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The first sixth of the 2016-17 Alberta Junior Hockey League has provided its fair share of surprises as teams clamour to make a good impression on the season at hand.
One of those teams looking to improve on the first 10 games of their season is the Canmore Eagles (6-4-1), who travel to face the Brooks Bandits (6-2-2) in the tail end of a back-to-back after a 3-1 win over the Whitecourt Wolverines (6-4-2) Thursday night.
The Eagles haven’t had any trouble scoring. Their 48 goals rank them first in the Viterra AJHL South Division. Players like Alberta Ford Dealers AJHL Player of the Month Matt Forchuk, seven goals and 23 points, and Logan Ferguson, 10 goals and 18 points, have the Eagles on pace to break their offensive output from last year. Defence for the team continues to be an issue though, having given up 38 goals already.
On Brooks’ end, the Bandits have earned a point in all three of their October matches so far, losing once in a shootout while also picking up a pair of wins. In addition to hosting the Eagles Friday, the Bandits will play host to the visiting Grande Prairie Storm (5-5-1).
Bandits forward Oliver Chau has been held pointless in just one contest this year, but has otherwise been a threat to find the scoresheet, potting three goals and five points in his last five games. Fellow forward Ty Mappin surpassed the 150 point plateau for his AJHL career in September and is riding high on a nine-game point streak, the second-longest active streak in the league.
As the Storm make their first venture of the season to southern Alberta this week, kicking it off with a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Canucks (8-3-1) Wednesday, they’ll do so as an improved squad. After a date in Brooks, the Storm will close out things with a Sunday afternoon date against the Drumheller Dragons (3-5-2). The Storm’s offence can’t quite yet keep up with their defence, but wins over Spruce Grove and Camrose at home have sparked the team’s spirits. The Storm are two wins away from matching their home win total from all of last year, but have yet to find success on the road, going 0-4-1 away from Revolution Arena. The last time the Storm won against Brooks at the Centennial Regional Arena was Nov. 13, 2013.
The surprising division-leading Canucks will play the first of two games against the Calgary Mustangs (2-9-0) Friday at the Max Bell Centre before heading down the highway to face the Okotoks Oilers (7-2-1) Sunday afternoon. Second-year goaltender Logan Drackett is showing that last year’s 20-win rookie campaign was no fluke, posting a 7-2-1 record in his first 10 games. His 223 saves this year are the fourth-most in the league. Considering the Canucks went 3-6-1 in their first 10 games last year, it’s clear this year’s version of the Canucks have turned the corner so far.
Continuing the trend of surprise teams at or near the top of their division, the Fort McMurray Oil Barons (8-2-0) will start a tough October stretch with three games in less than three days, facing the Camrose Kodiaks (6-3-1) Friday, travel to Drumheller Saturday and close out the weekend against the Sherwood Park Crusaders (6-5-0).
This next 10 games for the MOB will feature seven of 10 games on the road and will go a long way it determining if the MOB are close to the same 7-1 team they are inside the Casman Centre. The MOB’s power play at home is a league-best 41.18 per cent. On the road though, the MOB have only had two road games, meaning their 9.09 per cent success on the power play isn’t exactly yet indicative of how they’ll end up this season. A pair of MOB defenceman in JC Thivierge and Taner Miller are leading the MOB with 12 and 10 points respectively.
As their Saturday opponents, the Dragons will be looking to avenge a loss to the MOB earlier this month and find some success at home when they host the Storm as well. The Dragons have yet to win on the road, but are 3-2 inside the Drumheller Memorial Arena, where they’ll play 10 of their next 16 games until the end of November. While Jordan Taupert leads the Dragons’ offence, it’s another 1998-born forward making an immediate impact.
Medicine Hat’s Slater Dykema has four goals and eight points in 10 games this year. His scoring has come in bunches though, with three multi-point games this year.
Just up the road in Camrose, the Kodiaks will host the MOB Friday night before travelling south themselves to face the Olds Grizzlys (3-5-2) Saturday. Grizzlys’ rookie Andrew Henderson has enjoyed some early success at the start of his AJHL career, beating the Crusader and surprising Storm for his first two wins in the league.
In a high-scoring Viterra AJHL South Division however, Olds is quickly falling behind the competition. Scoring 2.8 goals per game (14th in the AJHL) and giving up four goals per game (13th in the AJHL) is a bad combination for any team. The Grizzlys have had most of their success at home though, picking up points in three of their five home games so far, including two wins.
The Kodiaks established their strength last year based on quality scoring from every part of their lineup and have continued that into this year as well. Mackenzie Bauer and Liam Motley are tied for the team lead with 12 points each, but seven other players have at least five points and that number could grow this weekend. A perfect 5-0-0 at Encana Arena as the home team, 6-0 including a game at the AJHL Showcase, the Kodiaks are scoring 4.67 goals per game inside their home rink compared to 3.25 goals for per game on the road.
Leading the Viterra AJHL North Division, the Spruce Grove Saints (8-2-1) will host two very different opponents this weekend when the Crusaders come to the Grant Fuhr Arena Friday before the Lloydminster Bobcats (0-11-0) visit Saturday.
On what has been a road-heavy schedule, the Saints have come through that test relatively unscathed. They’re in a spot they’ve become accustomed to and will now get to reap the rewards of a balancing out of their schedule as they begin a six-game home stand. The Saints’ lone loss at Grant Fuhr Arena did come against the Crusaders on the opening weekend of the season, but they’ve since regained their form at home, winning games against tough competition like the Eagles and Wolverines.
For the Crusaders, their crosstown game Friday and date Sunday against the MOB will be a chance to move up the standings and creep into the top half of the North Division standings. With seven goals in his last five games, Tyler Maltby now has 12 for the season and producing at the best pace of his entire AJHL career. What’s more impressive is those following his scoring pace. Tanner Younghans, Alex Rotundo and Matthew Dykstra sit tied for second on the team with 14 points each.
For the Bobcats, it’s safe to say things have yet to pick up for the last-place club, though it’s not for a lack of trying. Wednesday’s 8-6 loss to the Bonnyville Pontiacs (8-2-0) was their largest offensive output of the year, yet they once again came away with no points in the standings to show from it.
Rookie Zach Webb posted a four-point game, including a hat trick, in that game and leads the Bobcats with six goals and eight points. Of the Bobcats’ next 15 games, 10 are at home, which could possibly help propel the team to a win in front of their home fans.
Staying in the North Division, the Pontiacs will host a the Drayton Valley Thunder (2-5-1) for a pair of games this weekend, looking to remain one of the hottest teams in the league at home. A 5-1-0, the Pontiacs have scored at least five goals in four of their five games at the RJ Lalonde Arena, including a 5-4 win over the Thunder Oct. 7. The Pontiacs’ offence is rolling strong, averaging a league-leading 4.9 goals per game. That success is shared individually as well, with seven players already hitting double digit points this year. Alden Dupuis leads the Pontiacs with 10 goals and 15 points.
For the Thunder, this weekend could be a continuation of a frustrating record on the road early on or the spark they need. At 1-3-1 on the road, they’re one of four AJHL teams with just a single win on the road through their first five away games. Michael Cardinal has matched his offensive output from 22 games last year in just eight games this year. The 1996-born forward has 14 career AJHL goals, but two have come on the power play, two have been short-handed goals and three have stood up as game-winning goals.
On a trip through the South Division this weekend, the Wolverines took a loss Thursday night, but still have a winning record in the month of October. The Wolverines will travel to face the Oilers Saturday before a Sunday date against the Mustangs.
At 3-2 this month, it’s not perfect, but it’s helping the Wolverines stay relevant in a competitive North Division. the team’s leading scorer, Bryson Traptow is four points away from 100 for his AJHL career. Teammate Justin Young may beat Traptow to the century mark though as he scored in Thursday’s loss to give him 99 points for his AJHL career.
The Oilers are staying in the thick of the South Division race and will two games in the friendly confines of Pason Centennial Arena, where they’ve lost just once so far this season. In Tuesday insane 7-6 shootout loss to the Mustangs, Jordan Davies had the 13th multi-point game of his AJHL career and first four-point night, potting four assists in the loss. He’ll get to face his former team Saturday with his new team.
Closing out their weekend against the Canucks, first place in the Viterra AJHL South could be on the line between the two clubs. The meeting is the first of the year between the two clubs.
On the outside looking in of the South Division playoff picture, the Mustangs will face another tough weekend with games against the Canucks Friday and Wolverines Sunday. Tuesday’s shootout win over Okotoks boosted the team’s spirits, but they remain winless on the road at 0-5 this year. Cutting down on their 5.64 goals allowed per game would also be a benefit to the club. Forward Kylor Wall has points in seven of his last eight games and is on a three-game point streak.