They then take on the Olds Grizzlys this weekend on Saturday night. A team in which they defeated 7-4 at the Olds Sportsplex. Olds will play another familiar opponent on Sunday with the Whitecourt Wolverines in town. Whitecourt and Olds have already met this season with the Wolverines coming out 3-2 winners in overtime. Ohio State commit, Jaedon Leslie, scored the game-winner just 37 seconds into the extra period. That overtime point is the only point the Grizzlys have earned so far this season. Whitecourt closes out their southern road trip in Drumheller on Sunday afternoon.
The Drumheller Dragons have been in fine form lately winning their previous four games. They are the highest scoring team in the AJHL with 50 goals in 10 games, but have also been allowing goals at the same pace with 40 against. The Wolverines tend not to concede many goals so it should be interesting to see if the firepower of the Dragons comes out on top, or the defensive scheming of the Wolverines prevails. Before this contest, the Mustangs pay a visit to the Drumheller Memorial Arena on Friday.
Finally, the Canmore Eagles and Camrose Kodiaks go one-on-one Friday night at the Encana Arena. The Kodiaks are coming off a 5-2 loss to the Sherwood Park Crusaders while the Canmore Eagles are also coming into Camrose on a three-game losing streak. Both teams allow goals at a high rate with 39 against in 9 games apiece. Canmore holds the advantage with one of the best offences in the AJHL averaging five goals a game. We have seen Camrose explode offensively too this season putting seven past the Grande Prairie Storm. This one should be a fun game to watch. One player to keep an eye open for is Kyler Kupka who is currently on a five-game goal scoring streak.
Story by Liam Horrobin